Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Windows Mobile Must-Haves

Every hard-core smartphone user has a list of applications that they wouldn't be caught dead without.
As a mobile enthusiast, I don't actually have such a mental list- I keep a directory of installation files on my storage card so that I can share my list with other enthusiasts that I meet from time to time.
The problem with this is that since any good list will change with the times (new apps come out, others become obsolete), my directory has become an awful mess.
So, I've decided its time to go over it and write up a quick list of what I consider essential for my Windows Mobile devices. Note that since I am currently using a "Professional Edition" device (aka, Pocket PC edition), many of these links are for touchscreen Pocket PC's only. Sorry, Standard (Smartphone) Edition users!

Perhaps some of you will find something new and useful here.
If you find anything essential to add to this list, please let me know!
  • TCPMP (+ Flash Video Bundle) - TCPMP (aka The Core Player Media Player) is the free, open-source predecessor of the commercial CorePlayer app. This relatively low-footprint app can play just about any audio/video format that you throw at it. The fact that it is open source means that people are always adding new formats and developments to it. My personal favorite is the Flash Video Bundle (linked to above), which acts as a Pocket IE plugin to recognize a link that contains embedded flash video (such as YouTube, GoogleVideo, Megavideo, etc) and gives you the option to play it in TCPMP. So, in other words this package enables your device to play divx, xvid, mpeg4, etc, as well as streaming web-based content. And its free. That puts it at the top of my list.
  • Quick Menu - A running application manager/enhanced start menu. Qmenu addresses one of the biggest problems plaguing WM devices- controlling and closing your running applications. Microsoft decided, whether they had good reason or not, to do away with the taskbar concept that desktop windows uses to show you what's open, and further complicated matters by making the X button minimize your program instead of closing it. This created an OS that is infuriatingly confusing to use out of the box, and I'm fairly certain this is one the biggest reasons people return WM devices after trying one out for the first time. Luckily, there are dozens of third party applications to give the user control over what is running, switch to different programs and close them when done. I found QMenu the best personally, because it places the running tasks on your start menu, so they are accessible from anywhere without taking up any space on your screen. It also takes over the X-button and changes its behavior (short press to close, long press to minimize, or vice versa, etc), gives you a cascading start menu (sometimes useful, but you can actually choose to have the old start menu come back when you prefer), and places some useful tools on its start menu such as bluetooth toggle, and memory hibernate command (run this to force apps to release any held memory when available RAM is low- VERY USEFUL!).
  • FtouchFlo - Finger scrolling throughout the entire OS. This is great for those that prefer the iPhone-style flick of the finger to scroll around the screen without having to tap and hold the scroll-bars. The problem with this, however, is that some apps offer finger scrolling of their own (such as google maps, opera, etc), and ftouchflo will need to be disabled to use those properly. Luckily, you can rather easily add programs to exclude from ftouchflo using Schap's Ftouch configuration tool.
  • MochaFTP - This is a real gem that many people are not aware of. It turns your device in to an FTP Server. Yeah, you heard me... a SERVER, not a client. I blogged about this one over here.
  • WMWiFiRouter - If you have a cellular data plan and your device supports WiFi, this nifty little app will turn your PDA into a portable WiFi router. Great for road warriors who want to connect their laptops, skype phones, PSP, or anything that supports peer-to-peer wifi networking. The latest 1.0+ verions of the application are commercial, however pre-1.0 versions work well and are available as freeware.
  • Opera Mini - The fastest desktop-view web browser there is currently- loads full scale web pages that you can zoom in and out of in a matter of seconds. How? With the help of a little server-side compression. In other words, when you request a page, Opera's servers render it first, then compress the result and send it to your phone where it is rendered the way you'd expect it to look on your desktop. This means even a 2G phone can offer an experience similiar to browsing on a desktop with adequate speed. I should just add that many who are concerned with privacy aren't fond of the server-side model, since your data is going to someone's third party server first. Personally, I find this browser too good to let pass- but maybe avoid using it for bank accounts, etc. NOTE: This program runs in a Java Environment, and needs a runtime such as Esmertec Jbed to run. If you don't have Java, and/or don't like the idea of server-side compression, there is also Opera Mobile, which is a native WM app, and is very nice. However, it is not free nor as fast.
  • Palringo - Instant Messaging, supports all the regulars (AIM, MSN, Jabber, Gtalk, Yahoo, ICQ, etc) in addition to offering their own voice client as sort of a Push-to-talk. Best feature? Insert a live pic taken with your phone's cam into an IM. Better than trying to describe something you're seeing in text...
  • MS Voice Command - A commercial voice recognition app that goes far beyond dialing contacts. Without any prior training, VC allows you to ask your phone to play music by artist name, for example. Or, you can ask it when your next appointment is, and it will read it to you, or allow you to launch any program in your start menu by name. Heck, you can even ask it what the time is if you're too lazy to check your watch and have your headset on. This is roughly the same technology MS developed for their new MS/Ford Sync that is coming with new Ford stereos in cars. The Problem: MS seems to have stopped selling the PPC version, although it is still being developed and comes built into the rom of very specific devices. You can still buy the older obsolete version for $40, however it has compatibility problems with newer handsets and does not work properly with Bluetooth. The updated versions which worlk FLAWLESSLY have been extracted from the few Windows Mobile devices that come with it (the HTC Diamond, for example), and spread around all over forums and blogs for free. However the fact that MS still sells the old version for $40 means the distribution of the newer extracted versions are questionably software piracy. Therefore, I prefer not to link to it, however a good Google search will probably find you what you are looking for. I seen some people who want a clear conscience buy the $40 version and install the extracted update. I recommend you do what you feel is right.
There are many, many more applications that I use on a regular basis (slide2play, skyfire, mapopolis, Total Commander, etc) however they are not "essential", and some of them are still in beta and not worth posting about until complete. I will try to update this list or add another list of Recommended (vs Essential) Apps in another post.

But before I finish this post, I would like to add one more thing that I consider essential however did not list with the others because it does not apply to everyone.
As a "good Jewish boy" (in addition to being a Mobile Enthusiast), having access to a digital Siddur (prayer book) and Chumash (Bible) for Windows Mobile are essential. These and much more Judaica are available for free from The software there is very simple, however, and actually requires you to install your own fonts for it work.
Thankfully, this is actually really easy- just find a unicode compatible font (I picked Arial), and copy it from your desktop windows/fonts dir into the windows/fonts dir of the Windows Mobile device. Then run the application. Done.

Have anything to add to my list? Leave a comment...