Magneto on my mobile

Finally, I got hold of a test edition of the Windows Mobile 5. After a little bit of hacking, I could successfully upgrade my Krome iQ700 to WM 5. Sweet. Though this upgrade does not introduce any dramatic changes, there are some enhancements to the UI, some improvements to IE and WM player which make it a worthy upgrade. The UI looks more sophisticated with an icon driven interface and the font is much more readable and increases the screen real estate. Interestingly, this font, called Segoe UI is the default font in Longhorn (Replaces the Tahoma. Tahoma does not look good on cleartype.)

The best thing about WM 5 is the blackberry-like push email. I cannot test this feature because the exchange plugin for this feature is not yet realeased. I will soon post some screenshots from this OS.

Tabbed browsing on IE 6 !!

On this website, I rather shamelessly admitted that I use IE for my everyday browsing (If every website works on IE, why switch to another browser?). The only thing that I most missed on IE is the tabbed browsing.

Now, you don’t need to wait till IE 7 to get tabbed browsing on your favorite browser. Through msn toolbar, Microsoft now offers tabbed browsing on IE 6. It also offers desktop search facilites (a.la Google) which basically indexes your hard drive. (Your outlook mails too.)

I downloaded it today. Let me give a try and will post a review after a few days of usage.

Download it at http://toolbar.msn.com

Review of the Krome iQ700 Windows Mobile based Smartphone

(a.k.a the Orange SPV C500, Qtek 8010, iMate sp3 and Audiovox SMT 5600)

OK, here is a review of my current Smartphone, the Krome iQ700. This review is based on a usage experience of around 3 months.

Who is this KROME by the way?
Their website (http://www.krome.com.au/) proudly proclaims that they are an Australian company, but their sales office is located in India and at this moment, it looks like they are selling these phones only in India.

The phone is actually made by a company called HTC from Taiwan, who is an OEM for many operators and phone manufacturers around the world. This model is called the HTC Typhoon and is available as the Audivox SMT 5600 in the US/Orange SPV C500 in Europe and also sold by many other companies with names like QTEK, iMATE etc.,

Physical Aspects
The phone feels solid in your hand. Though the body is made of plastic, the metallic painting gives a very professional look. It is quite small and can be easily mistaken for a regular Sony Ericsson phone like the k500. Though a bit heavy at over 200 grams, it fits quite neatly on your pocket. A stereo headphone is provided which also serves as a hands free device. Though the music quality on the phone is quite remarkable, the bass on the headset is a little flat. My only gripe about the hardware is the 5 way button on the centre with which you navigate around the menus. (My Canon Powershot S50 has a very similar 5 way key which also suffers from this center-push problem). The keypad has a very tactile response, which gives a lot of confidence when typing things using the T9.

A little history
My primary intention of using this phone is as a
– PIM for syncing with outlook
– Multimedia like WMA/MP3 player
– Heavy internet browsing (on the phone as well as on the PC using GPRS)
The default ROM on the phone came with Windows Media Player 9 which is quite useless since the features are very limited. You cannot play the music either folder wise or album wise. All it does is it scans your phone for .wma/.mp3 files and just starts playing them one by one. You also have a shuffle option, which makes it almost similar to the iPOD shuffle. (Except that this one has a display which shows the current song being played.) That made me really disappointed since I have read many nice things about the WMP 10 in reviews for Audiovox SMT 5600.
Then Orange France came to my rescue. A few weeks back, they released an updated ROM for the SPV C500 sold in France, which came with WMP 10. Though the site clearly warns you (in French !) that you can use it to only update French Orange SPV C500 phones, I took the plunge and gave a try by downloading the update. As expected, when I ran the download, it failed with an error message saying ‘incompatible phone’ (Again in French !!). I googled to find an application called “Typhoon NBF update tool” with which you can update a few parameters on the ROM. I cleared the “Operator” setting in the new ROM. When I ran the update utility again, it started updating the phone……

The Typhoon NBF tool showing a loaded ROM

Once the update is over, the application on the desktop congratulated me in French and exited. The phone rebooted and voila … the default Orange home screen appeared! The first thing I did was to go to the “Settings” menu and change the language to English.

The layout of the Orange home screen is quite different from the default home screen. I liked the default screen better than Orange’s (though it looks better) because it shows the summary Today screen with your upcoming appointments.

As an extra, the French ROM came with a few applications like ‘Backup’ which are not available with the standard OS. More about it later.

All the screenshots in this review are from the French ROM. The picture below shows my start menu with all my custom applications.

Making Calls

The screen after you press the ‘call’ button

This is the basic necessity of any phone no matter how ‘smart’ it is. Dialing a number is easy, just type in the number and press “Call”. The call history is hidden in the main menu, though. Pressing the green key when you are on a call puts the phone on speakerphone. The speakerphone quality is quite good. Many times, the other party was not able to make out that I am on speakerphone!

Connectivity

Infrared Modem connectivity

This is where the typhoon is a real wizard. You have the choice of using Bluetooth, IrDA and the good old USB for connectivity options. I personally prefer the Bluetooth for Dialup and synchronization with Outlook, but using BT for long hours is a drain on the battery. When I am not connected to my laptop, I usually turn off Bluetooth. (The latest version of Active Sync [4.0] is supposed to sync over Bluetooth too. But I haven’t got it to work so far.) IrDA is good for quick exchange of small files like photos taken on your mobile, text files etc., between your friends.

Multimedia

This is what I love the typhoon for – excellent video and audio reproduction! Throw in a miniSD card of atleast 256 MB and you can carry movies on your phone! I managed to encode the full length movie – Jim Carry’s Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls in only 180 MB of size and could watch it fully on the phone.

The typhoon is not bad in playing the audio files either. You can play mp3/wma files in Windows Media Player. I usually encode the audio files into 64kbps WMA so that I can carry more files. The following screenshots show the WMP 10 screen while playing a song.

Windows Media Player playing a WMA file

Apart from WMP, you also have a host of other 3rd party freeware multimedia applications like PocketTV, Betaplayer etc., which are also very good.

PocketTV playing a movie (not in full screen mode)

If there happens to be an incoming call while you are listening to music, WMP automatically pauses the music and resumes when your call is over. If there is an incoming SMS, the volume automatically decreases and resumes to normal when you have viewed/read the message. A nice touch.

miniSD Card

File Manager showing the storage card.


The miniSD card is not hot swappable, because it is hidden beneath the battery compartment. So you have to remove the battery to change the miniSD card, which is a pain. Currently, miniSD cards are available up to 1 GB of capacity. You can carry quite a lot of movies, songs and office documents with such capacity.

Internet

The PDA optimized Yahoo! portal

This is my favorite thing on the typhoon. The pocket IE and the mail client on the phone are very usable. Though it works well with PDA optimized websites, any website can be displayed in a single column mode or default mode. See the screenshots below.

The PDA optimized Slashdot home page

Coming to the mail client part, I could successfully configure Gmail using POP3/SMTP settings and could send and receive e-mails with ease.

Opera

The champion web browser – Opera, is also available for the Smartphone platform, but it is still in alpha stage. It is quite useful though. I have noticed that it does not display many websites properly, when in small screen rendering mode. A good example is my favorite gadget site http://www.engadget.com/. These quirks will surely be fixed when the final version is out. True to Opera’s spirit, even this tiny browser has a multi document interface (MDI), meaning you can browse multiple sites at the same time (no tabs though. Only window numbers.)

Camera
Hmmm… what to say? Cameras on mobile phones are still improving (For example the latest N series from Nokia). The camera on the typhoon is far better than the one I had on my A760. The resolution is VGA, but the quality leaves a lot to be desired. This is no fault of the typhoon as the optics for camera phones of most mainstream phones have not reached the quality of even the cheapest DigiCam that you find in the market. Below are some of the best shots my wife managed to get on this.


Santro Monkey


Misty mountain in Kodaikanal

Sunset (Taken from car. Notice the rear view mirror)

Video Recording
You can also record video, but at a much lower resolution though. The quality, needless to say is, mediocre.

MSN Messenger
This is something I don’t use on my mobile phone. My IM client of choice is the Yahoo! Messenger. I noticed that Yahoo! Messenger is available for US customers through the portals from the operators, but could not download it.

XBar 2.6

XBar

Though this is not a standard application, it is a must for any Windows based mobile phone. This tiny application provides ALT-TAB like switching between many applications. Microsoft does not provide ‘exit’ option for any of the standard applications. The application/memory management is left to the OS, but at times you could see that you are not able to start an application because of less availablility of RAM. You can easily kill applications using this utility. It is very actively supported by the author. Refer to the XBar website for more details. Incidentally, XBar even displays the ambient temperature!

Build Quality
Build quality is excellent. I have dropped it many times on tile flooring and once even on a cement flooring. Absolutely no visible damage has been caused so far by my carelessness.

Battery Life
The unit has a very decent battery life. Lasts upto 2 days with normal usage. But expect the battery life to be much shorter in case you are playing mp3s/video files quite often. Heavy usage of internet could also affect battery life to a large extent. A good feature of the phone is that it can get trickle charged through the USB cable. So while you keep your phone synchronized, you can also keep it charging!

Conclusion
Needless to say, the typhoon is widely regarded as the best Smartphone ever. Apart from a few minor quirks, you get a top notch cellphone with the best multimedia and internet capabilities. Now it is retailing in India for the price of around Rs. 19,000 (approx US$ 430). Go for it ! It is also available as the O2 Xphone in India. A new model with better looks and slight hardware improvements is also now available for almost the same price. (Called o2 Xphone II). Or if you can wait for a while, save some money for Windows Mobile 5 based phones. Expect these phones by August/September this year!

Disclaimer

Upgrading the ROM on a phone is a risky business. A small mistake and you can easily end up with a damaged phone – which can only be used as a paperweight later. After reading this article, if you attempt to upgrade the ROM, be aware that you are doing it at your own risk and the author of this article is in no way responsible for any damages caused to you or your phone.

Update: 21 Feb 2007. It almost 2 years and surprised that still many people are interested in this phone! To all of you who are planning to purchase this phone: Though it is a great phone, it is now little outdated. Note that it is running Windows Mobile 2003, while the current release is Windows Mobile 2006 or WM 6. There are plenty of new models from HTC itself, which you can consider.

The Nokia 770 Internet tablet

The tablet story is back. This time from Nokia. Sure it is elegant, sleek and stylish, but why on earth would Nokia introduce such a product, especially at this juncture, when PDA phones are becoming the order of the day? The latest phone specs are reading like: 3G with VGA resolution, built-in wi-fi etc., A new Smartphone worth its salt will beat this tablet handsdown within 6 months down the lane. Q4 2005 is a vey good possibilty. The feature list of the 770 is here.

If you buy a tablet of this nature, you are:
-stuck with a browser which gets outdated within a few days of buying this.
-absence of hard drive means you have absolutely no download possibilities.

The only positives I see on this device are
-800×600 display
-Linux OS, which means unlimited hackability.

It is not very clear on how often Nokia will provide updates to the firmware for such a product. You need one atleast once in 6 months. Otherwise you will soon end up with an expensive paperweight.

Back home, a small company called Encore Software (of the now almost-dead Simputer fame) has comeup with tablets with keyboard etc., which can do much more than what the Nokia 770 promises (with Office applications, hard disk etc.,). But I still wonder where is the market for such products. Encore’s tablets are supposed to retail for around Rs 8000 to 15,000 (approx US $ 180 to 350). If you go to the local Burma Bazaar, you can get a decent PC assembled for Rs 12,000 (US $270). In that case, why would I go for a crippled tablet that runs on Linux and is hardly upgradeable. (I am mentioning Linux in the negative here because, such tablets are targetted towards beginneers who are often confused by the incompatibilities that exist across operating systems.)

The positive news from Encore is that their tablets are going to be used in the new version of Maini’s Reva electric vehicles.