Moving to Symbian/S60: PIM Data Fun

by Reads (10,360)

After many years as a Palm OS user, I recently switched to a Nokia N75 smartphone running Symbian/S60. This is a big undertaking, and I know it’s one plenty of other people are contemplating too, so I’m doing a series of editorials on my experiences. Today I’ll be concentrating on wirelessly synchronizing  Personal Information Management (PIM) data. 

This bit of moving from my very familiar Treo to the Nokia N75 has been a good bit more trouble than it should have been. As a PDA veteran, I know all about just syncing information from one device to another, but my situation is a bit unique in that I generally don’t sync PIM data. The only time I see HotSync is when I need to backup my data before a trip. Otherwise, everything is synced to an Microsoft Exchange Server.

Exchange is a bit like Outlook for those who might not be familiar with it. Instead of managing my information through Outlook, though, I’m able to use Outlook’s Web Access (OWA) through a web browser to do email, contacts, and calendar management.

For mobile devices, there is a protocol called Exchange ActiveSync that allows various mobile devices to connect to Exchange servers. Currently almost every mobile device can use this protocol to sync to an Exchange server. And the best part is that the mobile syncing aspect is free. Of course, you need the server and the IT personnel to administer it though.

For me and my Treo, this was very much preferred because of the amount of information that I have, and the fact that half of my day is spent using a web browser of some kind.

I could have used Nokia’s Intellisync to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook on my home desktop, but I don’t even turn my PC on much anymore. I almost don’t need it. However, if you’re someone who wants to sync your Symbian/S60 with Outlook, Intellisync’s synchronization protocols are built into a desktop application called PC Suite, and you can sync easily to Outlook there. But this set up doesn’t fit my needs.

With Nokia devices, there is a program called Mail for Exchange that gives devices the ability to sync directly with Exchange. And having had an N95 earlier this year, I still had that program on my computer and so synced that to the N75 and was greeted with something very unwelcome: the software said that it would not work with the version of the OS on my device.

Now, here I had the latest version of this software, and it does not work. This was very frustrating. I began looking at all kinds of options for getting information onto my new device, and finally found a solution. This was very pricey,  but a solution nonetheless.

My First Attempt: Bluetooth

Well, when I couldn’t sync, I figured that it would be just good enough to send all my PIM data — including 800+ contacts — via Bluetooth. This short-range wireless networking standard is really good for sending information from one device to another, and in this case, it would have seemed a good bet with no access to Exchange.

The problem came, though, when the information got to the Nokia. Send a whole category group and only getting one contact was a bit discouraging. I tried several variations, but nothing worked. So back to the drawing board.

My Second Attempt: An Older Version of Mail for Exchange

I knew that I had read in the past the the N75 was compatible with Mail for Exchange, so I did a web search to find an answer. I ended up learning that version 1.3 (about 6 releases ago) was the last version noted as compatible with the N75. Thankfully, I still had that version of Mail for Exchange saved on my computer.

I loaded it and then it ran just fine. I put in all my information and then set it to sync. Nothing.

Sitting in the log was a message that it was unable to connect to the hostname. I went back to my Treo to make sure that I had the correct hostname, and even tried variations of it, but no success.

This was getting really frustrating. I knew that I had a solution for this, but it was really getting at me. So I tried one more web search and found a paid solution that has worked so far.

The Third Attempt: DataViz RoadSync

DataViz has been doing handheld syncing software for a while. Most people know this company best for Documents to Go. However, RoadSync is probably the slickest piece of software it has. Whether you have a Symbian or Windows Mobile device, RoadSync allows you to sync to Exchange Servers, plus it adds a ton of additional functionality such as accepting meeting requests, syncing sub-folders, and flagging.

I downloaded and installed RoadSync over the air (OTA) on my N75. The install procedure went very quickly,and, after clicking through a few screens and inputting in some important information, things were ready to go. RoadSync runs in the background and follows some simple rules of on-peak and off-peak operation. Like many MS Exchange sync solutions, it supports push email, contacts, and calendar. About the only issue that I have had is that I now get some occasional out of memory messages when running the web browser while RoadSync is working in the background. It would seem that the the N75 is the base level of hardware that such software needs.

The Final Attempt: Emoze

After a week with RoadSync I chose to take a run with Emoze and see how it could handle my needs. Having heard very little about it, I was a bit wary, but reading the site gave me enough info to at least try it and see how effective it could be.

Emoze connects to MS Exchange and Google accounts. For my use, it would only need to connect to MS Exchange, so I downloaded the Symbian version OTA (over-the-air) and it installed quickly. After a few prompts asking me to put in information such as the Outlook Web Access Address and the domain, I was basically ready to go.

At this point, I have to say that I am very impressed with Emoze’s offering. I had thought that it would be just as much of the battery hog as RoadSync, but that has not been the case. It has been nearly as fast as my Treo was in terms of getting push email and calendar updates, and I have had very little to worry about since installing it. Basically, it sits in the background and does its thing. If it weren’t for the fact that the N75 has such meager RAM and closes programs without warning you, I would probably have to say that this is about as solid an offering as I could expect.

Compared to the Treo 680

The Treo 680 uses the MS Exchange via VersaMail or other third party solutions. RoadSync (and the latest version of Mail for Exchange) remotely synchronizes your data more throughly. But setup on the Treo was a thousand times easier: select a new mail account type, type in info, and done. Emoze was about as easy as VersaMail, and because of its simplicity in what it syncs (contacts and calendar only), it made it easy knowing what it was doing or not doing.

What does not happen on the Treo, though, is the ability to sync tasks — which may be a deal breaker for some. But because of that point, the battery hit seems to be a lot less on the Treo than the N75. This is probably due to the fact that VersMail’s MS Exchange integration is a bit more tied into the system than RoadSync. Other than that, they are relatively the same.

So far I’ve chosen to use Emoze, even though RoadSync offers more functionality. If I were in a situation where I was using an E61i-type Symbian device and were in a management-heavy environment then RoadSync would probably be the better item there. But for now, the simplicity of Emoze has won me over.

As I move into using this new device — that is in some ways more capable than my previous one — I’m sure I’ll continue to run into many more instances like this, where doing some things are a bit different, but not necessarily worse. But it’s one more of those notes that reminds me that switching to a new device is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy with the current state of things.

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