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(semi) public meetings of geeks - one month later.

posted in Tech Talk on September 14th, 2007

Exactly one month ago, I launched xdaflameusers.com, a micro community aimed at providing XDA Flame users (d’oh) with a place to discuss, rant and rave (about) their Pocket PC.

During the last weeks, the site managed to attract some 90 users, who, collaboratively, created 824 posts. While this might not seem all that much when compared to, for example, xda-developers.com, I am still very proud of what XFU (our hot, internal acronym) managed to accomplish.

On a more technical note, I am quite happy about the fact that we rank #1 on Google for not only XDA Flame Hacking but also XDA Flame Forum.

We have a #1 spot for XDA Flame User and XDA Flame Users and we even managed to enter the forums with the rather generic Flame Forum.

We had the #1 and #2 spots after only ten days, which is quite a feat considering that we did not do anything in regards of SEO.

That said, while I spearheaded the idea of the site itself, I am certain that I we would not have made it this far without XFU’s awesome team:

Thierry and cwkj have both been great moderators, asking interesting questions, coming up with great solutions and helping as needed.

My Second-in-command (so to speak), leek, on the other hand has not only focussed on providing great advice in the forums, but also kept himself (and, on occassion even me) busy with enhancing the forum in any way possible so that people who would use their Pocket PC to access the site would have the same (great) browsing / reading / commenting experience as those that would use a PC.

leek of course is Lee Killough, famous not only for his ports of the computer game Doom, but also for his other works, such as, oh, working on supercomputers and other stuff I can not even begin to understand.

I feel privileged to be able to work with these guys and am glad that xdaflameusers.com turned out more hot than not.

Here’s to you guys, XFU would not be what it is, without you.
Thank you.

 

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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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(semi) public meetings of geeks

posted in Tech Talk on August 14th, 2007

Everyone who ever used a Pocket PC or Smartphone more than for just typing a quick email in Outlook or entering some contact details has probably come across a community called xda-developers.com at one point or another.

With more than 100,000 threads and a tad more than 350,000 members, it is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mobile technology community focussed on Pocket PCs and Smartphones ever to exist. And the best thing is, these guys keep growing and growing.

xda-developers.com is, hands down, the best resource you can wish for if you are looking to enhance your XDA based device. That is, let me clarify, it does not really have to be a XDA, it only has to be manufactured by a company called HTC.

This, in my eyes, silly, rule is what keeps the friendly staff at xda-developers.com from creating a sub-forum for the XDA Flame. The reasoning for that is that it is not being manufactured by HTC, but rather by a company called Arima Communications.

Forum users at xda-developers.com have voiced their opinions on many occasions, yet the moderators have decided against granting the users this simple wish.

Be that as it may, there is no rule that prohibits other users from setting up their own forums, so, without furder ado, here is xdaflameusers.com.

The goal of the site is simply to be a meeting point for all XDA Flame users, because one thread simply does not cut it, if you ask me.

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Mysterious Flames (Missing Applications from the O2 XDA Flame)

posted in Rants on August 13th, 2007

Let me preface this article by saying that it is not really a rant, more like a big question mark above my head.

When I first researched the XDA Flame, I came across a listing that stated that the device came with a selection of commercial applications, namely:

All in all, three very good applications with a total retail value of $85 and even though O2 probably does not even pay 50% of that value, the applications still add tremendous value to the device.

You can guess how amazed I was when I found out that only one of the three applications was actually included.

Granted, I did not mind much at first, since the application that was included (on a companion CD) was Jeyo’s Mobile Extender, which is the only application I needed anyway because I use different products for the other tasks.

Earlier today I found a way to access the Extended ROM of the XDA Flame and guess what? Two setup files, one for CodeWallet 6 and one for WorldMate 2007, right there, working and licensed.

It really makes me wonder as to what prompted O2 to include the files but not install them automatically. My guess is that 95% of the XDA Flame users have no clue at all on how to get access to the Extended ROM and as such, will never have access to the two missing applications, which would constitute a loss of value of the device.

Strange, strange indeed.

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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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