Windows Mobile 6 and the VX6800

So, I finally decided upon the VX6800 to replace my old Motorola Q. I played around with both the VX6800 and the SCH-i760, both having the required features of a keyboard, a touch-screen, wifi, a camera, and an OS that will let me install SSH without a jailbreak.

There are really two things to talk about. First, the Windows Mobile operating system and then the phone itself. I’ll post my thoughts at Windows CE’s position at it’s current point in history now, and write about the hardware in a bit.

Now, I should mention that me and Windows CE go way way way back. I had a Palm Size PC, a Pocket PC, a Motorola Q, and now the VX6800. So I can see in every place where they tweaked an existing concept to go from a keyboard+stylus device to a stylus-only device to a device that’s either a keyboard-only device or a keyboard+stylus device.

So, the thoughts… Compared to WM 5.0, WM 6.0 sucks less in certain areas It’s still a little obnoxious. (But remember that the iPhone is obnoxious too) How?

First, a person who’s so obsessed with email that they’ve got it on their phone probably gets a lot of mail and therefore wants a quick and easy way to operate on it. WM5 was barely usable, largely because it didn’t actually obey the IMAP standard nor did it provide a very fast way to work with email. WM6 is better. They bound the left button to delete a message, which is great. Plus, most operations have keyboard shortcuts finally. The way they did things was that if you start typing, it searches. If you hold down certain keys, it’ll do a set of operations. The big ones are taken care of.

However, the way my mail organizational system works is that I have a set of folders where mail comes in on, with bacn and spamtraps and other items separated out for my convenience. So what I want to do is be able to switch between folders quickly. One way is to touch the folder menu onscreen. The other way is to trigger the right hand menu, select Go To and then “Folders”, and then pick the folders. Either way is far too many keystrokes. Either I need to be able to pop up a folder list with a single keypress or maybe just select the next folder with unread messages with a single keypress. Plus, they didn’t get things quite right so I can’t hit “Y” or “N” when it asks me if I want to delete something.

Second, now I have a touch-screen device. I’m surprised at how quickly my touch-screen reflexes go back. I was transferring some stuff off of my Q via bluetooth and suddenly I was trying to use the Q as a touchscreen. This is a major plus for me. I think my main gripe is that they need to sit down and re-evaluate some parts of the user interface under the assumption that somebody’s going to be using a finger-press not a stylus press.

For example, the contact list applet has not changed since either 2000 or 2002. It is very thumb-unfriendly and pretty much requires that you use either stylus or keyboard.

Third, and this is something where I really would love to understand what’s going on. See, somebody realized that most folks place their email, MMS, SMS, and missed calls all under different levels of priority. So, generally I treat my SMS box as something on the same level of interruption as being called on the phone and my email as something far less urgent. What I really want is for the phone to beep every minute when I’ve got an unread SMS. So I go to Start -> Settings -> Sounds & Notifications -> Notifications and discover that I can almost configure it properly. There’s a checkbox labeled “Repeat” that, in my mind, would be the one I’d want to check. Except that it’s disabled for any notification other than “Reminders”. I ended up writing my own plugin to do that for me.

Fourth, there’s some bugs in Mobile IE that aren’t apparent if you are surfing but are apparent if you try to use too many web apps. The biggest offender is that I can’t edit pages on wikis properly. When you use the up and down arrow keys, it doesn’t move the cursor in a text box, it tries to scroll the view, which is just annoying. The Moto Q and WM5 didn’t even try to do text boxes inline with other content… it would just pop up an editor window… and that actually worked out much better. This phone and WM6 seem to be trying to make it work, but fails. They don’t have very good tools to let you work with pages not intended for a mobile screen. The iPhone uses multi-touch pinch and seems to work better. Symbian doesn’t have a touch screen but still seems to handle unmodified pages better.

Fifth, given how few changes there really are between WM5 and WM6, it’s awfully buggy. I thought they had turned a corner with my Moto Q, but it just seems like the touchscreenless version is more stable. The latest weird one is how somehow enough of the phone got screwed up that it tried to set itself up as a new phone. So most everything is still sort of installed, but now there’s a bunch of duplicate icons and nothing available for uninstall, which means that I need to rebuild from scratch. I’m also sure there’s a memory leakage bug, at least with the default set of today screen plugins, because it benefits from occasional restarting. It is recommended that you disable the HTC today screen plugin and that seems to help. I tried some of the advice on the forums, but it turns out that there’s side effects to some of the advice.

For some reason, it feels like the touchscreen version (Pro) is less stable than the keyboard version (Smartphone)

Sixth, I finally tracked down a really stupid synchronization issue with Windows. See, after a while I discovered that my Q wouldn’t sync anymore. This didn’t bug me too much because I had installed everything I was able to get installed on my Q already and I don’t actually use most of the synchable functionality. However, it turns out that somewhere along the way, I installed some software (I suspect the Cisco VPN from work) that screwd up my RNDIS connectivity. So there’s an option, given with very little explanation, that will turn off RNDIS and use PPP for synch, which suddenly allows my device to synch to the desktop.

I’d make a comment here about how much Microsoft sucks, but after all of my wife’s iTunes troubles…

The PuTTY port is absolutely awesome. See, at work, I occasionally get paged with issues. Before, I’d have to run to the computer all of the time. Now, sometimes I can just fix it via SSH on my phone. It works much better than the ones available for the versions of windows without a touchscreen.

The problem, really, is that Microsoft has years and years and years of crap in their operating system. They wrote it before it was possible to just drop some modules of a real Windows kernel and leave the rest alone like Apple is able to. And you can only pretty things up so much, especially given that they need to support most older Windows CE applications. So it ended up better off than Palm OS (PalmOS being a single-tasking OS, basically a glorified loader) but worse off than the iPhone OS (being OS X with some modules dropped).

Pretty much, the same thing that’s wrong with Vista, but on a smaller platform. I have a fairly dim view of Windows Mobile 7 being any better because most of the problems are systemic.