Sunday, June 25, 2006

Windows Mobile 5.0 on a Qtek 9100

This entry is essentially going to be a partial review of Windows Mobile 5, so if you are not of a geeky disposition, or thinking of buying into this OS, then you may want to surf-on now.

At work recently we have been looking into giving certain staff 24x7 access to their email. They already have a web-mail facility, but some staff travel enough on trains and planes that there is a growing need for something more accessible and portable to the frequent traveller.

Naturally we are looking at the now ubiquitous Blackberry and we have already rolled-out a trial of this technology. We thought we would look into Windows Mobile 5 as well because, although we are advised that it isn’t ‘Enterprise-ready’ yet, it could be a potential challenger to Blackberry in a year or two.

So anyway, arriving at work on Friday morning, I found the device in its box on my desk. The device in question is a Qtek 9100. It’s a brand I haven’t heard of before, but so far it seems to be fairly robust and well laid-out. It’s basically a PDA/phone combo; a large touch-screen with Call/Hang-Up, navigation and soft keys below it and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. As the name suggests, the OS is based around Windows CE in its look and feel, so anyone who’s ever used a Compaq Pocket PC would be familiar with it.

It’s equipped with Wi-Fi as well as GSM and GPRS, although sadly no 3G facility. The clever bit (as far as Blackberry-challenging is concerned) is that it can interface with Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access to connect you to your Exchange Server. It will connect through either Wi-Fi or GPRS and gives you real-time access to your mail folders, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes. Our company already has secure OWA in place, so beyond the cost of the device, there is no expense to us to roll out the service – unlike Blackberries where you need at least an additional server and per-user licensing.

So far (okay only forty-eight hours) the OS has been quite stable and the applications are quite usable.

However… the first twelve hours of using were some of the most frustrating of my career! And here’s why;

ActiveSync is crap. It isn’t fit for purpose and is actually a disincentive to use the device. I was ready to do serious and prolonged harm to the phone on Friday because it proved so difficult to get it to perform such a simple task as synchronising with my inbox And that was with the damn thing wired to my computer!! Don’t even get me started on my travails attempting a Bluetooth sync (which my Nokia has never ever found tricky!)

ActiveSync really needs to be re-written from the bottom up; it is not terribly intuitive, it has very limited configurability of your options (why can’t it recognise the fact that I have two folders with contacts in and that I might not want to sync the default one with my phone??) It gives you pretty much no information about what is happening while it’s working, so you don’t know if things are happening, or if it’s hung and you’ll be waiting forever (which is what it did several times!) and ofcourse, when you finally decide that this first-year-project-work-beta-standard software has actually hung, you have no way of telling it to stop (not) synchronising with your device other than pulling the plug on your phone.

So anyway…

Once I had realised that my frustrations were pretty much entirely with the synchronisation software rather than the device itself, we got along much better. (I have subsequently reinstalled ActiveSync on my laptop, but only because that seemed to be the only way of installing applications to the device, but I think I’ve now worked out how to do that by Bluetooth.)

Having given up on ActiveSync and tried plain old wi-fi, the phone connected and synchronised immediately with my mail server. Suddenly everything was on the phone and as soon as a new message appeared in my inbox, my phone would chirp to say it had received it too. Using the out-of-the-box Bluetooth on my laptop enabled me to transfer files between the device and my laptop fairly painless, just as I used to with my Nokia. All in all, everything was well in the garden by the time I left work.

Having gotten the basics together at work and then come home, I came across my second (and only other) major gripe with Win Mob 5; managing different networks and protocols.

By definition, mobile devices are going to be moving a lot. You expect them to encounter lots of different networks in lots of different scenarios and you really want your device to take care of connecting to the correct one without much intervention from you. That’s something Microsoft needs to work on some more to perfect. While the manual talks about your list of ‘preferred networks’ there is no way of managing them effectively; it all seems a bit random. For instance, I’d like to be able to give it a list of Wi-Fi networks it can use and, when it sees one, it should connect to it in preference to making a GPRS connection (for which I pay per megabyte.) That seems like common sense to me, but I can’t tell my device to do it. I have to switch off GPRS for it to connect preferentially to Wi-Fi, which means that when I’m away from any friendly Wi-Fi base stations, I have to switch it back on to stay in touch…

Actually Wi-Fi seems to be a bit of an afterthought. It isn’t terribly well integrated into the OS. For example there is a nifty little way of dividing up your networks into ‘Work’ or ‘Internet’ connections, but it doesn’t deal with Wi-Fi. It only lets you pick GPRS, modem or Bluetooth options; not Wi-Fi. Huh??

Okay, to sum up, we were told this technology isn’t Enterprise-ready yet and it isn’t. Apart from the gripes above, it lacks any of the centralised control that Blackberry’s offer which is key to protecting your non-security-savvy user’s email in the event their phone gets stolen. That said, I can see that in a year or two, this system will be competitive with some segments of the Blackberry market and, if they can crack the centralised management thing (something which shouldn’t be too hard, given they’ve got the device talking to the enterprise network now which, as like as not, will be enabled for Group Policy management) then it will be a serious contender across the board.

In the meantime though, I would only give this device to the most tech-savvy of my users; it isn’t seamless enough for a technophobe or someone without the time to spend learning its peculiarities Now that my initial desire to smash the thing into a million tiny pieces has passed though, I think I’ll hold onto my one. It is a sufficiently good PDA-phone compared to my Nokia that I suspect I will actually come to like it despite some of its quirkier networking attributes. Microsoft have still got their work cut out if they want to dominate this market though!

1 comment:

czechOUT said...

geek! (sorry...too much for my simple mind).

So hey, he used to be a father...don't you just love the homage to An Unearthly Child last night?

SPOILER ALERT (so don't read on if u don't want to know)

As for Rose, is she going to become some kind of drone do ya think? I've already been (well) informed season 3 appearance....