Touch Weather for Windows Mobile review

One of the things I miss most about the default HTC HD2 home page is the animated weather (below) that the HTC Sense interface provides. Not only is it pretty but it’s intelligent, using GPS to find your location and GPRS/3G to download the local weather conditions and forecast.

20110425-htc-hd2-htcsense

Spb Mobile Shell 3.5 does have a weather gadget but it’s not as comprehensive as the HTC version: it doesn’t include Anstruther, St Andrews or Selkirk. Instead I have to rely on the ‘nearby’ forecasts for Dundee or Edinburgh, which are just not accurate enough.

Touch Weather

Last night I discovered another weather application Touch Weather for Windows Mobile, which is a gorgeous, animated (with video effect snow, ran and clouds) weather application that pulls in data from any of six, international weather forecast sites:

so you should hopefully be able to include most places you’d want; the application claims to provide weather for 50,000+ locations worldwide. I certainly found Anstruther, St Andrews and Selkirk using AccuWeather.

I never worked out where there is a limit to the number of towns you can store at once but I’m delighted that I can easily switch between my usual three.

20110425-weather-0120110425-weather-02

Free and Pro versions

The application comes in two versions: free and pro. The free version provides an animated weather forecast for the current day only.

For US$9.98 you can upgrade to the pro version which gives you a detailed daily forecast (morning, afternoon, evening and night) as well as a more complete, seven day forecast. While running the free version you can trial the pro version for 14 days.

System requirements

Touch Weather runs on anything from Windows Mobile 5 PocketPC and Smartphone to Windows Mobile 6, 6.1 and 6.5 Classic, Standard and Professional versions.

It also supports the following resolutions (in pixels):

  • VGA 640 x 480
  • WVGA 800 x 480
  • qVGA 320 x 240
  • WqVGA  400 x 240
  • SqVGA 320 x 320

Data

Typically the data download per location has been around 180 KB which shouldn’t cost too much on a GPRS/3G data connection, and you have complete control over when and how it updates: manual or scheduled (every 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, 12 hours or 24 hours).

Backgrounds

One really neat feature is the ability to customize the background. Touch Weather comes with six built-in panoramic images, and the option to use one of your own. This appears to be set per location. So, in theory, you could use a photograph of the location you’re pulling in the weather forecast for.

Looking at the six default panoramic images it would appear that dimensions should be at least 800 x 480 pixels, although the largest is 1600 x 1200.

Video demo

Here’s a video demo on YouTube of the interface, albeit in Russian.

Conclusion

While Touch Weather doesn’t show itself on the phone’s home screen, or integrate with Spb Mobile Shell, and it doesn’t use GPS to automatically determine your location such inconveniences are a small price to pay for such a beautiful, customizable weather forecast application. I’ll definitely be upgrading to the pro version when my 14 days trial expires.

Looks like there is a version for Android now too.

Fixing the audio problem with Spb Mobile DVD on Windows 7

20110408-spbmobiledvd

I’ve been preparing for my trip to Luxembourg next weekend and given that I’m going to be spending many hours on a train I’ve been converting a couple of DVDs into a format that I can play on my phone running Windows Mobile 6.x.

I’ve been using the rather excellent Spb Mobile DVD, however I ran into a slight problem: since upgrading my PC from Windows XP to Windows 7 the DVD I can no longer hear
any audio on the DVDs (either previewing in Spb Mobile DVD or on the ripped
movies) but the video is superb quality.

I contacted Spb’s technical support who replied the same day saying that I should install the AC3Filter audio codec and try again.

Sure enough after the installation of the AC3 Filter codec Spb Mobile DVD is working once again: superb video and audio too.

I thought someone else might find this information useful.

I’ve just completed a task 2490 years early

It’s no secret that the default Outlook Tasks application in Windows Mobile 6 isn’t great, and given that I use tasks almost as much as the calendar—perhaps even more so—I’m always on the look-out for a dedicated application that will handle them better.

pTasks

I was therefore delighted when I discovered pTasks, which describes itself as “a replacement for the default Windows Mobile task manager” with a “finger-friendly user interface”.

Perfect!

It costs £2.69 from the Windows Phone app store.

Rather than paying for something that I don’t know if I wanted to keep I went in search of a free, early beta release. I found version 0.5f (the current, paid-for version is 1.5) and gave it a test drive.

An important note is that it requires the .NET 3.5 framework installed first.

Imagine my surprise when I added a new task, “Blog about pTasks”, and reviewed the details:

20110316-pTasks

How efficient am I! I’ve just completed a task nearly 2490 years early.

Mobile phone forgiveness–how I reinstall my PDA

20110311-mobilephone

What better way to begin Lent than by offering your mobile phone complete forgiveness? It was getting slower and slower, and last week I was needing to soft-reset it every day or two.

So, last night I performed what is now becoming a six-monthly hard-reset and reinstallation of Windows Mobile 6.1 on my O2 Xda Zest.

Installation order

I’ve pretty much got it down to a fine art now, and simply need to follow the instructions on my custom-made Excel spreadsheet which tells me what to do and in what order.

20110311-mobilephoneexcel

I have 5 main categories of actions:

  1. Hard reset which includes setting the date/time, the O2 Auto Installer, selecting the correct O2 network package (pay monthly), uninstalling the default (and outdated) Spb Mobile Shell and Opera.
  2. Connect to PC which includes connecting to my PC using Windows Mobile Device Center, and setting up Exchange.
  3. Basic Setup which includes setting up the owner (which is used by some software when registering applications), regional settings, calendar settings (week starts on Sunday, show 7-days, show half-hour slots, show week numbers, do not set reminders for new items), connect to WiFi, backlight and power settings (battery: 5 mins; external power: always on), change my ring tones, and schedule ActiveSync (set to manual and no email push service).
  4. Essential software which is now Spb Mobile Shell, Spb Wallet, SK Tools (for the registry editor), Opera Mobile, Microsoft MyPhone (to backup online my files, texts, photos, etc.), Agenda One (for improved handling of Outlook Tasks), CoPilot Live, moTweets (although I haven’t installed it this time and MyMobiler (so that I can view my mobile phone screen on my PC).
  5. Optional software which includes Pocket e-Sword bible, MobiPocket (eBook reader), DivX Mobile Player (for movies), FourWinds mahjong, Spb Keyboard, A-Z (Edinburgh, Glasgow and London).

This time I have purposely not reinstalled any of the optional software. Most of it I don’t use on a day-to-day basis so I just want to see how I get on without it.

Regional settings hack

By default in the UK regional settings the long date format is either

  • dd MMMM yyyy (e.g. 01 March 2011)
  • d MMMM yyyy (e.g. 1 March 2011)

but there is no option for including the day of the week. However, I discovered that if I did the following I could trick Windows Mobile 6.1 (and I’ve used this hack with earlier versions of Windows Mobile too) into using the format that I wanted:

  1. Start > Settings > System tab > Regional Settings.
  2. Set Region to English (United States).
  3. On the Date tab select dddd, dd MMMM yyyy from the drop-down.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Reboot Windows Mobile.
  6. Start > Settings > System tab > Regional Settings.
  7. Set Region to English (United Kingdom).
  8. Click OK.
  9. Reboot Windows Mobile.

If you now visit Start > Settings > System tab > Regional Settings you’ll see on the Region summary tab that the long date has remained in the format dddd, dd MMMM yyyy (e.g. Friday, 11 March 2011):

20110311-mobilephoneregionalsettings

Custom ring tones

The other thing that I have to remind myself every time I reinstall is where to store custom ringtones. I have two that I use an old phone ringtone for my calls, and the ‘24’ CTU phone ringtone for my text messages.

Once the files are in place I go to Start > Settings > Sounds & Notifications > Notifications tab to set the ringtones.

Phone ringtone

I have a .wma file that I drop into \Windows\Rings\ on my phone’s internal memory.

SMS ring tone

I have a .mp3 file that I drop into \Windows\ on my phone’s internal memory.

Conclusion

And that is pretty much it. It took me about two and a half hours to do, including backing up old files and photos from my Micro SD card.

Moving to Microsoft Exchange 2007

Computers and devices connected to a server

You say single point-of-failure, I say synchronized data!

Back in July 2009 I upgraded my mobile phone from an O2 Xda Orbit to an O2 Xda Zest. All was well until I tried to synchronize it with two copies of Microsoft Outlook, one at home, the other at work.

It didn’t work.

Windows Mobile 6.1 won’t sync

A quick Web search showed me that I wasn’t alone. It turns out that there was a bug in that version of Windows Mobile 6.1 on my phone. Microsoft had fixed it and rolled out the update to OEMs but it appears that O2 wasn’t going to let it roll any further.

Diagram of Windows Mobile phone synchronizing with 2 PCs

My Windows Mobile 6.1 phone would only synchronize with one PC

So I was stuck with a phone that would synchronize with only one PC. Which was somewhat bothersome as I was rather used to the convenience of my calendar, contacts, tasks and notes being available both at work and at home, as well as on the go on my mobile phone.

I needed to find another solution.

XTND Connect

The first thing I looked for was an alternative to Microsoft ActiveSync (I was using Windows XP at the time) and I discovered XTND Connect.

I wondered if the problem could be bypassed by using an alternative to ActiveSync.

It couldn’t.

That didn’t work either, which made it quite an expensive mistake. The demo version looked promising but was so highly crippled in terms of functionality that I had to buy the full version in order to fully evaluate it. Which rather defeats the purpose of a demo version, in my view.

Sync2

So I looked around at alternative solutions and it appeared to me that there were only two options left:

  1. Synchronize with an online application (e.g. Google Calendar)
  2. Synchronize to a server (e.g. Microsoft Exchange)
  3. Synchronize to a local folder (e.g. USB flash drive)

I explored the Google Calendar and Google Contacts option but (and for me, it’s a deal-breaker, which is one reason I’ve not gone rushing out to buy an Apple iPhone) one the elements of Outlook that I use perhaps more than any other is Tasks. And I couldn’t sync my tasks with Google Calendar.

I assumed that Exchange would be out of my price bracket so focussed on the second option which led me to Sync2 from 4Team.

Not only does Sync2 synchronize your Outlook calendar, contacts, tasks and notes with a folder of your choosing (USB flash drive, local folder, LAN folder, etc.) it will also synchronize with Google Calendar and Contacts.

I discovered that if I synchronized it with a folder in Dropbox at home I could then synchronize it again from the same folder on my PC at work, without having to worry about remembering to pack my USB flash drive.

Three computers using Sync2 synchronizing with a Dropbox folder

Using Sync2 to synchronize using a Dropbox folder

That has been the solution I have been using for the last six months to synchronize my data between home, work and my laptop.

Occasionally I ran into problems with data not synchronizing properly and so had to either

  • Resynchronize a profile (i.e. make it think it was doing it for the first time again.
  • Delete a profile and recreate it from scratch.
  • Reinstall Sync2 completely.

But most of the time it worked pretty well.

Except that it still didn’t address the issue of my mobile phone being out-of-sync for most of the day, between synchronizations at home.

Hosted Microsoft Exchange 2007

So in January I went in search of an affordable, UK-based hosted Microsoft Exchange account.

After some shopping around I eventually selected Simply Mail Solutions (SMS) based in Warrington. What attracted me about their hosted Exchange 2007 account features were (in order):

  • Only £4.99 per month
  • Full support for Windows Mobile including push
  • Full Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Internet Explorer
  • Out of office assistant
  • Free copy of Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007

With each device connecting directly to the Exchange server I can guarantee that my data is always up-to-date (server outages withstanding).

Various devices connecting to an Exchange Server

Two PCs, a laptop, a mobile phone and Outlook all connecting to the Exchange Server

Another welcome benefit is that I won’t have the problems of duplicated entries that I’ve experienced so many times when synchronizing multiple devices. Here’s a screenshot I took of Outlook and posted to Twitpic last month showing a repeated entry for “Doug Aitken’s Birthday” duplicated 13 times!

Calendar entry (Doug Aitken's Birthday) duplicated 13 times

Calendar entry (Doug Aitken's Birthday) duplicated 13 times

I can even resynchronize my mobile phone when I’m out and about using my roaming Web add-on from O2.

Conclusion

So far I’m really pleased with Exchange and with the service offered by Simply Mail Solutions (SMS).

I’ve noticed only one outage from Simply Mail Solutions which lasted only a couple of minutes when connection to the server went down, and one period of particularly slow connectivity … but then it was 01:00 in the morning, they were doing some maintenance on the servers (I discovered via a quick support call) and I should have been in my bed!

There is a balance to be made when using a hosted service like this for such important personal data between:

  1. the reassurance that I have one ‘golden copy’ of data, stored centrally that is accessed by all my devices, and
  2. the potential for it to be a single point of failure: if it goes down completely I can’t synchronize between locations and my data isn’t up-to-date.

But given my previous experience of hours and hours wasted by repeatedly cleaning up corrupted or deleted data through failed synchronizations, and living with the uncertainty that perhaps my work calendar isn’t exactly the same as my home, laptop or mobile phone calendars … I think I’ll stick with Exchange for a while.

Windows Mobile 6.1 broke my life!

O2 Xda Zest

About 3-4 weeks ago my beloved O2 Xda Orbit phone started to act erratically, randomly switching itself off according to its own unfathomable set of rules. It was okay when plugged in, but it was getting increasingly impractical pulling an extension cable along Market Street when I went out for lunch.

I figured that resetting the Xda Orbit to factory settings was what it needed and spent an evening reinstalling everything. To no avail. It would still randomly switch itself o…

Zest

I put up with it over a weekend and telephoned O2 the following Monday morning and ordered a very similar device, the O2 Xda Zest; a rebranded Asus Crystal.

There was so much that I liked about the Xda Orbit: the built-in GPS, WiFi, GPRS Web browsing, FM radio and I could synchronize it with my PCs at both home and work. The Xda Zest seemed to offer much the same, only with a much improved screen (proper VGA 480 x 640 pixels) and a much, much faster CPU.

Except the FM radio.

And, as I discovered to my cost, synchronizing with two PCs!

Windows Mobile 6.1 flaw

You see, I naively followed the assumption that the next version of something would be a little better than the previous version of that something. That’s how advertising has reeled me in so often during these last 30+ years.

“Ooh! look! A new one. It must be better. I want it!”

Isn’t that how it usually works?

Seemingly no-one told the Windows Mobile team that. Because it seems that there was a fundamental flaw in Windows Mobile 6.1: it wouldn’t synchronize with two PCs! Even though that’s one of its key features.

Which seems a bit like buying a new car, getting it home and discovering that it drives on A-roads but not your local streets. You can use it at work, but not at home.

Getting Nothing Done (GND)

Which for many people wouldn’t be a problem, but for the last 3 years that’s been the backbone of my organization system. No matter where I’ve been, at work, at home, out-and-about, I’ve always had a full picture of my appointments, commitments, contacts, tasks and priorities.

When I worked from home, in the parish, things were in many ways easier: I had one PC with which I synchronized my Psion 5mx. It was an almost flawless system. But the introduction of a second base, my office, added a new level of complexity. Windows Mobile 6.0 (just about) handled it admirably using ActiveSync (though quite often more correctly spelled ‘ActiveSink’!). Windows Mobile 6.1, however, has let me down quite spectacularly. And not just me, as a quick Web search will prove.

For the last 3 weeks or so, however, I’ve been at sixes and sevens. Thankfully, because I’ve been backing up my Outlook PST files more often than usual, I’ve not actually lost any data but on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with a lot (a LOT) of duplicated data which is just as time-consuming to deal with.

And all the while not entirely sure of the whole picture of my life, which is rather unsettling for someone who is usually so on top of things.

What to do?

So where do I go now? How do I recover my sense of being-on-top-of-things?

  1. Sync my Psion with both

    I tried that, but again the Psion wasn’t really designed to be synchronized with more than one PC. I get errors, so have to re-sync from scratch and end up either duplicating data or reintroducing data that I’ve already deleted on one of the platforms.

  2. Google Calendar

    I’ve tried to synchronize my Outlook calendar with Google Calendar using Google’s own Google Calendar Sync. But it didn’t synchronize all my events, and what about my tasks?

    I’m going to try out XTNDConnect PC to synchronize Outlook with Google Calendar and see how that works; I’ve already tried it synchronizing Outlook with Windows Mobile 6.1 but it duplicated everything!

    Outlook 2007 will allow me to subscribe to an iCalendar feed, such as that offered by Google Calendar, which is great for when I’m at my desktop — but what about when I’m out-and-about with my my phone (or Psion)?

  3. Remember the Milk

    I then tried Remember the Milk to synchronize my Windows Mobile Pocket Outlook tasks with this online task application. But I have over 100 tasks and it didn’t copy over the categories.

    One “inbox” task list of 120 tasks really wasn’t useful.

  4. Psion

    At the moment I’m currently synchronizing both work and home calendars with different Agenda files on my Psion. It’s not ideal but at least I still have all my data in one place.

  5. Hosted Microsoft Exchange

    I have also been considering buying a hosted Microsoft Exchange account. That way — I guess — I could access all my data from work, home or on the move on my phone or via the Web. But I don’t have any experience of Exchange so would welcome people’s comments/thoughts.

It’s been a frustrating time, but I am willing to move on and use something else … I’ve just not found the right solution yet.

Fixing ActiveSync woes with Outlook 2007

Microsoft ActiveSync

Now here’s a remarkable (even blogable) thing: my slow Windows Mobile to Outlook ActiveSync synchronization woes now appear to be a thing of the past. But not before running into some difficulties.

After I upgraded from Microsoft Outlook 2003 to Microsoft Outlook 2007 ActiveSync point-blank refused to connect to my beloved O2 Xda Orbit.

Not only had I upgraded Outlook itself, I’d also moved from the older “Outlook 97-2002″ PST file format to the newer “Outlook 2003-2007″ format. I didn’t even realise that I had been working with the older format. That must go back to my upgrade from Outlook 2000 to 2003.

My usual solutions did nothing to help:

  • Remove the Windows Mobile 6 device from the cradle and then reseat it.
  • Reboot the Windows Mobile 6 device.
  • Reboot the Windows XP device.
  • Run scanpst.exe on my Outlook.pst file.

I went for a solution-hunt on Google, and discovered that disabling the advanced nework functionality might just do the trick. And you know what: it did.

What I did

  1. Click Start > Settings
  2. Click on the Connections tab, and you see this:

Windows Mobile 6 Settings

  1. Double-tap the “USB to PC” icon
  2. Now untick the only option available: “Enable advanced network functionality”.
  3. Click OK button (top right).

Windows Mobile 6 USB to PC settings

Now everything seems to be running faster and more responsive on my O2 Xda Orbit (not just connecting to ActiveSync but accessing menus, calendar data, contacts, applications start faster), and it connects to ActiveSync first time, even straight after a system reboot. Previously it would always object, and I’d need to remove it from the cradle and leave it until after the system had completely booted up.

But …

The only thing is that I’m not entirely sure what “advanced network functionality” is. I’m not sure what I’ve disabled, what I’m missing out on … any ideas?