Originally regarded as little more than Microsoft's answer to Palm, the Windows Mobile (formerly Pocket PC) operating system has come into its own. In February 2007, Microsoft released Windows Mobile 6
and brought a collection of noteworthy improvements, including added functionality to the Calendar and Contacts applications and an e-mail search function. Recently, Windows Mobile 6.1
was announced and with it comes more enhancements to make the devices easier to use.
Ease of use
Windows Mobile is the better contact manager, offering a lot more data fields than the Palm operating system and an easier method of searching large lists. Tapping address-book-like tabs brings you to names starting with those letters. Even if you have 1,000 contacts, you can usually find the one you're looking for with just two or three taps. Plus, there's a feature called Smartdial where you input a couple of letters to pull up associated contact. It's worth noting that all Windows Mobile devices let you record voice memos--a core function of the operating system--but only some Palm models do. The Calendar function on Pocket PCs is on par with Palm's application, but we'll just say the latter offers a superior to-do list, if only because it organizes everything more logically.
That said, one of the biggest complaints about Windows Mobile devices is the number of steps it takes to perform a simple task, such as exiting a program. Microsoft added a number of shortcuts with Windows Mobile 6 and 6.1, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Over the years, Microsoft has made few changes to the Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Tasks applets, but Windows Mobile 6 added some nice enhancements to Calendar and Contacts. Though minor, call history is now sorted to the appropriate contact page so you can easily see when you received and made calls to that specific person, the time of the call, the duration, and so forth. The new operating system also now provides a quick Send Text Message shortcut, and 6.1 brings threaded text messaging.
For Outlook users, the Calendar app is also more user-friendly, as the upgrade adds a new Calendar Ribbon at the top of the screen and provides a better view of your schedule at a glance. The calendar functions are even more robust if you are using Exchange Server 2007. With that integration, you can forward and reply to meeting requests and see who is attending a meeting.
The Windows Mobile operating system syncs with Microsoft Outlook and only Microsoft Outlook (though a third-party program called The Missing Sync allows for synchronization with Macintosh systems). The recently updated ActiveSync utility makes this a seamless, nearly instantaneous affair, though Microsoft inexplicably removed a few desirable features, like the option to sync via Wi-Fi.
With Windows Mobile 5, Microsoft finally added native file support to its Word and Excel applets. Translation: It's no longer necessary to convert desktop documents to the Mobile format, a process that stripped most of the formatting. And we were happy to finally see the addition of a PowerPoint viewer. Now, with Windows Mobile 6, all devices running the Standard Edition (formerly Smartphone Edition) now have the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite. Whereas Windows Mobile 5 smart phones typically came installed with the Picsel Viewer Suite for opening and viewing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, Windows Mobile 6 brings the real deal so you can not only see said files but also edit them, though the editing capabilities are pretty light.
It still shocks us, however, that Microsoft offers no convenient way to synchronize Word and Excel documents with their desktop counterparts unless you relocate everything to a special folder.
E-mail got a big boost in Windows Mobile 5 with the support of direct push technology for real-time e-mail delivery, and all Windows Mobile 6 devices will ship with this functionality out of the box. The latest operating system also brings nine new one-click shortcuts, and you get more of the true Outlook experience as your Inbox view shows messages that are flagged, marked as high importance, and so forth. An e-mail search function similar to the previously mentioned Smartdial feature lets you easily find messages with a couple of clicks.
Finally, there is continued support for POP3 and IMAP accounts, but now you can view e-mails in their original HTML format, regardless of account type. If there happens to be a hyperlink within a message, you can select to go to that page or if a phone number is listed, you can dial out directly from that message as well.
Windows Mobile devices are known for their multimedia prowess; here, we show you how to watch TV on your Windows Mobile handheld.
No other platform can touch Windows Mobile when it comes to multimedia. Right out of the box, it supports DRM-protected music (meaning you can play songs purchased or downloaded from various online services) and TV and movie recordings from Media Center PCs and TiVo boxes. Most recently, Sling Media launched SlingPlayer Mobile for the Windows Mobile operating system, letting you watch TV on your handheld.
If there's a function you want your Windows Mobile PDA to perform, chances are good there's a program that can do it. Sites such as CNET Download.com and Handango are home to thousands of third-party applications and some of the best games you'll find on any PDA platform. Among the more celebrated Windows Mobile titles are Age of Empires, Quake Mobile, and Myst for Pocket PC.