|Global Communications and Computing
XDA Exec Pocket PC
We have for some time been trying to find a replacement for our old and trusted HP palmtops, Pete's HP95 was over 15 years old and Pauline's HP200 over 10 years. They have been ideal for holding contacts and for quickly writing up when on the move but it had been becoming increasingly difficult to find a way of transferring data from them to our laptop since the advent of Windows XP as the IR connection and software no longer works. So we were looking for another pocket sized machine with a QWERTY keyboard for writing up, contacts, appointments and a spreadsheet with the ability to communicate with the laptop and desktop.
In parallel we have been looking for better ways of connecting and collecting email whilst abroad and traveling in the UK so any replacement machine ought to have data capability for email and, ideally, very basic web browsing capability. Pete was the first to replace his HP and upgraded to an O2 XDA Executive (HTC Universal) which is the subject of this page.
The XDA was a game changer in its time but was eventually replaced by a series of Samsung Android based phones and Pads.
It is always sensible to define one's requirements at an early stage. We started with the most useful features of the old HP95 and added the new features we wanted.
Size: Small and light enough for a pocket so as not to count as hand luggage when traveling but large enough to have a sensible screen and practical QWERTY keyboard.
Convenience: No delays waiting for booting up and at least 8 hours when used as a PDA including an hour of internet access before recharging. (HP95 gave 16 hours).
Storage: a slot for a removable card for data, ideally Compact Flash to match current camera otherwise Secure Digital as that is used in most new cameras we might buy.
Telephone: The requirement was not for another telephone but it would clearly be useful to have Voice and TXT when a suitable SIM is fitted to give us two telephones.
Internet Connectivity: WiFi for Internet Cafes. Internal access to Dial-up GSM, GPRS and 3G. Connection via an external modem in a phone is desirable for flexibility - so one can, for example, use an internal SIM with GPRS/3G data capability during the day and external Dial-up via phone to use our free minutes in the evenings without changing over SIM cards.
Use as a Modem: The ability to serve as a modem for internet access for the Laptop if fitted with a data only SIM .
Computer/Phone connectivity: Bluetooth to Phone and laptop, USB cable to desktop with IR desirable for phones and laptops.
Contacts: The ability to store and synchronise our complete contacts list from home (allow 1000 with growth) and to transfer (or ideally synchronise with) from laptop/desktop and also to send individual contacts to the phone via Bluetooth or IR.
'Office' Software: Microsoft Pocket Office (Word, Excel and Outlook) or equivalent functionality with interchange with Microsoft Office 2003 files.
Secure information An ability to store a limited amount (about 2 Mbytes) of encrypted information.
Data cost Monitoring. It is highly desirable to be able to monitor data costs on a connection, day and month basis.
There is a general discussion of how we work away from home in Global Communications and Computing
We looked at a number of possible replacements for the HP95/Hp200, including the Nokia Communicator series which satisfied almost all of our requirements other than having a poor keyboard. We put the replacement on hold until we found that O2 were offering the XDA Exec, which is a re-badged HTC Universal, at a very favourable price. They offered one as an upgrade despite our being on a legacy tariff which has no GPRS/3G data options. The specifications seemed to satisfy the major requirements although we did not expect to initially realise some of communication functionality as we were without an O2 data SIM and tariff - this made the ability to use an external phone very important as the alternative would have been to keep changing over the O2 legacy SIM or carrying the XDA Exec as a phone.
Firstly it must be understood that this is a powerful PDA with excellent communications facilities built into a very small volume. It is a PDA which can also be used as a phone not a phone with PDA capabilities. It has many other attributes such as playing MP3 files and taking pictures with a 1.3 megapixel camera - there is even a second built in camera for video calls. We have added a 1 Gbyte SD memory card so storing music and pictures is a real possibility although the pictures from the built in camera are very poor. Battery life is close to the 16 hours promised when used as PDA and there is a continuous indicator in percent of the battery state. Charging seems very slow when using the USB cable from a computer but faster on the mains adapter. We have yet to obtain a 12 volt adapter.
The keyboard is small but with an adequate feel to allow documents to be written and the 640x480 screen is bright and very clear. We find the touch sensitive screen easy to use alongside the keyboard although almost everything can be done from the keyboard using the menus and the up down left right keys. The keyboard is however slightly unusual in only having no delete, only a backspace and the use of function not shift to access many symbols. There are some nice touches like a volume control and automatic keyboard illumination when the light level falls. Word mobile is very basic but adequate for text entry. Excel Mobile displays our spreadsheets from the HP95 including graphics.
Overall we have found it very easy to use although it takes some time to learn about and set up the more complex communications options. We are currently delighted with it. Now for some details to help new users and remind us if we have set it up again.
Communication uses four main methods - WiFi, Telephone (GPRS and 3G), IR and Bluetooth. Internet access normally uses the first two although an external modem can be access via IR or Bluetooth if, for example, you have phone with built in modem. Wifi, Telephone data and Bluetooth can be turned on and off using the Wireless Manager (Programs -> Wireless Manager or the best access is via an icon always in the tooltray). WiFi is used in preference when an Internet connection is required if it is turned on and connected. The important area for setting up communications is accessed via Start -> Settings and are on the Connections tab. Wireless Lan allows you to set up the Wifi parameters - if a WEP encryption key is needed it will be asked for, note some parameters are via a couple of icons bottom left. Bluetooth allows you to discover nearby devices and set up a partnership with them. Beam is what IR is called and allows IR to be turned on and off. You should not play with CSD Line Type, GPRS settings or Network Cards .
If Wifi is not available a connection is made using one of the connections set up in Start -> Settings -> Connections Tab -> Connections -> My ISP - the choice can be defined or a suitable connection picked automatically. Our XDA has three connections set up so far: Dial-up to our ISP using the internal SIM, GSM/3G again using the internal SIM primarily for use during the day, and lastly another Dial up to our ISP for evening use - this uses a Bluetooth modem in our phone with a SIM allowing cheap off peak calls - the connection is defined as Bluetooth to avoid the chance of accidental access via the telephone in the XDA during the day. The setting up of a connection is similar to what one is used to on a PC via a Wizard. A connection is automatically started when Explorer is opened or a send and receive initiated and terminated when Explorer is closed or the send and receive has finished. I however like to check that it has finished or or ensure it is terminated by turning off the phone (by Flight Mode or in Connection Manager).
I have also found that one gets a more stable connection on many mobile networks if one limits the connections to be GPRS in all but very good signal areas - this avoids the phone swapping between 3G and GPRS. Start -> Settings -> Phone -> Band tab and select GSM in the 'Select your network type box'
Email is easy to set up and works very well on the XDA exec. It is slightly different to email on a PC as it is intended to facilitate use whilst away from the office or on a holiday although you could probably use it as ones sole email machine for many months.
The first significant difference from the PC version of Outlook is that each email account has its own inbox, outbox, sent mail and folders and is separately sent and received. The second is you only have copies of the original mail and the originals are still on the server to be retrieved onto your main machine when you return unless you use specific procedures to delete them, which you may wish to do to clear out spam. A very elegant feature is that only the headers and the first 2k are downloaded without attachments by default - this cuts down connection charges and reduces the chances of virus infections, malware and minimises the cost of the spam. You can then select the emails to complete downloading. Attachments can also be selected for downloading and then stored on your data card to save space. One shortfall with this separation of functions is that if you reply then you need to copy yourself to maintain an audit trail on the main machine. It would have been helpful if one could mail between accounts although you can cut and paste text from one message to another in different accounts.
As well as the email accounts you set up there is another preset account which sends and receives your text messages, on set up for MMS messaging and a very useful Outlook Email account which is covered below because its use depends on a connection to the PC for synchronisation.
The connection to a computer is usually made via a USB cable which also powers the XDA. I have found this needs to be USB 2.0 connection to provide sufficient power to charge the XDA and use the connection. The laptop is old and only has USB 1 but I have a PCMIA card providing two USB connections which works even without its external power supply option. A program has to be installed on the computer called ActiveSync from the CD supplied which allows files to be transferred and also carries out an automatic synchronisation of selected data if you are using Outlook - synchronisation takes place automatically when you plug the XDA in. This is normally set to be the Contacts list, Calendar (Future Appointments and those in the last fortnight), Task list and Outlook Email.
The Outlook email account is interesting - when you synchronise only the last 3 days worth of your inbox and selected folders are transferred by default. You can not send replies or mail from this account but when you next synchronise they are copied from the outbox to the PC ready to send - perfect to take you mail away for the day and then send out mail when you get back. Mail you delete on the XDA goes into a deleted mail folder. It is only deleted from the PC on synchronisation when it has also been deleted from the deleted mail folder.
ActiveSync communicates with the XDA on a network TCP/IP connection so there is usually a need to configure the firewall to let this take place. There is information and a list of how to do it for most firewalls other than the free version of ZoneAlarm at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/help/activesync/default.mspx . In the case of the free version of ZoneAlarm open it and go to the Firewall tab and Zones tab. In the list you will see a new adapter called Windows Mobile Device and this needs to be in the Trusted Zone not the Internet Zone. Unplug the USB connection and click on the element of the table containing Internet and change the zone to Trusted. Whilst you are there also click Add an IP Address and fill in the boxes as 169.254.2.1 (one lower than the adapter subnet), the Trusted Zone and call it ActiveSync.
At various times after this the firewall will put up the screens saying various of the ActiveSync programs want permission to access the Internet and Trusted zones, tick the always box and allow them to work. There are 4 programs in total and if you want to avoid waiting you can go to the Program Control -> programs tab and look for programs in the c:/program files/ActiveSync/ folder and give them full permissions. The list is on the site link above includes Wcescomm.exe Rapimgr.exe WCESMgr.exe and CEAPPMGR.exe and all the boxes should be ticked.
I have tried both Bluetooth and IR for sending contacts and files between the XDA, my T610 phone, Pauline's Treo 750v Smartphone and our laptops. The next few paragraphs are common to the XDA and Palm Treo 750v we own which both use Windows Mobile 5. The Menus for many items such as files and contacts have an item called Beam. This allows you to send the file or contact to another device (computer, PDA or telephone) by either Infra Red (IR) or Bluetooth (BT). Using IR to a compatible device is very easy although you first have to set up Windows Mobile Devices to receive incoming beams by Start -> Settings -> Connections -> Beam and tick the box. Then align the two IR ports about 5 cms apart and Menu -> Beam and select IR. You can also use Bluetooth (BT) which has much greater range but does need both devices to be set up, paired and with BT turned on.
The way Bluetooth is set up varies a little between machines so here I will use two Windows Mobile 5 devices, our Palm Treo 750v and our O2 XDA Executive as an example for pairing etc. On both the XDA and Treo do Start -> Settings -> Connections tab -> Bluetooth -> Mode tab and tick both Turn On and Make Discoverable. Then go to the Devices tab on say the Treo and tap New Partnership to pair the first time. The Treo will scan for other devices which are 'Discoverable' and find the XDA (or PC etc). Tap the chosen device and you will be asked to enter a code ('PIN') and you then have to rush to the XDA where a message asking if you want to continue and enter a matching 'PIN' pops up. At any future time you can work down the same menus to the devices which are paired and click on one to set which functions on your machine you will allow the other machine to use from a list - on Windows Mobile machines this may only be Dial-up-Networking as file and contact transfers are covered under the Beam settings.
I have written more about Bluetooth and mobile phones such as the Sony Ericsson T610 on the Mobile Communications and Computing Page. You can use its modem from the XDA or Treo and also send contacts and pictures too and from them although the T610 only stores a limited amount of contact information so take care with transfers from a phone to a PDA of anything but a new contact.
The XDA supports handsfree Bluetooth profile for mono headsets but not, as far as I can tell, a Bluetooth stereo headset for music. Pairing a headset is driven from the XDA end as most headsets have a fixed PIN/passcode. The typical proceedure such as for a Vodafone Plantronics 320 headset is:
From now on you can just use the single button on the Plantronics as below:
Many headsets follow a similar proceedure to pair and mode of operation.
Although the comprehensive handbook and advertising material indicated this was possible it took considerable research on the internet to implement the use of the XDA as a modem for GPRS/3G access from a PC. This was not entirely unexpected as it took a very long time to find out how to do the same with our Sony T610 phone. We have finally succeeded and are providing detailed instructions which work for a USB cable.
The following proceedures have only been tested with the XDA so far but should be applicable to any PDA running Windows Mobile 5. I have therefore used PDA instead of XDA throughout this section.
Firstly one must understand that use of PDA as a modem for accessing the Internet involves running a built in program called Wireless Modem on the PDA which simulates a modem on the PDA USB port (or on the Bluetooth or IR connections). When this program is running it is just like an old fashioned external modem box with a screen display with an online and data lights - when the program is running the USB connection is completely different and when it is plugged in it will be recognised as a new modem device. One must therefore install a USB modem on your computer which uses the special driver supplied on the applications disk with the PDA. Only then can you set up a Dial-up internet connection using the PDA.
The use of GPRS/3G requires the setting up the PDA modem by a special initialisation string with details of the GPRS access point or, in some cases it will be already set if you have just made a connection using the required access point. You then connect (dial) using a magic code of *99# instead of an ordinary telephone number. You need to know the access point, username and password for you providers GPRS/3G service to do this in the case of O2 the access point is mobile.o2.co.uk , the user name is web, o2web or faster and the password for all of them is password. In the case of Vodafone UK prepay the access point (APN) is pp.vodafone.co.uk , the username is wap and the password is also wap . Try Ross Barkman's Page or http://www.formatc.de/roaming/gprs.htm for complete sets of GPRS settings world wide
Every time you want to use the PDA as a modem:
After you have finished:
The above procedures are an extension of those found in an excellent posting by Tekflow on the http://forum.xda-developers.com/ web site - a site full of useful information.
We had no matching success with Bluetooth or IR so far for GPRS access. We can detect the bluetooth modem but it seems to need special drivers for the PC. After much work I have however made GSM and GPRS connections via Bluetooth work from a Ubuntu Linux system - this is covered in Ubunto Linux on the Move - so it should be possible under Windows.
This is an essential and very good program for monitoring the time and costs of your connections via GPRS where you are charged for data usage. I could not initially load the version provided free by O2 on their CD or from the web site and and initially used the 15 day free trial version direct from the spb website. I spoke with David at length from O2 technical support which I am very impressed with - I normally never bother as all you get from many firms is promises to ring back after hours of waiting with expensive music. This was a complete contrast and he took me through a procedure which eventually worked but showed a potential problem in loading or unloading software on a pocket PC which could be wider than this saga. I will cover it below after I have finished on the Spb GPRS Monitor.
If you have a HTC Universal branded by another provider who does not provide GPRS Monitor it is worth buying, as well as monitoring you connection costs, providing graphical logs over the year and alerts at 3 predefined limits on a daily and monthly basis it also has estimating procedures for battery life which is very important whilst you are connected. Summaries and indicators are also added to the Today Menu and in the top bar. The only shortfall I have found so far is that I have not found it possible to monitor use when it is being used as a GPRS/3G USB modem.
I should finally note that I recently had to do a complete reboot of machine back to the out of the box state and the new version of the program installed with no problems. In fact it took very little time to re-synchronise and re-install all the programs as they were already installed on the PC ready to be transferred using ActiveSync.
ActiveSync allows you to synchronise with two PCs and each PC can synchronise with any number of mobile devices - this means you can keep, a home and a work or a laptop and a PC synchronised via a mobile device. The multiple synchronisations do not include Outlook email which can only be synchronised to one machine.
This is fine for us at home as Pauline uses the laptop and Peter uses the PC both running Outlook 2003. When we go away for any extended time we move the Outlook Personal Folder system which includes all the Email filing system, Calendar, Notes, Tasks etc. These are all saved in a .pst file. This sort of change would cause unpredictable results if synchronisation was operational. Synchronisation can be turned off but this would have needed a lot of careful activities every time especially as if end up without synchronisation on any PCs then all the data will be deleted on the XDA next time you connect.
We have therefore just created an extra outlook output file called transfer.pst which we can copy between the machines and open as appropriate to transfer received and sent mail when we get back home after using the laptop between us. You must to have the cable disconnected when you create you transfer file and when you copy the file between machines and it is it is probably safer to have it disconnected when you open and close it. The new Personal Folder you create may not have and Inbox, Outbox or Sent Items folder created initially but you can copy the whole folders across (DO NOT MOVE them!). There is no need to create folders for Contacts etc which you will be synchronising.
Over the last three years we have been gradually moving to Linux on all our machines although we have maintained some machines dual booted with Windows XP. We now use Thunderbird with the Lightning extension instead of Microsoft Outlook for email, contacts, calendars and task management under both Windows and Ubuntu Linux and keep them all synchronised by various techniques including use of SyncKolab. As yet we have not been able to find a reliable way to integrate the XDA directly under Ubuntu Linux but have found a commercial package running under Windows called BirdieSync which uses ActiveSync 4.5 to Synchronise Windows Mobile 5 and 6 PDAs with Thunderbird, Sunbird and Lightning. The Thunderbird running under Windows on our Dual boot machine can then be Synchronised with Thunderbird/Lightning on all the Ubuntu Linux machines using SyncKolab. This is all described in Ubuntu on the Lookout .
I have found from Internet searches that it is essential that you have a XDA fully charged for this activity. If the machine is less than 50% it is certain to lock up and the only way out is to borrow a fully charged battery and put it in as the battery charging does not work in boot loader mode. There seems to be quite a significant chance of ending up with an expensive brick in any case so only do it for major revisions. A powerful PC should be used with all screen savers, virus checkers, firewalls etc turned off (also disconnect from internet and networks). I have not updated so far but am collecting information. Be warned the update file is 59 Mbytes and the update can take up to half an hour.