15 November 2007


I just killed the Nokia 6260. managed to cut through the ribbon connector between the motherboard and the screen while changing the housing.


13 November 2007

Ugly duckling

As you are no doubt aware, one of my obsessions is with skinning. Series 60, thank goodness, is surprisingly easy to skin, although I think that Series 60 2nd Ed. FP. 1 is incompatible with Carbide UI, the current software Nokia provides to create a new theme for your phone. Thankfully there are loads of premade skins out there, and I have been tinkering with some of them.

On the left we have the default S60 skin - ugh! Then in the middle, the green screens are the music edition skin, and on the right the blue N-series skin. It does make you wonder why, if the OS is capable of producing lovely anti-aliased and colourful icons, the default skin looks like it came out of the 8-bit era.

09 November 2007

Nokia 6260 review 4 years late! Part 1: hardware

Well, I finally took delivery of a second-hand Nokia 6260 two days ago, and have been toying with it over the last 48 hours. I'm not going to comment on the software until I've had a chance to properly tinker with it, but this is a look at the hardware on a phone which was released in June 2004 which makes it, by my reckoing, nearly 3 years old now!

Generally I have difficulty believing in reviews of phones when they first come out, mainly because it is hard to assess just how durable they are in the short term. That said, two of the best reviews of the 6260 came up with a short list of hardware issues, even back then. These include:

  • Camera not in center of aperture.

  • LCD screen not aligned with frame.

  • Soft buttons located on flip, away from number pad.

  • All these are found on my phone, but to be honest are not causing me any problems at all. The camera is black, and the aperture around it is also black, meaning that unless you are a real stickler for perfection, the lack of alignment is barely noticeable. Of course, the fact that I paid around £40 all in for the phone, rather than its original retail proce means that I am less fimicky about things like that. The same goes for the slightly diagonal tilt to the LCD screen in the frame.

    I can understand why people would be annoyed with the sot keys being located on the upper part of the flip, rather than with the main keypad. It can get somewhat annoying when you are using the phone as a phone as, ergonomically, it presents a bit of a hurdle for your thumb. That said, it also means that the important navigation keys are available to you when you flip the phone into its "tablet" mode, as with most modern slider phones. This is particularly great for me because I don't really intend to use the phone as a phone, but more of a PDA, and I find I am using it more in this conformation than any other.

    In fact, this ability to flip into three different positions, as a regular phone, as a tablet and as a camcorder, is one of the appeals of this phone. The mechanics which enables the transformer-like ability is still working well after four years, and the screen rotation and flip are both quite tight still, and the electronics work well. Chalk one up for Nokia build quality! What is great is that if you want to watch a video in landscape mode, it is possible to lie it on its side on the table with the screen slightly rotated upwards for easy viewing. Not many phones which can do that!

    What I will say though, is that the rest of the phone has not worn well at all. The plastics used for the phone fascia are pretty durable, but have worn down with time, particularly on the edges where two pices come together. I am willing to give it leeway because this phone is, after all, four years old, but I must also say that i wish there wasn't quite so much plastic all over the phone. In closed clamshell mode you have a vast swathe of plastic on the top, then when open, under the keys is another field of plastic , and of course the back is basically an ocean of the material. This phone is not small, and picking it up, the first thing you do notice is the plasticky-ness of it. It just feels cheap (and it was cheap, but you get the picture).

    04 November 2007

    Wolf in sheep's clothing: Customize a Nokia 6230 to an 8800 Sirocco

    All this talk about Nokias and mobile phones has got me thinking. My last "dumb" phone was a Nokia 6230, but I really like the looks and sounds of the Nokia 8800 Sirocco edition, with its Brian Eno created ringtones. So, is it possible recreate some of that in my old phone?

    The version of Series 40 used by the Nokia 6230 is not very customizeable, but the important changes can be made. First of all, grab the Sirocco wallpapers (you will need to scroll down a bit) and resize them in the graphic progam of your choice to 128 x 128 pixels. Transfer them to your phone and apply one of them. Then, get the Sirocco ring tones and do the same.

    Voila! A 6230 which sounds and looks (if you squint from a distance!) like an 8800. Plus, you get the all important MMC expansion slot, so sorely missing in the more expensive phone.

    Old phones as a fashion statement

    The title of this post could really go either way, you could see the carrying of an old phone, and to me that means something from the early naughties, as a statement against rampant consumerism, or you could read it as carrying an old phone whose original purpose was as a fashion statement.

    Nowadays, the fashion segment in phones is well established; just look at the Nokia 7xxx range, or Ted Baker and Mandarina Duck's recent foray into the style segment. This overlaps somewhat with the premium handset segment occupied by the likes of the Nokia 8xxx series, and brands like Prada, Giorgio Armani and Porsche Design. Back in the early 2000s however, when the fashion segment was but a glint in Nokia's eye, Siemens took up the mantle and came up with the idea of a fashion line of phones with 4 models to be released with the spring/summer and autumn/winter seasons. These were the Xelibris, numbered 1 to 8 but no higher since they were cancelled after 2 seasons.

    Like the now well established Nokia 7xxx series, the Xelibris were not ashamed to try out new form-factors with little regard for useability. I particularly like the Xelibri 8 with it's looped lanyard ring, and its very organic bulbous shape. I am sure that if your intention was to get people talking when you whip out your phone, then one of these phones should do the trick!

    Me personally? I'd rather go for one of the Nokia 8xxx series, especially the truly exquisite 8855, quite possibily one of the most gorgeous Nokia phones of all time!

    Retro gaming on the cheap

    I am not a portable gamer, but I do love the idea of being able to play all sorts of retro games from the days of 8 and 16-bit consoles in a tiny pocketable device. While looking for more Zodiac stuff, I chanced upon a review of the JXD301 which is not only absolutely tiny, it supports SD cards as well. No word on pricing, but if you are looking for something to play your old ROMs which has a dedicated control panel and is not a PDA, it seems to me hard to go wrong with this one!

    My Zodiac in 2007

    As I mentioned previously, one of my not-too-recent purchases was a Tapwave Zodiac. I am not all that familiar with Palm as an OS, although neither am I a complete novice: my first ever PDA was a Sony Clié SJ20. This was a small greyscale affair which was great for PIM functions and the occasional eBook, but which was totally unsuitable for mp3 playback or gaming (yes, I do have both the attachments). After that I moved on to the iPAQ h2210 which was a breath of fresh air, being capable of multimedia and multitasking. That cemented by general affiliation for all things Windows Mobile.

    So, it was a bit of a challenge to my prejudices when I finally got my Zod. If you are not au fait with the history of the Zodiac, it was basically a Palm OS based device built from the ground up as a gaming console. To this end it has a Motorola MX1 ARM9 processor running at 200 MHz, and a separate graphics accelerator, an ATI Imageon W4200 2D with 8 MB dedicated SDRAM. My Zod is a Zodiac 2 with 128MB of RAM. With an HVGA screen and not one but two SD card slots, even by today’s standards, the Tapwave’s innards compare favourably with current hardware configurations. And the exterior, well, it has got to be one of the most beautiful PDAs ever created with its all metal chassis, an analog control stick and wonderfully tactile shoulder buttons.

    Unfortunately, Tapwave the company went belly up in 2005, meaning that development for the Zodiac platform (although not for the Palm platform with which it is compatible) crawled to a halt. This is a shame because many of the games which are available specifically for the Zodiac, like Stuntcar Extreme and Spyhunter, are visually stunning and make full use of the hardware and controllers. Although I have loaded up all manner of games for the Zodiac and for Palm, and a number of game emulators as well, and the Zod does brilliantly at all of them, I must admit that I am not much of a portable gamer.

    So what do I actually use the Zodiac for? Well, since I purchased a PalmOne WiFi card to go with the Zod, I can actually go on line. I have tried a number of different browsers including Opera Mini and Picsel (what a faff!), but in the end I have settled on the relatively stable and full-screen Web, the Zod’s default browser. It is hardly full functioned in that it can’t support Flash or AJAX, but is perfectly capable of handling Google Reader and any Google formatted website. The main advantage is the large screen, and relatively high resolution, which makes reading off it a whole lot easier. A pity that ClearType is obviously not supported because it would otherwise make for a near-perfect eBook reader.

    03 November 2007

    Feature Packs and S60

    Looking at this picture taken off the S60 website. As I suspected, the feature packs simply add functionality witout breaking application compatibility, and the chief advantage of feature pack 2 over the original is HTML small screen rendering.

    No great shakes there. At least I know that feature packs are not really a consideration when it comes to a particular device's compatibility with software specific to an S60 edition.

    Tweedledum or Tweedledee

    Well, after some deliberation I have narrowed the choice down to two different phones. I excluded S60 1st Edition straight off, mainly because it doesn’t support themeing, except via a rather convoluted 3rd party solution, and even then only half-heartedly. And it is totally against my principles to go for something up to date like S60 3rd Edition, which basically leaves S60 2nd Edition.

    Windows Mobile is fairly simple as far as the internal classification of OSes goes; ignoring the division between the touchscreen and non-touchscreen variants, you don’t tend to have subdivisions. The one exception I can think of is the difference between Pocket PC 2003 and 2003 Second Edition, the chief discriminator being the ability to rotate the screen to landscape within the OS. S60 divides itself into a number of “feature packs”, S60 2nd Edition being divided into the original and FPs 1, 2 and 3. A cursory glance tells me that these changes to S60 track either changes to S60 itself (as in the difference between the original and FP1, both of which are based on Symbian 7.0s), or changes to the core OS (as in the change from FP1 to FP2 where Symbian went from 7.0s to 8.0a).

    What this means in practice is not entirely clear to me, but going through the software available out there, installation seems to depend principally on the edition of the OS, and less so on feature packs, as one might expect. There also appears to be a fairly big jump between S60 1st and 2nd Editions and the 3rd Edition, in that software seems to be compatible between the 1st and 2nd, but needs to be rewritten for the 3rd. It also appears that unlike Windows Mobile, third party products have to have some kind of digital signature. While this pretty much guarantees some quality, this tactic also locks tinkerers out of the ecosystem, which is reflected in the relative paucity of third party apps, especially freeware, out there for S60 compared with Windows Mobile and Palm.

    Given that preamble, the decision ended up being between two models of phone: the Nokia 6600 (Symbian OS 7.0s, S60 2nd Edition) and the Nokia 6260 (Symbian OS 7.0s, S60 2nd Edition Feature Pack 1). Intriguingly, neither of these phones have stereo output for mp3 playback, although the radio in the Nokia 6260 may well be. The screens for these phones is also pretty small, only 176 x 208, which is even smaller than my MPx200’s 176 x 220. The main advantage of the 6600 is that it takes full size MMC cards while the 6260 only takes RS-MMC, but the 6260 has a faster processor (123MHz vs. 104MHz) and more RAM (11MB vs. 9MB). I’ve heard that S60 has a much reduced requirement when compared with Windows Mobile, but these values are bordering on ridiculous, and I am not sure whether the 19MHz and 2MB improvements will make any difference whatsoever.

    So, the decision then comes down to price, and once again, it is interesting to see that the older 6600 fetches nearly the same price as the 6260. I guess the 6600 must have been very popular, because there is a shed load of them on eBay, and they go for just under £40 now. In contrast, the 6260 is a rarer model, and sells for just over £40. It suggests to me that the 6600 is still in much demand. Indeed, accessories for the 6600 abound still, including all manner of fascias and cases. Reviews have also been fairly positive (this is going back some 4 years now) of the 6600, and less so of the 6260.

    In the end though, I think I prefer the flip and fold form-factor of the 6260, so it may well be my choice.

    Pastures new

    I’ve not posted on this blog for a while, but that does not mean that I haven’t been on the usual quest for all things gadgety and last gen. My most recent acquisition is a Tapwave Zodiac 2, fast becoming one of my all-time favourite toys, particularly once it has been pimped and loaded up with games and software. My must-have accessory? The PalmOne WiFi SD card enables access to the internet and email. If only modern PDAs were as beautifully constructed and had dual SD slots!

    The motivation for this post, however, is that I think it is time to explore pastures new. As you can see, I am largely biased towards Windows CE devices in their Handheld PC, CE.Net and Windows Mobile incarnations, with some interest in Palm as well. If, however, you look at the raw number of devices out there, the dominant OS is none of the above – it is Symbian, or more specifically the Series 60 incarnation.

    A friend of mine recently upgraded his phone from a HTC Alpine (it is coming my way for a tweak, so stay tuned…) which he absolutely hates because of its propensity for crashing, and his new mobile is a Nokia N95. I often get asked about PDAs in general, but must admit that my experience with Nokia devices ends with Series 40, and my last “dumb” phone, a 6230.

    Series 60 is currently up to 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1, and the N95 is the jewel in the crown at the moment, although shortly to be overtaken by the N81(s) and N95 8GB. This constant “upgrading” is a feature of the business model of mobile phone companies, as compared to say PDA manufacturers, and ensures that customers continually pay for the latest and greatest.

    So, in terms of pastures new, I am therefore going to explore series 60 by getting hold of an older phone. I haven’t decided yet whether to go for a 1st or 2nd Edition device, or which feature pack would be most appropriate, but something from 2003 would appeal to me basically so I can compare it to my amazing Motorola MPx200 which dates from that era. Is it equally easy to modernize? It will also give me a chance to see how the Symbian and Series 60 operating system works.

    27 June 2007

    A pox on thee!

    I have succumbed to the upgrade bug, but I must admit only partially. As a fan of handheld PCs, I have been looking out for a reasonably cheap HTC Universal for a while. Considering that these juggernauts used to cost an arm and a leg, it is amazing how far prices have fallen in the last 18 months since they came out. That said, they are still pretty cool devices - full keyboard, VGA screen. Most importantly though, there is a huge community out there dedicated to hacking the device, and several builds of Windows Mobile 6 are available.

    Anyway, the way I see it, my h4350 is a great device for Skype, but it is always running out of memory and cannot run Skype, Messenger and Pocket Internet Explorer at the same time. Another annoyance was that the browsing experience on a QVGA screen is very limited.

    So, when I received the HTC Universal, I flashed it with Midget's Windows Mobile 6 ROM (version 7 I think), then set about loading on the replacement programs - Skype, Opera Mini, and Deepfish browser. My early impressions are that the browsing experience, even using PIE is infinitely better, especially in high resolution mode, and the new Messenger with it's voice clip feature is pretty stunning. Skype also runs beautifully and looks great.

    All in all I think it was a justifiable purchase, but now I need to find a role for the old iPAQ.

    16 June 2007

    A solution to the internet radio question

    Well, it has been a while since I blogged anything, but I have been pretty busy. Since the last post I inherited a Qtek S110 a.k.a. HTC Magician from a friend who had bought it solely for the purpose of playing bubble breaker. Anyway, she lost interest after a while and I was the glad recipient of her cast off.

    This obviously set me thinking about how to best use what is essentially a Pocket PC as a dedicated internet radio device. I already had the SanDisk WiFi SD card, so it was simply a question of putting it all together. Here is my recipe!

    Take one HTC Magician and upgrade the ROM to the latest 1.13 WWE version. Then run the cab file to upgrade the bluetooth on your device. This enables the A2DP profile which will allow the HTC Magician to connect to a set of bluetooth speakers. I'm using a pair of Orange Acoustic Energy bluetooth speakers which currently costs under £40 from Orange. After that all you need to do is install the SD WiFi card and GSPlayer which allows you to play internet radio streams.

    Voila! Internet radio is streamed via WiFi to the Pocket PC, and then via bluetooth from the Pocket PC to a pair of external speakers. The icing on the cake is that the HTC Magician is so small it is like a remote control, and you can carry it around the room to switch channels at will. Who needs a Sideshow remote when you have a Pocket PC eh?

    12 March 2007

    Stand-alone mp3 player and internet radio

    I was busy tapping away in Open Office Writer when my partner came into the room and asked me to play a "Autumn Leaves". I was, of course, recording a TV show at the same time, so even though the combination of these programs didn't totally kill my PC (AMD XP processor, yes, it is old), poor Eva Cassidy had a serious case of the stutters.

    Of course, the answer is to upgrade the processor, but that, being totally against my philosophy of exhausting antiquated equipment, is out of the question. The alternative is to get a standalone mp3 player. One which certainly looks good is the Logik IR100 internet radio. Not only can it access internet radio stations, it can play mp3 files stored in network folders.

    But naturally, my desktop will slow to a crawl if it has to feed an mp3 over a network to another device, which means some form of local storage is necessary. I just checked my music folder and I have over 30GB of music, so that puts most last generation digital audio players out of the equation.

    Ideally, I'd like to put all my music on a portable hard drive and plug it into something which has a USB host. It should also have WiFi connectivity for internet radio streaming. At present, after some research, I have decided to with a PDA that has USB-host and WiFi, like the Toshiba e800, or something like a Fujitsu Stylistic LT which can also do both.

    Watch this space!

    09 March 2007

    It ain't easy being green

    Although it is just about to get easier.

    I am all for avoiding waste by maximizing the lifespan of your tech gear, especially through repair and reuse, so it is timely that a report (caution: PDF link!) from the trial of open source software in government has concluded that:

    A typical hardware refresh period for Microsoft Windows is 3-4 years. A major UK manufacturing organisation quotes its hardware refresh period for Linux systems as 6-8 years.

    A world in which people upgrade their computers once every 8 years? Now that would be amazing and great for the landfills of the world.

    What would really be great is if the hardware itself was ecofriendly and recyclable. There are loads of personal casemods using biodegradeable components, and there are a number of companies looking at different materials. Asus have recently created a laptop shell made from bamboo which actually looks beautiful. Being environmentally friendly is a definite consideration for future tech purchases.

    07 March 2007

    Don't believe the hype

    This is a quick post, linking to a report by the Onion about Apple's new product launch.

    Today, Apple is releasing a piece of innovative new technology that will forever change the way innovative new technology is released.

    Worth a quick peruse, and a hearty chortle. Couldn't have said it better myself.

    A dedicated Skype phone

    After a few fits and starts, Phillips will finally be making their VOIP841 available to buy in Europe and presumeably the rest of the world. Their tagline is that it is the "world's first PC-Free Skype-certified phone", meaning that unlike most other dedicated Skype handsets out there, the computer does not have to be on to make or receive calls.

    If this doesn't sound revolutionary, it really isn't. Ever since Skype became available as a Pocket PC application, people have been creating their own special VOIP phones. The ingredients are simple: all you need is a WiFi enabled Pocket PC capable of running Skype and a WiFi connection (of course).

    My setup uses my multifunctional and ubiquitous iPAQ h4350. It has built-in WiFi which means that even when the computer is off, it can quite happily connect to my wireless access point. The biggest problem was in trying to find the version of Skype most suited to it. The download page is rather unintuitively arranged according to brand, and something as prehistoric as the h4350 is clearly not listed in the HP section.

    In the past there used to be two versions of Skype, one optimized for low CPU devices and one for high CPU ones. I'm not sure that distinction still applies, so for the sake of consistency I went with the Dopod 700 download since it at least runs Windows Mobile 2003. Once it is installed, you just need to log in and you you are ready to go.

    I leave my Pocket PC logged-in all the time. It sits next to my regular phone and rings when someone tries to call me, and because is PC independent. It really is like a dedicated Skype phone. What is using it actually like? Well, as with all Skype calls, your mileage does vary according to the quality of your connection. That said, with echo reduction on, the sound quality is perfect for speech.

    In terms of hardware, the h4350 is not really set up to be a phone. The microphone, for one, is at the top, while the speaker is located below. I use it as you would a speaker phone, but if you want a little more privacy then it would be a good idea to invest in a headset. It also takes a while to get over the thin-but-wide feel of the PDA.

    WiFi enabled Pocket PCs can be had for much less than the Phillips VOIP841, and you get a load of extra functionality too!

    Handheld PCs reborn

    At the recent 3GSM conference in Barcelona two interesting phones made the headlines. The first was Nokia’s new E90 smartphone, the natural progression of its own 9000 series phones. The second was iMate’s new Ultimate 7150. To judge by the press coverage of the event it was as though a whole new form factor had suddenly been invented, quite forgetting the fact that clamshell devices, albeit sans phone module, have been around for a very long time.

    In my mind, this form factor has always had a special appeal. Quite apart from protecting the screen, it also allows you to have a near full sized keyboard, with keys which actually have some travel. None of those press-and-they-barely-move keys you get with slide-out keyboards.

    The very pinnacle of such devices, and I realize that I will no doubt rile the EPOC fanatics out there, were the Handheld PCs. I say ‘were’ because the platform is no longer supported, and has not been for nearly seven years. Like its Pocket PC and Smartphone counterparts, Handheld PC runs on Windows CE. Unlike them though, the native build closely resembles a Windows 95 desktop. With the help of skinning tools you can actually make it resemble any Windows desktop you like, including Vista.

    I have a Samsung Izzi Pro, a Handheld PC developed at the height of interest in these devices when there were many companies churning them out. There were later, better specced Handheld PCs released subsequently, the Jornada 720 being one of the best, but never again would there be the range of manufacturers or hardware variations. The Izzi Pro has a great swivel and fold form factor which allows it to convert between a traditional laptop and a tablet, and it has a near full size keyboard, which I can type faster on than my more conventional laptop!

    01 March 2007

    An iPhone super skin

    Interface is, allegedly, king. At least that is what technology seems to be pushing at the moment. Windows Vista, Mac OSX and Linux/Compiz/Beryl all seem to be emphasizing looks, and hopefully usability, on the desktop.

    In the mobile phone space this has hardly been ignored, but the sheer number of different platforms means that there is no unity of interface across them. I used to use a Nokia phone for instance, and was really reluctant to leave the Series 40 interface because all other interfaces were unfamiliar to me. The more cynical will suspect that manufacturers are doing a Microsoft (or an Apple for that matter), that is, making people so used to one interface that they are reluctant to switch to something different.

    Currently, I am on my second Windows Mobile device, a Ubiquio 501 running Pocket PC phone edition. My previous Windows Mobile phone was a Motorola MPx200 running Smartphone edition(s) (see previous post), but even though the two platforms share a name, there was still a learning curve in the move between the two.

    The iPhone interface, of course, has the web in a bit of a tizzy, and even I have created an iPhone skin. However, the chap in this video has taken it even further and gone as far as programming an iPhone-looky-likey screen lock and the flick-scroll interface for his Eten M600, another Pocket PC phone. I don't find either of those UI ideas particularly useful, but you have to admire the dedication and skill, and to a lesser degree the obsessiveness of the guy.

    I also have a Samsung D830 which runs an Adobe-designed flash-based interface. This is pretty and works well. What I found most interesting though, is that Samsung have decided to copy their own interface, allowing it to run on Windows Mobile, and created a launcher for the new Samsung i718. While this is undoubtedly because they want to keep the user experience consistent whatever the platform, at the same time I can't help suspecting that no-one was going to rush out and slavishly copy the Samsung interface any time soon.

    The real moral of this story? Interfaces come and go, what's fashionable now, may be unfashionable in a year. Go for hardware which is durable, and for software you can customize. You'll win every time!

    Edit: Oops, it looks like Apple's aggressive legal team have forced YouTube to remove the video. However, you can download it here.

    24 February 2007

    A show on the side

    One of the more exciting new technologies to come from the Windows Vista stable is Sideshow. Its purported function is to run small programs (or 'gadgets' as Microsoft likes to call them), allowing users to access a range of PC functionality either remotely or without the computer even being on.

    The first device to come out with this functionality is the Asus W5fe laptop. In this particular incarnation, the Sideshow facility is embedded in the lid of the laptop, and allows you to access your personal information without having to spin it up. Sounds like a good idea, although if the laptop is off, your data is only cached, not automatically synchronised with the server.

    So far so not very exciting. In this day and age where every mobile phone syncs with Outlook, it is hard to imagine a situation where you would need to look up an address on the lid of your laptop rather than your phone.

    But even if you don't have a phone that can do that, you can still replicate some of that functionality with a much older bit of technology - the Xircom REX 6000. This clever bit of kit, which can be had on eBay for around a tenner, is a touchscreen PDA small enough to sit in your laptop's cardbus slot. The real magic is that it syncs via the PCMCIA connection. So, even when your, say Asus W5f (sans 'e') is off, you can whip out your REX and look up that appointment or contact detail.

    Tetris and over a hundred other programs can be added to the mix if so desired (call them 'gadgets' if you like). And if you don't want to lug your laptop around with you, you can always pop the REX in your shirt or jeans pocket and leave the computer behind. Try that with the Asus! It is also a more elegant solution than taping a Pocket PC to your laptop as an auxiliary display.

    I am not discounting Sideshow as a platform entirely, and there are some really exciting looking remote controls based on it being released soon, but in its current form it is not doing anything that couldn't be done years ago.

    22 February 2007

    Movin' on up

    In my view, one of the best smartphones to ever have come out is the Motorola MPx200. This was one of the earliest, and possibly the first, clamshell smartphones. Sure it didn't have a camera, bluetooth or WiFi, but it was durable, functional and fairly good looking.

    The real magic, however, lay in the possibility of upgrading the operating system. The MPx200 was initially released with Windows Smartphone 2002 on it. Before long though, a ROM was leaked which allowed you to upgrade the entire operating system to Windows Mobile 2003 Smartphone. And then more recently, it was possible to take it even further to Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone. Until last week this was the most up to date operating system available on any Windows phone.

    Now of course, Windows Mobile 6 is out. You have to wonder whether an upgrade will be available for this still fully functional 5-year old phone.

    Unfortunately, one of the main sites for cooking up these ROMs is being shut down by Microsoft. I can see why, but the fact that the software is upgradeable is what drew me to the hardware to begin with. So it appears to be a case of cutting off their nose to spite their face.

    Sad times indeed.

    There's life in her yet

    The PDA is dead. At least that's what Slashdot tells me. Again, and again, and again. Indeed, my second ever PDA, an iPAQ h2210 I bought 4 years ago when it came out, briefly suffered a case of neglect and was placed on ice for a while, supplanted by a newer and equally capable convergent mobile phone.

    Yet it has recently come to life, and in fact, is much more useful now than it has ever been. I no longer use it for PIM and Office functions, but because you can install programs onto it, it has taken on a new role. Here is the software which resuscitated my PDA.

    If there is a single piece of software which brought the Pocket PC back to life, it is PDAWin's TV Remote. I normally have four different remote controls, but with this program, I can transform my Pocket PC into a universal remote. Note that not all PDAs have a sufficiently powerful infrared transmitter to reach from your sofa to the TV set; thankfully the h2210 is one of them. This program is worth every cent I paid and has given the PDA a new lease of life.

    The next program is OmegaOne's 1-calc Lite. Windows Pocket PC 2003 comes with a built-in calculator which is both ugly and rudimentary. Thankfully Microsoft provide this calculator from their website for free. It includes a unit converter and a tip calculator with large glossy buttons, making it really useful.

    Another program which has given my PDA a new role is Pocket GBA. Are you someone who plays games on your Pocket PC? Well, I never used to either, the extent being the odd attempt at Jawbreaker or Solitaire. Part of the reason was the lack of good games. With Pocket GBA though, the entire universe of Game Boy Advance games is available. Now I can get my Mario, Zelda or Donkey Kong fix on the PDA. Where you get the ROMs though, is another question!

    The last program which I find useful is JB Piano, another freeware utility which turns your PDA into a virtual piano. I'm in a choir, and while I am not tone deaf, I do find it hard to look at a note and pitch it perfectly off the top of my head. JB Piano solves this problem by producing the note I'm looking for pitch perfect from the PDA speaker. I use it all the time when rehearsing and find it really invaluable.

    So there we have it - an outdated PDA which was briefly retired, but has been resurrected and is now more functional than ever!

    The inevitable iPhone-y post

    The post is inevitable because the current king of shiny gadgets which must be resisted has got to be the Apple iPhone, and it is not even on sale yet!

    I am not going to argue about whether any of the technologies presented in the iPhone are particularly groundbreaking, but I do want to say that I am not all that impressed. I do appreciate the interface which has prompted all sorts of copycat skins from Blackberries to Treos. The one which has drawn the most ire from Apple, however, is, understandably, the skins for Windows Pocket PC devices.

    Now, I have an old iPAQ h4350 which runs Pocket PC 2003 first edition. Normally it stays connected to the internet via WiFi, and it runs Skype. With good noise cancellation and a decent microphone, this does as well as most dedicated Skype phones. The h4350, however, also has a built-in QWERTY keyboard which makes it ideal for instant messaging with Skype and MSN messenger, so in that sense it is already more versatile.

    Because you can customise the interface as much as you like with a Pocket PC, I decided to create an iPhone skin. I made my own, but these are readily available all over the internet, much to Apple's annoyance no doubt. The interface sure looks nicer. As for the functions, I have installed Windows Live Search mobile which runs really well and gives good aerial and line maps of most places in the U.K. The weather button links to Weather Watcher, and the stocks button links to AvantGo, all of which are free 3rd-party programs.

    Is there a point to this? Well, no, not really, but it does go to show how a 4-year old PDA which can be had quite cheaply on eBay, can approximate the looks and functionality (and in some ways exceed them) of what is currently in vogue.

    And when the iPhone becomes passé, and some other gadget takes it place, the h4350 can be modified again.

    A timely slap

    This post by Joel Johnson of Gizmodo fame really resonates with me. His response to the push to constantly upgrade?

    Stop buying this crap. Just stop it. You don't need it. Wait a year until the reviews come out and the other suckers too addicted to having the very latest and greatest buy it, put up a review, and have moved on to something else. Stop buying broken products and then shrugging your shoulders when it doesn't do what it is supposed to. Stop buying products that serve any other master than you. Use older stuff that works. Make it yourself. Only buy new stuff from companies that have proven themselves good servants of their customers in the past. Complaining online about this stuff helps, but really, just stop buying it.

    I fully acknowledge that I am a bit of a techno faddist, and am constantly drawn to the coolest new toys. Thankfully, I do have a modicum of common sense and can resist running out and splurging on that new phone/PDA/laptop/whatever. That is what this blog is about anyway.

    Vive la Résistance!