Windows Mobile tools for commuters and travelers - Mobile Minute
My commute is now much shorter, but every time I go away for the weekend or take a vacation I'm glad I spent so much time tracking down these tools.
During the early years of Windows CE, AvantGo was the undisputed champion of mobile web browsing software. The service allowed you to save mobile versions of selected web pages to your device's memory and catch up on news from The New York Times, CNet, and hundreds of other sources on the go. Every time you sync your device, your subscriptions are updated.
But the software hasn't been updated in years, and for many users it has become obsolete. While offering up hundreds of websites was sufficient a few years ago, today AvantGo's offerings seem terribly limited.
Luckily MobiPocket picks up where AvantGo leaves off. While AvantGo works with a limited number of web sites that have mobile versions of their web pages, MobiPocket's free eBook reader and desktop software lets you save an offline version of any web site with an RSS feed.
Even if a site includes a partial feed (includes just a few sentences or paragraphs and not the whole article in its RSS feed), Mobipocket will use the feed as a guide and download content from the original site. The only place you'll run into trouble is if you're trying to download news from a site like The New York Times that sometimes publishes articles that take up several pages. MobiPocket will only download the first page.
Still, while your fellow commuters are pecking away on their BlackBerries waiting for pages to load, MobiPocket lets you catch up on all the latest news during your train ride without an active internet connection.
Of course, as an added bonus you can use MobiPocket to read books purchased from the MobiPocket store, or any TXT or HTML file.
Great, so you can read the paper on the way to work. What about the trip back home when the last thing you want to do is think? That's when the multimedia capabilities of Windows Mobile shine.
There are a variety of free movie players for Windows Mobile, from the built-in Windows Media Player to a highly unstable version of the popular open-source VLC media player. But no video player has more features or support for more video formats than TCPMP. Although the developers have moved on to develop a commercial video player by the name of The Core Player, TCPMP is still freely available, and in some ways has more features than its commercial cousin.
TCPMP can support all sorts of MPEG-1/2/4 movies, and a variety of related formats with the appropriate plugins. Best of all, it includes a terrific set of display and audio options, including a graphic equalizer, support for NTSC/PAL videos, 4:3 or 16:9 screen resolutions, and adjustment of the playback speed. If you have a microdrive (a tiny hard drive designed to fit in your device's CompactFlash slot, you can even use Microdrive mode to prolong your battery life. This mode instructs your device to load video into RAM before playing to reduce the need to constantly read from the hard drive, which saps battery power.
Whether you download your movies from the net or record them yourself using a PC-based PVR, TCPMP will probably let you view any file that is not copy-protected.
Music and Podcasts
While TCPMP makes a serviceable music player, its strength is really video. Fortunately there's no shortage of free music players for Windows Mobile.
GSPlayer, MortPlayer, and WinVibe are a few of our favorites, with support for playlist management, streaming audio, and equalization.
MortPlayer is especially handy if you're interested in listening to audio books or podcasts. It includes an audiobook mode that lets you listen to an audio file from the same spot you left off last time you closed the player. You can also create bookmarks in multiple files.
You can also use free software like MobSync and Juice to automatically download podcasts and synchronize them with a storage card on your PDA. Now all you need is a larger storage card.
Watching movies and listening to music is great if you want to hang with the iPod users on the train. But it's hard not to get jealous of that commuter playing with a shiny new Nintendo DS or Playstation Portable.
Luckily there are hundreds of excellent games for Windows Mobile, many of them free. And there are even more games for older systems like the Super Nintendo, GameBoy and original PlayStation which are playable on your Windows Mobile through the magic of emulation.
While fancy new phones and the lower-case letter "i" steal all the attention these days, it's amazing what you can do with an older device. Just the other day, a friend was raving about how crystal clear the iPhone screen was, so I pulled my 2 and a half year old Dell Axim X50v out of my pocket and showed him a video on its 3.7 inch 640x480 pixel screen.
If you can get over the need to have an always on internet connection, it's amazing what you can do with an older PDA, without running down your battery just so you can slowly load web pages.
And these tools aren't just great for the daily commute. Just think about all the items you can leave out of your bag when you head out on vacation. Got a 12 hour flight halfway across the world? Pack a few movies, books, podcasts, and music playlists onto your device, grab a spare battery, and you're all set.