After nearly 300 hours of phone calls my trusty old Sony Ericsson T610 finally gave up the ghost. After some hunting around I decided the i-mate K-Jam (based on the HTC Wizard platform) would make a good replacement for the T610 and my old PalmOS powered Clie UX-50.
For the first time ever I actually bought the phone sight unseen.... I had played with the previous generation Jam (still a very good phone) but there's always a risk that you'll have the package when it arrives! When the box arrived I had a moment of trepitation when I first got it unpacked and charged but it's proven to be surprisingly comfortable both in use and living in the supplied horizontal belt case (have to remember not to just shove it into a pocket - it's got a big screen and no clamshell to protect it!)
Not having used a Windows Mobile device since the days it was first called CE (and sported a 1.0 version number) it's evident that the operating system has improved considerably (and as a long-time PalmOS user who has also played with Symbian based UIQ phones I'd say it's currently beating the competition).
The hardware in the K-Jam is also pretty impressive. Quad band GSM/GPRS support along with 802.11b and g WiFi, Bluetooth and a 1.3megapixel camera... all in something that fits comfortably in the palm of my hand.
I got my phone along with a 1GB miniSD card (of course in a few weeks I'll be wishing I spend the extra for a 2GB card!), a screen protector (insurance against an expensive screen replacement), a car charger and a spare USB ActiveSync/charge cable. One really nice feature of this is that the one USB cable charges and syncs... no more hunting around for the right charger or having to carry two cables.
Hopefully the K-Jam will be as reliable as the T610 was give good service for as long as it did.... only time will tell!
As good as it is I know that as I play with it over the coming days I'm going to find things that I consider deficiencies with the hardware and software platform. Hopefully I'll be able to find work-arounds and I'll document them here....
As this is probably going to turn out to be a long list, I've split it into five sections:
Please feel free to comment, argue or better yet suggest solutions / workarounds....
Windows Mobile 5.0
As I said earlier... this is a lot better than previous versions and for me it's beating Symbian/UIQ and PalmOS offerings as well. That doesn't mean it's perfect yet so Microsoft need to keep at it! I guess some would argue that having missing features serves to encourage the WindowsMobile economy, but it bugs me that I have to hunt out freeware/shareware/commercial apps to "finish off" the functionality of the device....
- It needs to be easier for one-hand phone operation (bigger buttons, more focus on navigating without needing the stylus) - if people are going to use this as a phone it should be as easy as a typical candybar phone to work with. In the previous version (WM2003SE on the previous Jam for instance) it was possible to use the d-pad to navigate around the phone screen. In WM5 that's no longer the case - a strange ommission.
- contacts need the stylus to search/dial easily... either a quick scroll by first letter (easier to access than holding down the scroll and hoping you time it right to stop... I hate using the iPod interface for that) or big letter buttons for fat fingers (maybe a one-hand vs stylus layout toggle) [SmartsKey helps with the scrolling by turning the volume keys into up/down scroll]
- Lock / Unlock more like a cellphone (on a Nokia or SE phone you press menu/* or some other combination from the keyboard. The same could be done on the phone eg power/green to toggle) [ScreenGuard should help with this (waiting on late March WM5 compatible release to test)]
- auto-lock after x seconds (and relock after a call)... as an extenstion to the current capability where it goes into a 'standby' power mode
- 'Smart' contact lookup should be smarter. It doesn't properly understand numbers with country codes, brackets, and area codes. This is pretty much in common with Outlook on the PC though, it's very US focussed with dialing rules and numbers.
- Messaging (Pocket Outlook) needs to provide better support HTML mail - not just show me a blank screen as it sometimes does (clearing all mails and re-syncing seems to solve that). I'm assuming it's not too hard to use the included PocketIE to render the mails, and if they want to complete with Blackberry it's a must
- If I get an SMS that contains a phone number (say from my message answering service) on my old dumb-phone I could highlight the number and have options to call it, send it an SMS, create a new contact or add it to an existing contact. In WM5 I get the option to call the number. That's not a very smart-phone way of working!
- Improve sounds granularity... I'd like to be able to turn off 'taps' but leave alarms etc at a decent volume (that I can control independantly of call and ringtones)
- Proper "wake up" alarms, with a snooze function (that doesn't involve selecting from a menu) and ability to choose the noise (from my music in main memory or on SD card) would be great. My SE-T610 was great for that [AlarmToday gets close to what I'd like but still lacks the ease of use, Chronos offers another solution].
- Count-down timer(s) and a stop-watch (my old T610 was a crucial companion for boiling eggs!) [Chronos offers these functions]
- Tap'n'hold on the clock (on status bar) should take me to control panel / clocks (I know I get can get from Today but that means I have to get back to Today first)
- It's a weird thing for people used to Windows, but the close button doesn't... it minimises most apps. One of the simplest workarounds I've found is smclose that makes a stylus tap on the close button actually close the app (but if you assign a key to the close function it still minimises - so you have the best of both worlds)
- Support for "Profiles": home (WiFi WPA key for home), work, night (lights off but alarms work to wake me up), flight (radios off), silent (no noise, vibrate only) - control volumes, WiFI/Bluetooth, lights etc)... trigger based on time rules | visible cell base stations | WiFi SSIDs | Manually. Easy toggle (tap power button, select from list) [phoneAlarm adds profiles and a lot more besides, PPCprofilesPro gives very granular profile control for sounds and Bluetooth for free as does Profiles from WinMobileApps].
- As part of the profiles (not sure if it's a hardware or software issue) I'd like to be able to disable the BT and Radio/Charge lights at night - they flash/glow and when the phone is next to the bed to act as an alarm clock (and in case I get calls at night... I am on call after all) - maybe move the notification to the status bar.
- Tap on an event in the calendar list on Today... should take me to that event, not just the general day in Calendar app... that just bugs me!
- Quicker startup (not as bad as waiting for WinXP but a lot longer than my T610 was). It's not crucial, but mildly annoying
- Auto optimise... I shouldn't have to worry about defraging and tweaking on a phone! Overall performance isn't bad but shaving .5 seconds off here and there makes it feel better. [RegistryWizard and MemMaid are your friends here, both are useful for different reasons so check them both out]
- Ability to move installed (third party) programs between main memory and a memory card (and how about a PC utility to wrap apps into the ROM / ExtendedROM so that they're there after a cold boot)
- Better WiFi/GPRS/BT connection status notification - the dialogue is pretty but serves little function beyond needing another tap. Also use the notification icon in the status bar to toggle BT/WiFi etc with a direct link to connection manager to save taps. This should include the ability to terminate a GPRS/EDGE data call
- Ok button in lots of dialogs appears top right but there's no softkey to act on it, so need to use the stylus. One workaround is to mapp, say, the 'comm manage' button to that function [SmartsKey also offers a good solution]
- Option for volume button to act as up/down scroll in certain apps (like Sony Jog Dial)... eg scrolling in MS Reader or zoom in a PDF viewer [SmartsKey] - On the subect of MS Reader, why can't I activate it in WM5? Says my version of the Pocket PC OS is too old! Looks like I won't be buying any books in .lit format in a hurry! MobiPocket for my reader software and FictionWise for my ebooks for now.
- MSN Today bar means more taps to get to Messenger. Why not integrate my Hotmail with Outlook, and make Messenger a standalone app like in previous versions of Windows Mobile? [See instructions here for a workaround (note: you need to have set up your MSN profile for this to work)]
- PocketIE just needs to be a bit better at rendering stuff! Opera does a fairly good job on small devices, but I guess a lot is down to site developers optimising for the teeny platform viewers.... Would be nice if IE7 took the lead from Opera and have a small screen mode
- Contacts - option to ignore SIM contacts and just use WM address book [RegistryWizard helps with this]
- I was surprised to find no MS Paint type app [Pencil Box is a good start, though the commercial Deluxe version is more useful)]
- Learn from Symbian/UIQ interfaces and even the Nokia/SE dumb phones... Windows Mobile may be smarter under the covers, but sometimes making things simple has advantages
- The AKU2 ROM upgrade promised A2DP Bluetooth audio support (so you could listen to an MP3 on your bluetooth headset for instance) but sadly that wasn't included for a variety of rumoured reasons (performance, memory leaks etc). A workaround to toggle all audio between the phone and Bluetooth can be found here, but it's not exactly audiophile quality.
- It's a bit of a wish list, but I'd love to see Pocket Office evolve into a set of really 'smart' tools to allow sync of a Word doc between home PC, work PC and the PDA so I can start it at home, work on it on the train, sync it to my work PC, grab a copy to go home with, sync there and continue on the home PC
Windows Mobile / PC Integration
After trying to get a SE phone and a PalmOS device to try and sync with Outlook, ActiveSync is a blessing. I still have a couple of wishes for it though:
- I wish ActiveSync would realise when there's no internet connection on the host PC and stop trying to update email etc. We had an network problem in the office the other day and AS wouldn't stop trying to sync!
- Have PocketPC device appear in "My Computer" so files can be saved directly to the device (actually send/transferred by ActiveSync intelligently so they're in the right format and the right place) - at the moment I save things to the desktop and then have to drag 'em across... just one more step that could be avoided. I know I could set up an ActiveSync folder, and also having the extra step encourages me to save a backup on the PC but hey... I want options!
- Ability to SMS an Outlook contact (via ActiveSync to the phone) and sync SMSes back to Outlook on PC [SMSutils is a start but lacks the Outlook integration]. Also show alerts on PC screen (using Outlook contact data) for incoming calls / messages [Salling Clicker provides a lot of that integration]
- Ability from Outlook to initiate a call using the phone and talk either via a PC connected headset or Bluetooth headset paired to phone. I know the issue of pairing the phone to PC and headset via Bluetooth would be a challenge, but if the phone is USB connected there should be no issues.
- Sync call history to Outlook (Journal / contacts) from phone
- I know I mentioned it before, but it would encourage people to make sure sites looked okay on a PocketPC devices if IE had a mode to pretend it's PocketIE to test rendering
Okay, so there's actually not much wrong with the hardware as it stands, but there are a couple of small tweaks I'd like to see in a next-gen version of this phone...
K-Jam: pre-installed Software
- 3.5mm headphone jack so I can use decent headphones. BT Audio support would help solve that though (if the A2DP profiles issue ever gets sorted)...
- Make the battery cover lock a little more secure - mine has popped off a couple of times already at inopportune moments!
- Add a slide cover for the camera lens and upgrade it to 2mp or better, or at least make it a bit better with colour balance
- BlueTooth 2.0 upgrade (can that be a firmware change?)
- Volume as up/down as a Jog Dial that can be used in other applications to scroll [SmartsKey helps with that] plus support a click on that (ok/confirm/cancel)
- Consumer IrDA, positioned at the top of the unit so I can use it as a smart remote (and unlock my car?!)
- WCDMA / 3G support (of course, that would mean a second VGA camera on the front but would knock the Motorola A1000 out of the water)
- If there was a camera on the front (for 3G support) it could be used with Skype Video or with MSN (when they support it on the platform), or use the K-Jam as a USB connected webcam for PC conferencing.
- Built in GPS would be sweet.... one less device to carry, and one less excuse for getting hopelessly lost!
- Include a screen protector in the standard pack... it's not rocket science to guess that these things are going to get greasy and scratched pretty quick!
- A lot of these features (apart from the GPS and screen protector) appear to be coming soon in the shape of the HTC Hermes. Oh well, time to start saving again!
- Reassuring to see pre-installed anti-virus (although it sometimes has issues updating its signatures)... just worrying that a PDA needs that - it's a sign of the times I guess! That said it's not the slickest of applications, requiring a bit more attention that it should (perhaps get it to update itself invisibly via Active Sync) and it does seem to be a bit of a performance drain
- Don't install Sykpe until it works properly on the platform, and it's possible to uninstall it without grief (as it seems to be the cause of most of the unexplained resets my machine suffered until I got rid of it and tidied up all the hooks it leaves behind)
- Why can't I use "remove programs" to get rid of the i-mate email app? It's a silly thing but if I want to use the Club i-mate email I'll set it up in Pocket Outlook myself thank.
If you're new to the whole PocketPC thing, have a look at the Howard Forums Wiki article on them to get started.
For users of HTC based phones XDA-Developers is a great resource, as is the unofficial i-mate Forum. The Expansys K-Jam forum also has some useful information (I got my K-Jam from Expansys AU), and it's worth registering at the official Club i-mate for official patches and updates. There's a lot of free software to be had at PocketPC Freewares - always a good way to start.
These are links to the apps that are currently making my phone a better tool
- A collection of useful registry tweaks to improve performance or activate extra functionality that's hidden by default
- A very useful utility that allows me to use the volume slider as a jog-dial for one-handed scrolling. Also remaps extended press on the two softkeys to open the Start Menu and act as an ok/close button
- I like soothing music to wake me up, not a default Windows beep. And I like to be able to snooze my alarm. Chronos provides that missing functionality in a very pretty app
- Just like Windows XP, Mobile can do with a hand every now and then with housekeeping. Cleaning the registry and flushing caches helps for a healthy running machine.
- Provides granular profile control for sounds and Bluetooth settings. Doesn't include WiFi (yet) but it works like a charm.
- Adds profiles and alarms to the Today panel of your phone. It can automatically activate or deactivate functions based on time or the cell tower id or charge status.
- Salling Clicker
- This little app allows a Bluetooth connection between the phone and my PC (there's a Max OSX version as well) and allows me to use the phone to remote control the PC - eg scripted control of iTunes or automatic actions on proxmity or the phone ringing
- Phone/Data Logger
- Quick summary of phone calls and GPRS data usage (it's free, and it's the first PocketPC app I've written!)
So, my device is an i-mate K-Jam, based on an HTC Wizard. Firmware versions currently:
Upgraded from the original 126.96.36.199 ROM / 01.01.10 Radio