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Anything iPhone can do, you can do better - Mobile Minute

RE's LauncherCongratulations. You've spent the weekend managing not to buy an iPhone, which is more than we can say for at least two Download Squad writers.

Sure, the new phone is the coolest thing since sliced bread was replaced by low-carb bagels. But aside from an innovative new interface and one of the best web browsers ever to grace a mobile device, does it really do anything new?

Today we'll take a look at some of the features that make the iPhone special -- and show you how your 2 year old Windows Mobile phone or PDA can accomplish most of the same tasks.


Icons and Appearance


First up, we've got to give your Windows Mobile device some of that iPhone gloss, including pretty icons and a sliding screen lock. There are a few programs out there that do this, but we're partial to RE's Launcher and Unlocker for the sheer audacity of the guy hosting the files on his website.

After Apple had asked a number of folks hosting similar programs to remove their files from websites and forums, this intellectual property lawyer comes along and agrees to host the files on his website as sort of a dare to Apple. Not sure what the overall outcome has been, but the files are still available.

Keep in mind, these icons are designed to look similar to those on an iPhone. They are not identical. And mroe importantly, they don't open iPhone applications. They open Windows Mobile and 3rd party apps. Click on the calendar and you'll get the standard Windows Mobile calendar you've grown to love and/or get annoyed with. But if you want a more detailed calendar, you can always spend a few bucks and upgrade to Pocket Informant or Agenda Fusion for a lot less than the $600 a new iPhone will set you back.

And of course, your interface is infinitely customizable, using programs like Spb Mobile Shell and Wisbar Advance.

Web Browser

The Safari web browser on the iPhone is pretty awesome. It includes tabbed browsing, and a full desktop view of web pages, complimented with the ability to zoom in for a closer look.

These are two features that are sorely missing on most mobile browsers, including the mobile version of Internet Explorer. But you know what? Opera's got you covered. The free Opera Mini 4 beta for Windows Mobile, Palm, or Blackberry includes desktop-style browsing with zooming.

Opera Mobile (es it all. Opera Mini is available for Windows Mobile, Palm or Blackberry. For $24, you can get the more full-featured Opera Mobile, with support for tabbed browsing, or you can use Opera Mobile 8.65 beta for free through October.

Here's a little screencast we put together using the Opera Mini online emulator. Trust us, it looks a lot better on a real phone.


Now, we're not going to say that Opera is faster than Safari. And it won't necessarily support all of the 3rd party web-based apps designed to run on the iPhone.

But Opera renders pages faster than most mobile browsers on the market, including the mobile version of Internet Explorer. And it runs on your phone, not just the iPhone.

YouTube videosyoutube

The iPhone includes an integrated YouTube viewing application. But you can also access YouTube videos from some newer Windows Mobile 6 phones.

Last month YouTube launched a mobile site. Unfortunately, YouTube Mobile is really meant more for standard cellphones capable of viewing 3GP videos. Most Windows Mobile phones need not apply. If you browse to the site with Opera Mini, you won't be able to stream the videos. And while you can access the video stream using Opera Mobile, you'll need a video player like the HTC Streaming Media Player to actually watch the stream.

Unfortunately, that media player only comes with comes installed on a handful of Windows Mobile 6 devices running the professional version of the OS. But as Werner Ruotsalainen points out, it'll run just fine on Windows Mobile 6 standard and Windows Mobile 5.0 devices. You'll need to download and install an unofficial installer file, so try it at your own risk.

This method for streaming YouTube videos will not work on Windows Mobile 2003SE or older devices. And you'll need a direct connection to the internet. ActiveSync and WiFi connections don't work.

If you're looking or a way around these restrictions, you might want to try downloading flash videos from YouTube and watching them on your PDA using TCPMP. It's a little clunkier, but it enables you to watch pretty much any video available on YouTube, not just those on YouTube's mobile site.

Text Entry

TenGO ThumbA lot has been made about the fact that the iPhone doesn't have a keyboard. But Windows Mobile devices have been coming with "soft keyboards" for years. You can tap away at the screen with your stylus, or use handwriting recognition.

There are even a few methods for entering text without a stylus or a hardware keyboard, including full-screen keyboards and TenGO Thumb.

The iPhone keyboard makes use of predictive text to guess which button you're going to hit next. But TenGO thumb goes one step further and just gives you six big buttons to hit.

TenGO works much the same way as predictive text entry on your standard cellphone. As you tap on six regions of your screen, TenGO determines what word you might be typing and automatically enters that word. If you don't like the choice, several other options will appear in a little box above the keyboard. Just tap the correct word.

You can also enter new words, increasing the size of the dictionary as you go. TenGO thumb costs $13, or you can download TenGO Free if you're OK with using a stylus and a smaller dictionary. Or if you'd rather use a standard qwerty keyboard, you can. Prefer letter recognition? No problem. The key advantage Windows Mobile has over the iPhone here? Choice.

Multimedia

Sure, the iPhone is an iPod and syncs with iTunes on your computer. But if you can make do with applications that don't start with "i," there are plenty of options for playing music and videos on your Windows Mobile device.

To start with, every Windows Mobile phone and PDA comes with Windows Media Player. But you can also load up freeware software like MortPlayer or GSPlayer for playing OGG, MP3, and other music files.

For video, nothing beats TCPMP or its commercial cousin, The Core Player when it comes to support for file formats.

Conclusion

We're not trying to say that Windows Mobile phones do everything better than the $600 iPhone. Apple has released a product with a slick streamlined interface, decent battery life, and the nifty ability to automatically shift from portrait to landscape orientation when you rotate the device.

But there are definitely some areas where a Windows Mobile device has the edge (pun intended).
  1. Windows Mobile phones work with a variety of mobile carriers, while the iPhone only works with AT&T and its EDGE "high speed" data network.
  2. 3rd party iPhone programs are limited to web-based applications, while there are thousands of powerful free and commercial applications that you can install on Windows Mobile devices.
  3. There's no instant messaging application included with the iPhone.
  4. The iPhone comes with 4GB or 8GB of memory. That's it. There are no expansion slots.
  5. Want an extended battery for your iPhone? Tough.
  6. Have we mentioned that the iPhone costs $600? You can pick up quite a few Windows Mobile Smartphones for that price.

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