iPhone or WinMo?

I have now been with an iPhone for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to toy around with the interface and let the new wear off of the novelty. It has also given me time to delve into a few of the productivity apps that one can get for free from the App Store. Why the free apps and not pay apps? Simple. Many of the pay apps are mobile versions of commercial software. Quality for those is expected to be fairly high. I wanted to see what the really thrifty could use.

First off, I really like my iPhone. If you frequent my site, then you know that I have used the AT&T Tilt since its release last year and I have had almost nothing but praise for it. I still do. It is a wonderful device for those who want to use a Windows Mobile phone. I still suggest changing the ROM on the Tilt to make it truly speedy and functional. What does this have to do with the iPhone? Well I decided to try out the Apple offering to see how it fared against my beloved Tilt. iPhone wins hands down. First off the device isn’t nearly as clunky as the Tilt. This is a big deal to me. I’m not a style hound, but I don’t enjoy walking around holding a small car up to my head to talk to someone.

As of the 2.0.2 Firmware update the battery life and signal reliability have been improved. I would say that it now rivals the stock Tilt for battery life. While it may be playing catch-up with the Tilt in the areas of signal and battery, it far outstrips the device when it comes to the screen. The iPhone display is absolutely beautiful. The touch screen accuracy and sensitivity are generations beyond the Tilt. The system works far more fluidly than I thought it would.

What about the lack of a physical keyboard? As many have said before me, after a little time with the touch screen, I don’t miss the tactile board and actually find I am faster on the iPhone. I used to struggle with the Tilt’s keyboard. It took both hands to use at all. The iPhone screen keyboard can be used one handed once you learn the distance to move your finger to hit the different “keys”. The autocorrect feature rarely makes mistakes unless you happen to be typing in slang. That does confuse it sometimes. Overall, however, autocorrect keeps you from having to backspace because you missed a key by a nanometer.

The GPS on the 2.0.1 firmware was terrible. I won’t even try to make an excuse for it. It downright sucked. Even the Tilt on a radio firmware version that took nearly 3 minutes to boot the GPS chipset beat the iPhone on 2.0.1 firmware. That’s is completely different on 2.0.2. The GPS literally finds you in a matter of seconds. At least that has been my experience. And let me tell you, my GPS completely stopped working the second day I had my iPhone. Firmware FTW!

I suggest buying a case for your iPhone if you want to keep it safe. I rather think the Speck ArmorSkin is great. It’s easy to deal with, gives you simple access to every button and port you need and is thick enough to help protect your expensive device from a small drop. A word of warning on the belt clip: Don’t use it. The plastic is flimsy and it doesn’t hold the phone securely at all. Just put it in a pocket and be happy.

What about the software? This post got long. I’ll write up the review on my software choices next week.

AT&T Tilt Software – Revisited

In my previous post, I did a very high level overview of what software changes I made to my phone for better usability and performance. This time, we’re going to talk ROMs. The Tilt/Kaiser/Vario III/TyTN II/etc is a versatile piece of equipment. However, I have yet to find an owner that didn’t have a few pet peeves for things that were on there or things that were left out. Now many of these gripes can be addressed with just installing the programs we want. Removing provider bloatware is another matter. It is usually cooked into the ROM itself and does not show in the Remove Programs app. Enter XDA-Developers and the Kaiser ROM kitchen.

This little bundle of joy allows one to take a dumped ROM and customize it. You can then flash the rebuilt (cooked) ROM to the phone and enjoy all the new toys. Don’t have the knowledge/time/patience/desire to build your own? No problem. The guys at XDA are fanatical about tweaking and performance and have already built lots of ROMs to suit most everyone’s needs and desires. Personally, I like the ROMs cooked by Dutty. He produces them quickly and they almost always push a new boundary making the experience just that much better. I’ve gone through about four different Dutty ROMs and all have left me impressed.

I am currently using his DualTouch v2 Fixed Full ROM. This one incorporates elements included in HTC’s DualTouch phone such as TouchFlow and the Cube. Performance on this ROM is worlds beyond what I had with the stock AT&T build. Just make sure that if you flash the ROM, that you also flash the Radio ROM. These are separate steps and both must be done on an AT&T Tilt if you use a non-AT&T ROM. Why? The Radio ROM handles the peripheral hardware like the cellular radio, camera, and speaker. If you use a non-AT&T Rom with the AT&T Radio, you will lose the speaker and a have weird issues out of the phone. Don’t worry, the flashing of the radio is just as easy as flashing the ROM and faster. It won’t wipe out any settings, either.

So, how do you do it?

  1. Download and install HardSPL. This will allow you to flash non-factory ROMs to your device. Note: some AT&T users report a solid white screen when installing, there is a thread about it here. BE SURE TO FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS IN THE FIRST POST OF THESE THREADS.
  2. Pick the ROM of your choice and download it to your PC. Unzip it and run the .EXE file. Follow the directions on the screen. (There is no master list of ROMs, you just have to peruse the threads.)
  3. Most of the ROM chefs advise doing a hard reset on your device after the flash. This prevents odd issues. So do this after the ROM is flashed and the device reboots and finishes basic setup.
  4. If you have the AT&T Tilt and used a non-AT&T ROM, you need to install the Tilt Keyboard Fix. Just copy this to the phone and run it. Otherwise, some symbols on the keyboard will be incorrect.
  5. Also, If you run a Tilt, now is the time to flash the Radio. Just download the version of your choice (most suggest either .17 or .32 for best overall performance) and run the .EXE. Failure to do so will result in loss of audio and possible dropped calls and system instability.
  6. Load any CAB files and change any necessary system settings (like configuring email and marrying BlueTooth devices) and enjoy.

Beware, however, that flashing becomes addictive. You quite probably will end up changing the ROM often to see what new gadgets there are and what kind of performance the latest combination of tweaks provides. Don’t believe me? In the time it took me to write this article, I changed to Dutty’s DualTouch v3 test version to see what the hype was about. And yes, it looks like the performance increase is huge.

The Noreve P4550/Tilt Case Dilemma (updated)

I spent a lot of time researching the various case designs for the Tilt. There is a reason for that. A phone where the top half slides out and then tilts up is not going to be the easiest product to design for. I had some specifics that I wanted in a case. So I began my search for something that met these criteria:

  • Covers the touch screen
  • Allows access to all slots/buttons/lenses/etc without removing the case
  • Allows screen to be opened and tilted without removing the case
  • Has pockets for MicroSD cards
  • Does not have a plastic sleeve covering the keyboard

I found all of this in the Noreve case for the P4550/Tilt. So I ordered it. Overall, I have been pleased with this case but I do have to share what I’ve gone through to get to this point with a case that is sitting on my desk with no phone in it.

I ordered the case on October 18, 2007. The case description on the site said that black cases were in stock. I receive an email confirming my order a few minutes later. After a couple of hours, I receive another email stating the black case was not in fact in stock and it would be shipped within 15 business days. Of course, the site states it would be in my hands within 15 business days should it be out of stock. Not a big deal…the Tilt is very popular. But I ask for clarification as to whether it will ship within 15 days or if it is to be delivered in 15 days. This makes a difference because I was going to be out of town the week of Thanksgiving and if it only shipped by then…I would probably not get it until I returned.

I got some very patient and understanding help on my questions. Kudos to NoreveUSA for that. Turns out the promise is to ship by the 15th business day. Still, not a huge deal, just a minor inconvenience. Fast-forward to November 13. The case finally ships. So now they’re already behind. It’s taken nearly a full month to ship my case which is beyond their 15 business day mark. But that’s okay. This is the only case that I have found that fits my criteria perfectly. I’ll wait for it. The case arrives on my desk that Friday, November 16, 2007.

The case is everything I had hoped it to be. Everything works wonderfully. The only thing I was even slightly disappointed in was the belt clip. I wear a thick leather belt and this clip really digs into and scars it. But such things are really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. This is an old belt and it already has a few scars on it from the cats.

But…early last week I was pulling my phone off the clip to check a message I had received when I noticed the peg for the clip was sitting a little odd. Upon inspection I found that the metal plate they put under the leather for the belt clip peg to attach to had come loose. Now I have a peg/plate that slides around stretching and distorting the leather around the opening for the mount. This case isn’t even a month old. But that’s okay. Noreve came pretty highly recommended from the various sites I perused. I’ll just drop them a note about it and get an RMA for a replacement.

Well it has been more than a week. I’ve filled out the web form on three different days, sent a request to the info email address, and called three different times (leaving messages twice since I never got an answer). I have not gotten a single response from NoreveUSA. Thus I have tried another approach. I sent an enquiry from the corporate(European) site explaining the situation and asked if I could resolve the problem through them. At least I got a response saying they’d look into why I haven’t heard back from the USA branch. Which leads to me sitting here with my phone in my pocket and the case on my desk.

Now I won’t say that my experience is typical. Actually, from what I have seen and read about Noreve and NoreveUSA is that my situation is very atypical for both their products and their customer service. That still doesn’t change the fact that I have a $52 phone case that I cannot use. If I hear back from either the USA or European offices with further information about my request, I’ll update this post. Until then…here’s to the nice pockets on carpenter pants for protecting my phone.

**Update: I finally received a response from NoreveUSA. They claim an excess of communications due to holiday orders that is slowing their response time. I cannot doubt the truthfulness of that nor can I fault them for taking longer during the holiday season…though it would be nice if they had an automated system to reply with said information like many sites and businesses do. Anyway, the long and short of it is they will be sending me a new case when they get their shipment in next week at no charge and they don’t need me to send the old one back. They suggested just throwing it away (keeping the clip and small parts as spares). So if I get the case fairly quickly, kudos on an easy resolution but points off for really slow response.

AT&T Tilt Software

Well I’ve had my Tilt for a while now and I think I have pretty much gotten everything right where I want it. With that in mind, I figured I would write up a little post reviewing some of my software picks and settings tweaks to make it more user friendly. After all, the greatest technological device in the world is nothing more than a paperweight without the right user tools.

Let’s start with the “value added” (read “crapware”) software that AT&T loads these devices down with. Unless you actually plan on buying a slew of overpriced games or the TeleNav service, I would skip it. When you first turn on your Tilt, it will bring up a box saying that it is installing the AT&T customizations. Just do a soft reset on the device and none of that junk will be there when it boots back up. To do this, just poke the stylus into the reset hole on the bottom of the phone. That’s all there is to it. All of the goodness of Windows Mobile 6 and none of the crap.

Next, I made a little jaunt over to the XDA Developers website and hit the Kaiser forums. The first forum has a sticky post with a slew of cab files (programs) for the Tilt. I suggest that getting the HTC Home cab with the N2A patch is a must. First off, it gives you a large clock that is easily visible on your home screen. It also has a weather tab, customizable quick launch and contacts tabs, and a notification area for new emails, text messages, and missed calls. I advise the N2A patched version because it has a modified DLL for the weather tab allowing you to add custom cities since there are very few US options available by default.

If you compliment the HTC Home cab with the HTC Home Customizer (version 0.8b in the Hermes forums) then you will have an easy way to add cities to your weather database, change the look of the clock, and of course change most of the appearance related settings for the Home plugin without needing to hit the registry. It is a simple tool with a lot of power under the hood.

Some settings, however are just going to need a registry editor. The PHM Registry Editor is linked in the forums. There are a couple of others, but I find that PHM’s is very easy to use. The XDA forums will have information on any and all of the registry hacks you could need or want to tweak your Tilt.

Moving on, I also endorse the use of Windows Live Mobile. This tool allows you to add your Hotmail/Live account as an email account via IMAP and has the Live Search tool which will allow you to get directions. Yes, it will use your GPS for positioning and give you turn by turn while in map view. The best part, it’s free. That’s a far better deal than TeleNav if you want a system for your GPS that doesn’t require GBs of space. The downside is it only works when you have a data connection…but then so does TeleNav. The only alternative I can recommend if you need GPS directions when you have no signal is to go out and buy a product like TomTom.

Lastly on the programs side of things is another Microsoft offering. Microsoft Voice Command v1.6 has become my most used tool. At $40 it isn’t very expensive. This system lets you issue spoken commands to the phone without all of that tedious “training”. You can easily access any contact via name or have it dial a phone number that you dictate. Also among its features are media control, announcements of incoming messages and calls (and who they are from), and the ability to report device status. I find that I get irritated now if I actually have to touch my phone to do anything. I much prefer the ability to just hit my Bluetooth earbud button and issue a command while on the go.

That pretty much sums up the rundown of my software additions. I would suggest looking into the XDA forums for registry hacks for things like disabling the SMS Sent Notification which can become annoying rather quickly. And since your SIM contacts will get dropped into Outlook if you sync your phone with your PC (assuming you connect the phone to Exchange), you can get the hack to have Contacts not display SIM entries. That way you won’t see double. There are many more options out there and even some options for the more adventurous.

So this isn’t good enough? You want to use the standard HTC version of Windows Mobile? You don’t want any of the AT&T custom software anywhere on your system? XDA can help there, too. The Kaiser Upgrading forum is where the wizards have gone in and cooked custom ROMs for the Tilt/Kaiser. As time goes on, there will be more but they already have an impressive set of custom ROMs for just about anything a person could want. Just remember to read the threads carefully. You void your warranty when you use a non-AT&T ROM on a Tilt, though there are ways around that. Hence…read slowly, read thoroughly, and take notes before taking the plunge. I haven’t gone that far yet, but I’ve followed the threads of Tilt owners that have. Perhaps that will be a project for next year…

AT&T Tilt

Well, I took the plunge and ordered my AT&T Tilt this evening. My old RAZR V3 has been on the fritz lately and I’m not entirely certain it isn’t because I’ve been planning to dump it. Technology has a way of being finicky when replacement is imminent. With luck, my new toy should be in by Tuesday. Suffice to say…I’m giddy.

Now one would think that the biggest problem with ordering a phone on the day of its release would be availability. New flagship products have a way of garnering a following far before the first unit hits the stock. However AT&T has found a wonderful way to circumvent that kind of problem. Unless you are an avid follower of new PocketPC technology, you probably haven’t heard of this device. That would be because AT&T has decided for unknown reasons to skip all the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the iPhone launch. This one slipped in under the radar.

And that leads us to the second problem of getting this phone. They released it so far under the radar that from all reports…more than half of their sales reps still have NEVER HEARD OF THIS PHONE. One would think that at least the people manning the Premier and National Business Services portions of the company would be briefed in some way about a new phone that will be the flagship of their business device line. One would be wrong. I spoke with three different people and only one of them had even heard of it…and that was because he was interested in the device and had been following posts at HowardForums and XDA-Developers. AT&T, your world connected clueless.

Luckily, I had those wonderful forum resources myself over the past few months to gather my own information from users of the unlocked version. Now let me take a quick moment to familiarize you with a few of the names this device has taken on (and sometimes shed). This unit started as the HTC Kaiser. It then became the HTC 4550 and finally the HTC TyTN II. At this point AT&T decided to use it to replace their 8525 (also known as the HTC TyTN) and it became potentially the AT&T 8925 or the AT&T Tilt. There was even a few posts mentioning that the internal AT&T name was the Pilgrim. So the Kaiser/P4550/TyTN II/8925/Pilgrim/Tilt has surprisingly little confusion surrounding it considering…

So here’s the basic rundown of features:

  • 256MB ROM/128MB RAM (twice that of the TyTN)
  • Windows Mobile 6 Professional
  • Pocket Word, Excel, Powerpoint
  • Built-In GPS (not locked to TeleNav, tested successfully with TomTom, Google, and Live)
  • 3MegaPixel Camera
  • TouchFlo (HTC’s version of iPhone’s flick to scroll feature)
  • 3.5G connectivity
  • 802.11 b/g WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • MicroSDHC slot (yes, 6GB cards work, theoretically capable of up to 32GB)
  • Slide out keyboard

This list goes on but this should give you an idea of how amazing this device is. It is very slightly thinner than the TyTN/8525 but heavier by accounts of current owners. The battery life does leave a little to be desired but that will be remedied when the high capacity versions hit the market. I’ll post a bit more when mine finally arrives.

MacGyver Phone?

The iPhone has been much lauded as both a savior and a plague. It both fulfilled and crushed hopes. It spoke of style and yet lacked substance in several places. But regardless of your feelings about this device, you have to admit that Steve Jobs definitely got everyone’s attention trained on Apple’s little morsel of electronic goodness. On the other end of the spectrum, in more ways than one, is a little company called HTC. They make Windows Mobile smartphones. One of their most popular, the TyTN has been a boon to the Microsoft collective. HTC does to Windows Mobile what Apple does to style…they kick it up a notch. And now it looks like HTC is about to do it again with their TyTN II (also known as the P4550 and the Kaiser).

Several people running tech sites have gotten models to review and the news is good. With twice the RAM and ROM of the predecessor, built-in GPS, and a tilt up screen when in landscape mode…it seems HTC has decided to bring some game. Rumors currently (as we haven’t seen official releases from companies) say we should see the AT&T Tilt (possibly the AT&T 8925) in about a week. There is also a possibility that there will be two models, one with a front camera for video conferencing and one without. This will, of course, change the cost of the phone. Pricing should be in line with what the current AT&T 8525 debuted at.

Now this phone isn’t the alternative to the iPhone if you like form over function. Love it or hate it, the iPhone is heavy on the sleek and stylish looks. The TyTN II is a little bulkier and less refined. But can you open your Office 2007 documents on an iPhone? Yes, the TyTN II comes with Office 2007 support. This is great because as businesses move to the new version and inevitably send files out in the new format…mobile workers will still be able to see and edit what is sent to them.

Which brings us to one of the real differences between the two products. People that need to get work done are the ones most likely to pick up the TyTN II. Less business oriented users will probably gravitate to the iPhone. Now I’ve had my hands on the original TyTN and on an iPhone. While the majority of my cellular use is personal, I’d much rather have the TyTN II in my possession. I have more use for a phone with Office capabilities than a phone with a novel interface. Especially since most of the actual iPhone functionality is available on the TyTN II. Instead of iPod mode, you can use Windows Media Player. Instead of using IMAP or POP to get Exchange email, just use Pocket Outlook. Best of all…the TyTN II has MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and AIM from the factory.

I was one of the many buying into the iPhone hype, albeit a little skeptically (after all, who actually believes all of the marketing hype these days?). As time has begun revealing its inadequacies, I find myself more and more drawn to this new option that offers all I wanted from the iPhone and most of what I wanted beyond the iPhone.

UPDATE: It looks like HTC has changed their homepage to include a large banner for the TyTN II. I think we can safely assume that it’s official. The TyTN II is here and the carriers should have them in our grubby little hands within weeks. Now…if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can find a way to get the upgrade price before my upgrade eligibility in October.