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Spb mash up

posted in Rants on August 17th, 2007

After writing my last two reviews on both Spb Phone Suite and Spb Mobile Shell, I came to the conclusion that Spb really needs to do one thing: mash up.

As a mobile power user, you most certainly have at least one, if not multiple Spb products installed on your device. While there is no problem at all with that, Spb would be well advised to just create one application that contains all the features people need, namely:

from Spb Pocket Plus:

  • Explorer: ZIP Support
  • Explorer: Properties
  • Pocket IE: save image
  • enhanced close button
  • useful shortcuts on Today screen

from Spb Mobile Shell:

  • big icons menu
  • World Time
  • Now Screen

from Spb Phone Suite:

  • (automatic) Profiles w/ Wireless Settings
  • Call Filtering

That is all there is to it. Put all those things into one application and you will have a(nother) bestseller. The codebase is there already and while I am no developer myself, I do not believe this would take that long to implement.

Yes, Spb released their Communication Pack, but that still is not what I am looking for. The communication pack, while offering two out of three of the applications that this mash up would require, is really only a software bundle, not one, single application.

So, Spb, how long until you release this application?

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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added value for your Pocket PC

posted in Reviews on May 16th, 2005

Most of us probably remember the Windows Plus! packages of tools Microsoft would distribute with Windows. A $30 to $50 Dollar price tag for stuff that didn’t really add value and hence didn’t make up to their name.

Since then, I’ve been a skeptic in regards of applications that have a “plus” in the name. Luckily however, SPB Softwarehouse is not about shallow promises but rather about “added value”.

I’ve been using PocketPlus since version 1, back then I received a complimentary code for my iPAQ as part of the iPaq Choice Programme. I didn’t really bother upgrading to version 2, which was released about a year ago. Thinking about it in retrospect, I’m sorry about this.

PocketPlus is not so much about tweaking your device but rather about adding those features Microsoft and your device manufacturer most certainly didn’t add. PocketPlus is by no means minimalistic, yet doesn’t come with too many options to make the user feel uncomfortable. Basically, PocketPlus is split into five different parts: “Close Button”, “Pocket Internet Explorer”, “Today Plug-in”, “Taskbar Battery Indicator” and “File Explorer”.

closing chapters
Ever tried to close an active application on your Pocket PC without using the Memory Management? Good, then you know that it’s not possible without invoking a 3rd party application. PocketPlus offers you the possibility to either minimize applications or close them.

The minimize feature can come in helpful in situations where you started to read a book in Microsoft Reader (and you don’t want to endure the long startup again) or if you are using your Pocket PC to listen to music or podcasts. Press the “X” button, drag your stylus down - voila: instant minimize. Quite easy to remember.

Closing an application can come in handy in most other situations. You don’t have to worry about too much memory being eaten away by applications you are not using right now. Nice feature: you can list applications that should never be closed.

PocketPlus also includes a task managment utility in the menu that appears when tap-n-holding the “X” button. From rebooting to volume settings, as well as resolution switching - everything is there.

Internet Enhancements?
The standard PIE doesn’t do much. No tabbed browsing, no ability to save a page, no nothing. PocketPlus’ PIE enhancements cure all of those problems and even add new features.

For one, there’s a full screen switch, which is certainly helpful when you are reading forums or news. Then there’s the possibility to open more than one window at the same time and browsing on more pages simultaneously. Of course, those enhancements wouldn’t be complete without the ability to save pages and images and copy hyperlinks into to the clipboard.

more Today, right now
PocketPlus’ Today plugin let’s you have almost everything on your Today screen; be that a link to your favourite playlist or a shortcut to system settings - it’s all there.

Conclusion
PocketPlus really lives up to it’s name. It’s certainly worth it’s price and it performed perfectly for me.

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new toy - customized

posted in Guides on April 28th, 2005

I recently acquired a Qtek 9090 - this device is a so called Pocket PC Phone Edition and it’s pretty darn sweet. Apart from the usual stuff like WiFi, Bluetooth and an up to date OS, you also get GPRS connectivity, intelligent connection switching and a thumbkeyboard. All in all - a great package and certainly worth the money.

But there’s more to it… Since the Qtek 9090 is really just a rebranded HTC Blue Angel (just like iMate PDA2k, Orange M200, O2 XDA III, T-Mobile MDA III), you can flash the device to your liking…

Basically, what HTC does is create 3 different “setups”. Those “setups” make the device what it is, including brand-customization (T-Mobile, O2, Orange, VodaFone etc.) and custom tools.

Part 1 is the operating system. HTC is using state of the art Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition.
Part 2 is the radio stack - this is what actually makes a device a phone edition. Without this, it’s just a normal Pocket PC. This stack gets updated more or less frequently by your manufacturer and is best left alone unless you really know what you are doing.

Part 3 is the extended ROM. This let’s the manufacturer / OEM customize the device to their liking (not yours). These applications will be installed after each hard-reset. Most of the software included makes sense for someone, but most doesn’t make sense to me…

Since Qtek doesn’t really know about my specific needs, they include such great tools as a PPT Viewer, a PDF Viewer, FAXing utility, a Gallery application, a MIDlet utiliy and a Backup Utility. What I’d really need though is SPB Pocket Plus, a GPS application, a real backup utility and a few other applications. After deciding that it was more fun to have a customized device, rather than seeing all those unneeded applications, I set out to create a custom “extended ROM”.

Prior to starting, I did a good deal of reading in order to understand the whole concept of the phone, the website xda-developers.com does a great job in explaining what actually is possible and how it has to be done. Creating your own “extended ROM” is easy, that is, if you know how. Here’s a listing that includes all the steps I did in order to get my own ROM:

- Preparation: Backups
Since I already trashed my old iPAQ H3660 back in the day, I knew I had to create a few backups at first. PDAmobiz has a good tutorial on how to create a backup of just about everything for your device. They walk you through the whole process and explain how you can retrieve the files. Since I wasn’t able to retrieve them, I’ve got a 256mb SD Card sitting around, waiting for the moment I pop it into the Qtek to reflash the extended ROM. Hopefully it will never get to that and I’ll only have to use my other SD Card, I’m using to create my custom extended ROM.

- Preparation: getting to know the subject
Once again, xda-developers.com has a good deal of information in their Wiki. Those pages outline what you need to know. Most questions will either be answered in the Wiki or you’ll find answers in the very active forums.

- Preparation: Finding, testing the tools you need
Prior to putting something into the “extended ROM”, it’s necessary to test the install routine on the device and see what kind of routine it is.

Testing is done by locating the .cab File in your ActiveSync Folder and copying it onto the device, rather than using ActiveSync’s installation utility. It’s important to note here if an application needs user interaction (entering a key, accepting an EULA etc.) or not. This will influence how “config.txt” will be created later on.

My list of applications consists of the following right now:
SPB Pocket Plus by SPB Software House - application requires user interaction (question about ZIP support)
eWallet, by Iliumsoft - application requires user interaction (accepting EULA).
Microsoft Reader by Microsoft - application requires user interaction (notice about new fonts)
Route 66 and SP2 by Route 66 GIS b.v. - application requires user interaction (warning about functionality)
Apart from installing those applications, I also want my “extended ROM” to include my registration for Microsoft Reader, since I already know which files are important. In later steps it may be interesting to edit the dump of an registry file so that after installing all the software, the dump would import my registration keys and save me the hassle of entering them myself.

- Preparation: extracting the original ROM
Before you can actually extract the original ROM, you will have to unlock and unhide it. This is done by using the XDA Unlock Tool, however this version will only work on devices with an English interface. Since my device is based on the German version, I had to copy a few files to different places, but all in all it’s easy to start. After executing the application, you will have to do a soft-reset (the small hole, left bottom corner) and a directory called “Extended_ROM” will appear at the root level when you open Explorer on your device. In this folder you will find all the applications that are installed to customize your device.

- Preparation: creating a custom config.txt
The most important files in the “Extended_ROM” directory are “config.txt” and “AutoRun.exe”. The latter takes the text file as a guideline on what to do. The format of the text file is rather simple:

“EXEC:\Extended_ROM\application.exe” - executes a file. Most notably is that “TPDisable.exe” is executed at the beginning. This keeps the user from doing anything with the touch screen. “TPEnable.exe” will restore touch screen functionality after the customization.

“CAB:\Extended_ROM\application.cab” - executes a CAB installer. It’s probably logical, but I should still mention that the CAB file has to be written for your device (e.g.: StrongARM) or else the customization will most probably fail.
There’s also a built-in facility to copy files from the “extended ROM” to anywhere I please. This will later be discussed regarding the activation of MS Reader.

Since all my applications require some kind of interaction, I don’t really need to disable the touch screen, therefor I start out by editing the factory version of the config.txt to not execute “TPDisable.exe” anymore, naturally “TPEnable.exe” will then not be needed either.

Thanks to this thread on xda-developers.com, I know which files I can safely remove and which should better remain in the “extended ROM”. Like I noted earlier, I don’t see any reason why I should install a PPT or PDF viewer, since I never read such files anyways, so all I have to do is remove “ClearVue2.4.381_GER_withoutBP_OzUp.sa.CAB” from the “config.txt” and the application wont be installed next time I do a hard-reset. To save space (since the “extended ROM” is limited to 16mb), I also removed the file itself. It should be noted that the “GER” is the language code and could also be “ENG” or “ITA” or anything else.
I also have little need for the following applications:
“BA_Album_GER.CAB” (the Gallery application),

“Java_v10.1.2.49_DE_0901_unremovable.CAB” (the MIDlet manager) and
“Fax_v2.09_BA_GER_0720_unremovable.CAB” (the FAX application), so I also removed those.

- Testing: Will my config.txt work?
All I have to do now is upload my “config.txt” to the “Extended_ROM” folder and do a hard-reset. After a hard-reset, I should have a device with less useless tools installed, and while it actually appears that I’m writing this after doing the customization, it is in fact being written as I try out the different steps.

I just did a hard-reset (with some hesitation) and it worked. So far so good.

Experimenting: stripping more unneeded tools
Since I don’t really use MIDI ringtones, I also decided to remove the MIDI Tools “MIDI561.CAB” and the registration file for it, called “MIDI_GER_reg.CAB”. The updated config.txt goes into the “extended ROM” folder once again and another hard-reset shows the results. To conclude this part, I also ended up removing “MMS_v2.0.0.16_BA_DE_20041115.CAB” - the MMS Client, since I never send MMS and “Qtek_Button9_GER.sa.CAB” - an utility that maps a button to the Sprint PCS website. This saved me another 2.25mb.

Experimenting: adding much needed tools
Since the “extended ROM” is limited to 16mb, I had to find a solution for making some room. The factory default takes up 14mb, but I removed 7.71mb and thus have 9.71mb free. This might be a problem for others, since they might want to install more applications. In that case, I suggest storing the CAB files in “\Storage” since those 43mb located to this non-volatile storage might otherwise go unused.

When adding applications, it might be smart to create folders like I did, one called “ms_reader_activation” where all the files reside that make up the activation and another folder called “custom_apps” that holds the CAB files for the installer.
To copy the MS Reader files automatically, you’ll have to use the “CPY1″ and “CPY2″ commands as outlined above.
I also edited some of the CAB files to make them even smaller: I removed the GuideBook.lit from the MS Reader Setup and I deleted the standard images / icons / sounds that come with eWallet. I also edited the eWallet CAB in a way that it automatically registers itself with my credentials. Apart from that, I changed the location where eWallet looks for images to a folder in “\Storage”.

After the customization, the device will soft-reset itself and everything will be installed, copied and set up.
Conclusion: creating your own “customization tool” is really not that difficult, as long as you read about it first and follow all steps as outlined. For me, I ‘ve got my very own and higly customized Qtek 9090 now.

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