OK, it’s hard to admit, but I am nowhere near the gadget guy that many of my friends are. Don’t get me wrong — I love new toys, and I consume my fair share of clever devices. But I am much more likely to see what Rob or Nathan thinks of a new device before taking the plunge myself, and I am generally more interested in core functionality than all the bells and whistles.
This goes double for phones — I am basically a Luddite in the phone world, believing that phones are for making phone calls. Calendar on my phone? No thanks. Task list? Forget that. Camera? I’ve taken maybe ten pictures with a phone in my life, and tossed all but a couple. Email? Ridiculous. I hate typing with 12 dinky keys. Form factor? Small please.
Yeah, Nathan lured me into the Windows Mobile phone world a while back with my current Audiovox SMT5600, and it’s actually pretty slick — it’s small, has a nice feel, and syncs my contacts with Outlook without too much pain. But I mostly use it for, um, phone calls.
Sure, I hang around with plenty of people who can’t wait to show me the coolest new phone, but I’ve been relatively immune to temptation.
Not this time.
I won a cool new phone about three weeks ago in a raffle at a Microsoft event (thanks, Dave!) and decided to try it out. It’s an HTC TyTN, which is a Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC phone. As a Phone Luddite, I had never heard of HTC before. Turns out, these guys have carved out a successful niche in high-end phones. They’re an interesting company, with a value proposition clearly differentiated from the mass-market phone producers like Nokia and Motorola.
I got this phone at the Microsoft Financial Services Partner Summit in Redmond on March 28. So there I was with my old phone, and this cool phone, and my laptop, and Outlook, and Internet access, and a mixture of interesting and not-fully-interesting presentations in front of me. So it’s time to tinker.
Dave Sugarman (our partner manager in the Microsoft Financial Services Group) is gadget crazy (he’s also the “Mobility Lead” for the FSG). He knows my level of phone sophistication, and offered to “set it up for me.” So we’re sitting together in the back of a presentation, and we get off to a good start — we move the SIM card, and the TyTN now knows it’s my phone, so that’s good. Now it’s ActiveSync time, and we’re in for a few Microsoft Moments — those moments where you really wish Microsoft understood the “out of box experience” a bit better.
Oh, that’s the OLD version of ActiveSync. Get the new one. No, you won’t have to reboot. Oh, well OK, maybe reboot. Oh, the phone and the Laptop have a different opinion of what time it is — get the DST patch. No, I have it already. No, apply it again anyway. OK NOW try the new ActiveSync. Server error 85010017? OK, yah, you’re trying to sync with your Exchange Server, so you probably need to get your certificate and apply it and trust it — get it from your IT guys. Oh, screw that, I just won’t sync email yet — clear that selection, just sync contacts / calendar / tasks, that’s all local. Server error 85010017? Huh. Not even trying to TALK to a server. Well, I guess it will work once you get the cert. At least now it’s a phone.
Into the office the next day, apply the cert, trust the cert, sync again — Server error 85010017. C’mon guys, this phone’s been on the market for more than six months, and Windows Mobile 5 has been around longer… Google around about that Server error, and here’s what you find on the Microsoft Web site:
In some cases, ActiveSync will fail to synchronize data with Microsoft Outlook with Synchronization Error code 85010017. This could be due to the presence of large volume of items on first sync or specific large items such as a calendar item with many meeting attendees. Some targeted instances of this have been fixed in Activesync 4.5.
If you are experiencing this on Windows 2000 or Windows XP SP1, please upgrade to Activesync 4.5. Otherwise you can try archiving your inbox to reduce the number of items in the mailbox for synchronization. Also, it could help to pat your head and rub your tummy whilst hopping on one foot.
(OK, I added the last bit.) I’m on XP SP2, and I’m not trying to touch my Inbox yet, but let’s not overthink this – I’ll archive some stuff, why not. And then reboot a few times, quit and restart ActiveSync a few times, pat my head and rub my tummy and hop on one foot, and lookee there, now it works fine. OK, well, not much of my life lost yet — this took an hour or two, most of which time I was doing other things at the same time. It’s a phone AND it syncs contacts, calendar, and tasks — it’s alive.
NOW point it at the Exchange Server while still connected via USB to my laptop, trusted cert and all — and receiving email works perfectly first time. Huzzah.
NOW disconnect it from the laptop and point it at Cingular — and receiving email still works perfectly. Huzzah huzzah. Now we’re cooking.
Send an email from the phone — hey, that works too, and the keyboard rocks. Practice with the keyboard a while, answering a few more emails — this is really really easy. This is NOT some cheesy little Motorola Q keyboard — you can really type on this thing.
Field test — Off to Hawaii
My recent family vacation to Hawaii came just a couple of days after I got the new phone, and seemed like a good opportunity to field-test it. I was NOT planning to “fully disconnect” on this vacation — there’s just too much going on at a rapidly-growing startup for the CEO to go completely dark for 10 days. (At our old company, Quantum Consulting, we coined the phrase “the only thing worse than checking in is not checking in,” but that’s a story for another day.) Nevertheless, I wanted to minimize the distractions, so lugging a laptop from place to place and booting up and searching for WiFi in the middle of the day was out of the question. Could the TyTN keep me “just enough” in touch?
Yes. I was concerned about the form factor at first — it’s quite a bit bigger than my old phone, and is noticeably heavy and bulgy in a pocket. (Audiovox 5600: 1.81 in x 0.63 in x 4.25 in, 3.67 oz. HTC TyTN: 2.28 in x 0.86 in x 4.43 in, 6.20 oz.) But it came with a nifty holster, and wearing it on my belt, I didn’t really notice a difference.
The ability to receive and respond to a few emails from the condo or even the beach without struggling with an intolerable keypad was great. The keypad slides out — and when you open it, the display automatically switches from portrait to landscape mode, which is far more natural for typing. In addition to the useful keypad, the screen is quite good — big enough to fit plenty of text without an unmanagable amount of scrolling around, bright enough to read outdoors, and sufficiently high resolution that small text is very readable. So reading emails (even attachments) and responding with more than just a grunt was quick and easy. (Ok, Blackberry users, feel free to act all smug now and say you’ve been doing this since the Nixon administration.)
I also used the Internet from my phone for real, locating restaurants and landmarks with surprising ease. (This experience has set me thinking about the next killer app for cellphones, but that also will wait for another day.)
Back to work
After vacation, I put in a 2-GB microSD storage card, and tried out Word, Excel, and other applications. Let’s just say this is less than satisfying. A fine idea for receiving and reading email attachments, but not for “real work.” I have found that I lug my laptop to meetings just as often as ever — the TyTN may be fine for a quick email, but real note-taking is not convenient, and working on a spreadsheet with more than a few cells is a low-productivity exercise. Nevertheless, on the road I dig out my laptop less often for Web browsing and email, yet I’m more current with email than ever.
Many of these capabilities were supposedly available on my old phone, but the screen, keyboard, and OS conspired to make them too inconvenient to use. Windows Mobile 5.0 is a significant improvement over four-dot-whatever-my-old-phone-uses; easier to navigate, and just smoother all around. My Windows gadget geek buddies are already on 6.0, and (Cingular permitting) that will be my next project.
Yes, I’ve even taken some decent pictures with it. No, I haven’t tried video conferencing or many other features.
OK, it’s not perfect. It’s an awesome PDA, but only an OK phone. Better phones are smaller, and have simple keypads exposed when open or closed. It’s easy enough to answer the phone, but to dial a number you need to switch to phone mode and poke at a touchscreen — a good touchscreen, but still, you have to look at it, so it’s hard to do while driving (not that I ever…um…). It’s got a stylus, and some people don’t like those. (I had a Palm for years, back in the day, and am neither fanatically pro- nor anti-stylus. For most applications you can poke with your finger or fingernail and get decent results.)
Many pictures of the TyTN, plus far geekier reviews, can be found at http://mobilitytoday.com/articles/htctytn_first_look.html.
That’s it for now. Highly recommended.