T-Mobile SDA

December 2, 2006 | 1 Comment

I was way overdue for a new phone. The Nokia 6610 had served me really well but it had a very common failure. The volume rocker on the side broke. The volume could only ever be turned down, not back up. Had this been the opposite I might still have it today. For a while I lived with it. If I hit the volume key in just the right way I could turn the volume back up and that’d be good for another few days or so until the volume key got pressed again in my pocket. Eventually I had it with the phone.

So tasked with selecting a new phone I had some ideas. I knew I wanted candy bar style phone. I looked at the L7 on newegg, however the L7 has a fatal flaw. It has no keypad auto-lock. This would make any candy bar phone unusable (at least to me). Coincidentally when we went to Hawaii, I saw Katie had a candy bar style Windows Smartphone. I asked Vlad about it and he was pretty happy with it. So I checked and T-Mobile carried a model called SDA (HTC Tornado). I did my research and it looked good. I played with it a few times at the T-Mobile store. It was a little bulkier than the Nokia but not too much bigger. And it had a feature I’d been wishing I had for a while: Wi-Fi. That pretty much sealed it’s fate.

On the week that Leigha had gone to Oklahoma I went down to T-Mobile and bought it and immediately started playing with it. One thing I knew I wanted to do: Synchronize with Outlook (see previous entry). This would save me a lot of hassle of only having some numbers in my cell or some in Outlook or vice versa.

So before going further into the adventures, I’ll list the things I like about SDA over the Nokia I had:
1) Mini-SD card slot
2) Mini-USB for charging/syncing
3) Bluetooth
4) Wi-Fi (even supports my VPN!)
5) MIDP2.0
6) Full web browsing built in (IE)
7) Camera
8) EDGE (I think)
9) Auto silent based on calendar meetings
10) When connected to ActiveSync it can use host computer’s internet connection

Now some problems I have/had with it:
1) Slow startup / shutdown
2) Can’t sync 2 calendars (they get merged)
3) Can’t sync public folders by default (ActiveSync issue) [solved]
4) No success with Sync’ing over Bluetooth
5) ActiveSync sucks
6) Sync-only-once [solved?]
7) Only 2 sync profiles
8) Expensive data plan [solved]
9) Crappy documentation
10) Auto Keylock is non-obvious [solved then unsolved]
11) IE (ugh) works better than Opera
12) PocketPutty doesn’t render right
13) Google Maps wouldn’t work [solved]

So starting with the problems. It would have been nice to synchronize my personal calendar from home and my meeting calendar from work but really the personal calendar from home has nothing in it so for right now I only sync the calendar at work.

The sync’ing public folders had me annoyed for a while. I searched some and I came up with other people who’d run into the same thing. The two solutions suggested were IntelliSync and PocketMirror. I checked the Scalix forums and Scalix folks said they’d been working with IntelliSync to get them to talk to each other. So I installed the IntelliSync trial off the website. IntelliSync, being a little too nosy for it’s own good, realized that the backend for my Outlook profile was not Exchange proper and would refuse to sync. I searched around for some sort of IntelliSync/Scalix information/beta but couldn’t find any. So I downloaded the PocketMirror trial and that worked. It installs an app on the SDA and it hooks into ActiveSync. It’s not perfectly smooth. There was a lot of head scratching. involved but eventually I got it working.

Other sync’ing problems: I’ve been completely unable to sync over Bluetooth. This was a feature to which I was looking forward. I’ve tried with both my crappy old Belkin FT8001 adapters and a borrowed modern adapter. With no luck. I blame ActiveSync since the com ports do seem to be detected properly. You’ll notice a pattern here, mostly that of ActiveSync sucking. Another problem I had was that when I sync’d at home it would only work once. After which, the phone wouldn’t be recognized by the computer/ActiveSync. This might not have been an ActiveSync problem but it sure was weird. The USB bus would be totally hosed until a reboot which is the first time I’ve run into this sort of thing in XP. However I reimaged the phone (more on this later) and it doesn’t seem to be happening as much now. My last sync’ing gripe is that either the phone or ActiveSync (or both) can only hold 2 synchronization profiles. So for now I have my home desktop and work as sync profiles. It’d be nice if I could add a sync profile for the laptop. However, it’s possible to use ActiveSync in guest mode (cancel the profile dialogue) which works just fine if you’re just looking for fast internet access.

One thing that I solved right away when I got the phone was the data plan problem. T-Mobile wants to sell you a $30/month plan that includes unlimited data and also unlimited use of the T-Mobile Hot Spots (at Starbucks, etc.). This wouldn’t be a bad deal if I travelled much but my reasoning is that in general, I can find free Wi-Fi and $30 a month is just not justifiable for me. I had the $6/month T-Zones plan with the Nokia and that carried over. There are instructions in various forums for how to set up the connections to use the T-Zones plan for websurfing. I have occasionally (and seemingly randomly) been able to do non-http stuff over this connection. I’ve been able to SSH for example when connected to the GPRS service, but not always. I haven’t determined what the condition is that allows that.

The documetation that comes with the phone is pretty craptastic. The Nokia came with thicker book than the SDA, and obviously the SDA is significantly more complicated. The book is designed just to walk you through installing the SIM, battery, and installing/configuring/testing ActiveSync. That’s it! I don’t think it even had information about how to make a phone call. Definately not what the icons on the screen mean, or where to install the mini-SD card (I was pretty sure where it went but it didn’t look like mini-SD and I wanted to make sure I knew where it went before ordering a memory card). Or how to configure auto keylock. It turns out to do this, you set up a password and tell the phone to lock it with the password after a specified amount of time. The first thing I did was set the password to ‘*’ out of habit. It lets you do that, but then you can’t unlock it (sometimes)! And it prompts for the password at boot. So don’t set your password to ‘*’ if you have one of these. Instead I set the password to ’0′. This worked reliably (more on this later).

One thing that I’m not still entirely clear on is the terminology with this thing. It’s a Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone. Sometimes things for PocketPC will run on it. Sometimes they will not. For me it’s basically a crapshoot to gauge whether a particular piece of software will work. Unless it says smartphone, in which case it probably works. I’ve had some compatibility problems too. PocketPutty let me down. It just doesn’t render right at all. Then I found the very excellent MidpSSH. This thing is absolutely wonderful, and probably better than PocketPutty near as I can tell. The Opera for Smartphone also doesn’t work right. Same kind of rendering issues that I have with PocketPutty. I downloaded OperaMini which I’ve written about previously and is really great, but for now I generally use IE, which is probably fine since I mostly visit Google sites (reader, local, etc.)

That brings me to the most frustrating problem I had (not necessarily in terms of impact). Google has the amazingly useful Google Maps Mobile. We tested it on a friends HTC Wizard and it was really great. The download site says it doesn’t work with T-Mobile. Which was a bummer and very confusing. I have a few Java apps that connect to the network (MidpSSH, OperaMini, GMail (more on this later)) and they connect to the network fine. The Google Maps app loads and is supposed to prompt for network access when it tries to load the ToS. However it doesn’t prompt and it doesn’t get past that point! I don’t really understand how this could be a T-Mobile problem unless they have modified the Java engine or Google Maps relies on some feature missing in the T-Mobile Java stuff. But both of those seem unlikely.

We decided to try something. We would install a Cingular ROM on the phone and see what happened. Tune in for the exciting conclusion next time!

1 Comment

  1. I have Mobile Google Maps installed and it works fine on my SDA.

    Comment by Jason — March 30, 2007 #

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