I have recently started a new job in the middle of DC and have found that I am back in the mix as a commuter.
Previously, I was someone who just drove to work and had a smartphone as a data assistant for those times when I was not driving. But now only part of my commute is driving, while the other part is sitting on the Metro taking in the sights (some days have been kind of sore; others a glimpse of beauty).
One of the things that I have found in the first week of work (really in the first few days) is that my usage of my Treo is a bit different than what I had been doing. Let me explain.
First, there is the “Sitting on the Metro” factor. Previously I would usually sync before leaving for work and then check my list once I get there; I now have time to check my tasks and calendar on the train before getting to the office.
I find that my 40-ish minute commute is more time than I need for just doing that, and so I end up checking email, viewing RSS feeds, and (soon) listening to music. My Treo is really good at these, though I find that some apps are better than others.
For email, VersaMail is nice and simple. Setting things up is easy. I have all eight possible accounts set to sync on the hour. In addition to just letting me know how much spam I receive (about 60 to 80 percent of my daily email), I am easily able to keep on top of what is where without too much fuss. The alarms each half an hour are also a good eye break from whatever it is that I am doing. (VersaMail comes bundled with Palm Treos, LifeDrive, TX, and E2 models)
For RSS feeds, QuickNews has been really good at keeping me up to date with the latest news. I have general news, tech news, and web dev/design news that I normally like to read ,and usually I manage to get through all of the new postings before I get in to work. QuickNews is especially versatile because it can be setup to either sync new feeds from your computer, or (my preference) sync them wirelessly at specific times or time intervals). I sync my feeds about 15 minutes before my alarm clock goes off in the morning. (QuickNews from Standalone Software, $14.95)
When it comes to music, PocketTunes is becoming my new best friend. While I used to use the included RealPlayer, I never thought it had good enough playlist management. With PocketTunes, I can set my mood by picking the right playlist. Whether there is someone on the train shouting to their reflection, or just a long day ahead and behind me, I know that PocketTunes at least has my ears covered. A nice note about PocketTunes is that it integrates really well with QuickNews for listening to podcasts. While I am not a big podcast fan, there are a few that I tune into here and there. (PocketTunes from NormSoft, $14.95 for the basic version and $34.95 for the deluxe version)
Beyond the Commute
But that is all well and good for the commute; what about the rest of my life? Well, in some respects, things are still the same, but because I am more dependent on juggling multiple tasks simultaneously (working on quite a number of web sites at work, article writing, and other tasks), my Treo has become a hub for what is going on.
To that end there were some changes in the applications I regularly use, and from there my life got a bit easier.
For day-to-day life management, TMP has become the replacement to Facer for managing my daily calendar and tasks viewing/editing. Besides an interface that is very well suited for paper, and works very well on a Treo’s small screen, the support for 5-way navigation and its integration with the Calendar and Tasks applications makes it a one stop shop for pieces of major information. You can tag and note events and tasks pretty easily as well. TMP is so well designed I really don’t see a need to use the default calendar and tasks applications. And at the same time, if TMP supported weather plug-ins or linking to contacts, then it would be even better for quick viewing and general life management. (TMP from Lil’ Red Spider, $17.95)
Because I do occasionally have to have some fun, I tend to play games such as My Little Tank and Sudoku from Astraware. Those two games are a great distraction from work for me, and in many ways just flat out make commuting or waiting fun.
Another investment for me has been some quality headphones that double as a microphone. I really didn’t care for just using a headset that was one ear only, as sometimes the ambient sounds going into my other ear muddled things. Also, I did not want a Bluetooth headset, as I have not yet invested in the extended Treo battery. I am using a hybrid pair of headphones and find that they not only work well, but are just enough different from the iPod users that I can feel somewhat unique.
Smartphones Today and Tomorrow
Those are just some ways that I have had to adjust using my smartphone when I became a Metro commuter. Granted, I’d like to say that I sat down on the Metro and typed this all out, but there is just not a way to type this and not get either thumb cramp from the Treo’s small keys or elbow someone when I pull my external keyboard out.
But I do see that I’m living a different life, and I can see also why there are many different smartphones out there. Some cater to one type of user better than others. Still, I am sure that given enough time new models will come out that open doors for me to other ways of being mobile and connected while on the go.