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Fat Wallet

posted in Reviews on August 20th, 2007

Ever since the release of mobile storage devices, people have repurposed their gadgets to store important, often even confidential data on them. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, many users seem to forget the various security issues that could arise if someone were to get a hold of your Pocket PC and its unencrypted content.

Thanks to Ilium Software however, there is an application you can use to get the best of both worlds: carry your important data with you, wherever you go and still keep it safe and protected behind a layer that is as difficult to break as your password.

Wallet Size

On last count, my eWallet storage was 226 cards big (or does that count as huge already?). These cards are made up of roughly 120 logins for various things, software license keys, two dozen of personal items such as drivers license, SSN and all those other numbers you cannot ever remember but still need all the time and also a few select items such as “doing CPR the right way” and other medical items. Yes, believe it or not, that is what I use eWallet for, too.

I consider myself an eWallet power user and as such, I would like to share a hint with you: take a bit of time to analyze the data you use the most inside your eWallet database(s). I have four main categories, in the root of the wallet file and nothing else, no stray cards, no nothing.

Every one of these categories is prefixed with a number so if I have the SIP open or am on a PC, I can just type the number to jump to the category. The naming of the categories is a scheme that is similar to one that I use for email folders and groups in my chat application. This way, I already know the basic structure of the data underneath.

eWallet’s category feature is as simple as it is powerful. Set up the right way, it will save you a lot of time, but if you are not specific enough, you might end up wasting time as opposed to saving it.

Wallet Buddies

Ilium Software’s eWallet is one of those applications that you can use on just about every mobile device you use, including Pocket PCs, Smartphones, Palmtops and even on U3 drives.

The Desktop version of eWallet also includes SyncPro, which handles the various syncing tasks. Besides the standard device-to-device syncing, eWallet also lets you sync your wallet file with a Windows Share, FTP server or iOmega.

To answer a question of paranoid users: yes, the FTP syncing feature is plain FTP, which means that someone could sniff out your password. This does not, however compromise the data stored within your wallet file. That data is protected by a 256 bit encryption, which is twice as much encryption as most banks offer.

Wallet Chain

Apart from the main application and the syncing conduit, there are also two versions of PassBuilder, one that is installed on your device and one that is available online. PassBuilder, as the name suggests, is used to generate secure passwords.

A number of options enable you to generate the kind of password you can remember best, be that in the form of a mnemonic sentence or as part of a dictionary word.

Wallet Design

To visually enhance your listing, eWallet includes a feature that lets you select an icon to represent the content of the card. This works amazingly well with software license cards and even can be used to include a Favicon for a website login.

Besides icons, eWallet also lets you add sounds and (background) images that are played / displayed whenever a specific card is accessed. If you feel like customizing your wallet file even more, you might want to read about a long lost feature on Ilium Software’s blog.

Wallet Shop

In case the message still is not obvious, I love eWallet. I have been using it for years now and you should be using it too. eWallet is as great as it sounds; it protects your data and works across a huge group of different devices (and platforms).

For approximately $30, you can get the professional suite, which makes a lot more sense than just buying the Pocket PC (or Smartphone) version, because once you are hooked on storing data in eWallet, you will not want to be creating your cards on a small slide-out keyboard.

your mobile phone booth, secretary included (Spb Phone Suite)

posted in Reviews on August 17th, 2007

Pocket PCs with phone functionality are great, but out-of-the-box, Pocket PC Phones miss a couple of useful, sometimes even essential, applications. There are a couple of software packages available, all with their various advantages and disadvantages. Today, I will be looking at Spb’s Phone Suite.

Off the hook

Right from the start, you can tell that Spb’s Phone suite means business. As the name implies, this is more than a simple application, it is a full fledged suite, containing photo dialing capabilities and a notification system, mixed with black / white listing functions, and topped off with both a manager for profiles and a manager for connections. Finally, the mix gets sprinkled with a few extra enhancements to complete the whole thing.

Much of the functionality that is included in the suite, is available from the Today plugin, which has two main purposes:

Besides from supplying you with important information in the form of showing you missed calls and messages (SMS, MMS, email) the Today plugin also gives you one-tap access to a connection manager and a profile switcher.

Visual Call Indicator

By default, the second row features the photo dialing function, which in itself is very extensive and contains an array of enhancements that make it a lot more useful than comparable photo dialing applications. For users that would rather have a bit more privacy (or simply save some more screen space), you can change the display mode of the photo dialing function to be drop down activated. This will add a third icon, right after the profile icon, but will still provide you with the same functionality.

In its most simple form, the Photo Speed Dial function requires you to select a contact and it will be displayed on your Today screen. In today’s age and time, many people have more than one number they can be reached on, so Spb Phone Suite lets you select the (primary) number you want to call.

To make the photo dialing even more useful, Spb Software House includes a whole set of avatars, but you can always use your own pictures. Either way, the photo speed dial function is that Phone Suite hooks into the Outlook contacts and does not require you to re-create your photo contacts database, contrary to other applications.

Once you have selected a handful of contacts, they will be displayed on your Today screen.

Spb Phone Suite

 

Tap the name, and you will be asked to confirm the calling, one might argue that this could save some calling cost…

Distilling your calls

Apart from providing you with picture dialing capabilities, Spb Phone Suite also includes a black / white list module. While the available options are rather limited, the function in itself is powerful enough to keep pesky, unwanted callers from getting through at inappropriate times.

Profiling your needs

Besides the Today screen integration, which provides you with quick access to a couple of your profiles, there is a second, much bigger part of the actual profile part of the Phone Suite:

Every profile contains a host of settings, such as changing Bluetooth, WiFi and cellphone connectivity as well as adjusting backlight and, of course, ring and speaker volume.

Spb Phone Suite

 

By default, Spb Phone Suite includes a diverse set of profiles that will most probably fit most users without a need for adjustments.

extended services

Next to a host of big features, the suite also includes a number of small, but useful enhancements:

The Phone Notification feature will continuously remind you that you missed a call or text message using whatever method you like.

The Dialer Extension displays pictures (if available) in your call history as well as adds the possibility to quickly reply to a rejected call with a short message.

Hang up

While I could probably go on explaining why SPB Phone Suite is useful, it would make more sense if you would just go and download the trial version from the SPB Softwarehouse website..

For $20, this application provides you with a toolset that should actually have been included by default. SPB Phone Suite, once again does what it is supposed to do and does those things the right way. This application is a no-nonsense way of enhancing the way you communicate with and via your device.

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Shell of choice (Spb Mobile Shell)

posted in Reviews on August 14th, 2007

After more than seven years since it’s first release, six full releases and lots of time to improve, the default Windows Mobile setup still looks a bit bland. Even though there are thousands of themes, extended themes and a handful of Flash themes, the overall look and usage of these devices has not changed all that much.

Shell shock

If you have never heard of Spb Mobile Shell, you might be wondering why (and probably if) you would need it. Let me preface this review by stating that the Pocket PC interface, per se, is not bad, but I think we can all agree that a lot of stuff is missing.

Officially, Spb Mobile Shell is categorized as an UI enhancement tool. Many Windows users are already familiar with this kind of tools and might be reluctant to try it out, due to bad experiences with memory usage. Contrary to its bigger brethren however, Spb Mobile shell is very memory conscious and does not delay the execution of applications at all.

Shell in

The first thing you will notice after installing Spb Mobile Shell is the beautiful main screen. All the icons are big enough to be used with your fingers, but you can also use your stylus or your D-pad and buttons.

The content of the various menus is highly dynamic and depends on the applications you have installed, however, it is also filled with various enhancements from Spb Mobile Shell:

Some of the functions that are visible in the main screen are shortcuts to previously installed applications and some of the icons lead you directly to important PIM functions:

Spb Mobile Shell

 

Spb Mobile Shell also contains a small camera utility that even works if you do not have the camera software that originally came with your device installed.

It should be noted that on my XDA Flame, the camera application always selected the front side camera and I had no way of switching cameras. This maybe related to the lack of an original camera software though.

The time is Now

The feature you will see the most, unless you change the settings, is Spb Mobile Shell’s Now Screen. The Now Screen provides you with all the information you need at a quick glance:

The top most row contains battery information, signal strength and the name of your MNO. Below that is a bar that displays the latest weather information, your missed calls as well as your unread text messages and emails. The last icon in the listing is a shortcut to your profile settings.

If you have multiple Spb applications, you will appreciate the work that the Spb Mobile Shell development team has put into various integration features:

For example, if you have Spb Weather, the weather forecasts will contain a lot more information. If you use Spb’s Phone Suite, you will be provided with a couple of extra options too. The same integration is also available for Spb Time and Spb Diary and, in fact, virtually any other Spb product.

Feels like Today

Not unlike Spb Pocket Plus, Spb Mobile Shell adds a couple of tabs to your today screen.

The primary row contains information about your battery, the current time, a weather forecast as well as a picture dialing extension that works with or without Spb Phone Suite.

The various tabs themselves contain additional information, such as a listing of recently used applications for the battery tab or World Time in three different cities, which can be selected from a huge listing.

I personally found no need to change the order or content, however if you need to alter the information that is displayed, Spb Mobile Shell provides you with an extensive menu with various functions. The only thing missing is a way to delete a tab.

By default. the bar auto-collapses and thereby saves a lot of space. If you need it, just tap one of the big icons and the linked menu will pop up.

Other than modifications to the Today screen and the addition of a Now Screen, Spb Mobile Shell also provides a way for you to change the color scheme of your device. A very simple feature, but if you are not looking to create your own Themes, this is a nice alternative.

Shell-in-a-box

If you are looking to beef up your device with a collection of useful tools, Spb Mobile Shell is the application you want. Even thoughh Spb Mobile shell is not particularly cheap, at $30, the various features definitely justify the price.

Spb Mobile shell provides great enhancements and little overhead. Every function in this software is done the right way with no half-hearted attempts at adding extra functionality at the cost of usability. Spb Software House is known for their solid applications and Spb Mobile Shell is no different.

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Repurposed Silicone (Proporta.com Silicone case for XDA Flame)

posted in Reviews on August 13th, 2007

When the first Pocket PCs and Smartphones hit the market, it was obvious that they were targeted at managers and other professionals that needed to have access to a mobile computing platform that was not as cumbersome to carry around as a notebook. It was obvious because of the price that was attached to the devices and because of the type of cases that were available…

Cowhides versus cosmetic surgery left-overs

Managers and the likes often have leather briefcases, leather wallets and would, obviously, also be looking for leather cases for their mobile devices. And since most markets are willing to adopt the demand and supply basics, you will be able to find a great amount of eTailers and retailers with the best in leather cases.

Me, personally, I am not much of a leather guy and as such, I would rather see my device covered in some high tech material as opposed to a piece of dead animal. While searching for an adequate case for my XDA Flame, I came across Proporta’s Silicone Case.

mostly-identical twins

The first thing you notice when you open the package from Proporta, is the complimentary English Breakfast Tea. A small but nonetheless kind gesture if you ask me and also one of the reason I keep ordering stuff at Proporta.

Installing the case is very easy. In fact, Proporta considers the installation so easy, that they did not even include a manual. While making a remark about that, I was told that “even a baby could install it without a manual” and I guess that that is true, but still, a short leaflet with some basic information on how to install and care for an installed case would have been great.

XDA Flame Silicone Case

 

From left to right, the case has the exact same visual layout as the device itself. The case itself comes in a black that matches the device very well, but also has a slight downside: other than the D-pad, you will not be able to see the back light of the buttons, so operating your device during low light conditions might be harder, especially if you have trouble remembering the button layout. Other silicone cases from Proporta come in a white-to-transparent color and with those cases, the back lit keys make more sense.

XDA Flame, meet James Bond

On a brighter point (no pun intended), the case features all the cut outs you will need to keep using your device. As you can see here and here, Proporta did a great job on re-creating the whole layout, both with the buttons, as well as with the cut outs.

However, the cut outs do not stop at the various ports or camera openings, but also include the two locks to the left and right (mostly used for car holders, I believe), the stylus as well as the front-side camera and status LEDs. You can sync and charge your device and even use the IR port while it is in the case with no problem at all.

See me, feel me

The silicone case feels good and I am sure that this is not related to the fact that I am male, but rather to the texture of the whole product. The case sits in your palm nicely and will not slide out unless you loosen your grip on it.

The Pocket PC inside the case is protected from all sides, except for the screen. While this is not really a downside of the case itself, I would still recommend getting a screen protector for your device, to make the protection complete.

Proporta calls that case “a way to protect your device from dust and scratches” and after a week of putting my device in some dusty, though not dirty, places, I can vouch for this claim.

Hot or not?

Considering all, the Proporta XDA Flame Silicone case is a great product. For $20, this product will protect your device from (soft) impacts and scratches. You will end up with a Pocket PC that, in essence, still looks the same and has the same usability as before, only that now it is protected in a stylish silicone case.

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Mini Review: La Fonera+ and La Fontenna

posted in Reviews on August 12th, 2007

Like the original La Fonera, the La Fonera+ is very easy to install: unpack, plug in, link up. The first La Fonera included a CD for those that needed additional help, the La Fonera+ does not even need that anymore. Simplicity by design, very nice.

The looks are fairly similar, the main difference is that the La Fonera+ includes a professional looking logo on the top side, while the original version included a more, well, let me call itoutgoing logo. The back side of the La Fonera+ also includes an additional Ethernet port, which means you can most probably get rid of the second router you have.

The La Fonera+, like its older brother, sends out two WiFi signals. One is the public signal that is your contribution to the FON community, the other is your private signal that only you can access. All in all, for $50, this is a fairly solid router, based on the very efficient OpenWRT firmware.

While the signal of both the La Fonera and La Fonera+ are fairly strong, you can enhance the signal a lot by using the La Fontenna. For an additional $2 with either a La Fonera or La Fonera+, this is a real no-brainer. Not only because this way, you will be able to enjoy your WiFi in even the furthest reaches of your house, garden and even a couple of streets down the road, but also because the La Fontenna is suited for outdoor use.

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