Wednesday, January 25, 2006

First impression of the HTC Universal

I mentioned at the tail end of last year that I was getting my hands on the new Orange SPV M5000 (aka the HTC Universal) . Due to stock levels, it seems everyone and their dog wanted one, this took a lot longer than I'd thought. I finally had to phone Orange again, and then threaten to leave and go to another network, before they finally shipped me one just this week.

The first thing I noticed on on opening the box, no mini-VGA port. Pre-release rumours had suggested that while the prototypes had one, it had been dropped on later production models. I couldn't find anyone at Orange to confirm or deny this, and since at one point they'd apparently forgot that it had WiFi, I wasn't sure I was going to take their word for it anyway. So while I was sort of expecting it, I was still disappointed by its absence. The lack of VGA display out makes this a device a whole lot less interesting, the thought of being able to do power point presentations directly off a palmtop of this size was very appealing.

Another disappointment is that the mini-USB connection doesn't seem to support host mode, and you can't just plug the handset into a your computer and mount it as mass storage. That's just unforgivable considering that pretty much everything from digital cameras, iPods, the PSP, flash drives costing less than what I paid for lunch, and yes even a lot of mobile phones can do that. It's almost certainly going to turn out to be a software limitation as well, why on Earth haven't they implemented this?

The biggest disappointment though has to be the handset's Bluetooth connectivity, it took me a good half hour to figure out how to connect the handset to my Mac for file transfers, why isn't this ready to go out of the box? Worse yet the device doesn't advertise itself as a mobile phone, instead it declares itself a "device". This would be fine except that I'm still running Mac OS X 10.3.9 on my laptop, which doesn't let you use any Bluetooth devices that aren't classed as phones to connect to the Internet. Even if they do advertise dial-up networking amongst their available profiles....

This problem at least seems to go away Mac OS 10.4. Looks like I've finally got a reason to upgrade...

There are also a few irritating software issues, a good many of them generated by the "customisation" done by the network. However a lot of this can be turned off but going to Start > Settings > Today > Items and deselecting Orange from the list of things to appear on the default home screen. If you don't disable this there isn't any point in selecting anything else from this list as any additional information won't be displayed. Another totally unrelated but equally irritating issue is that the software keyboard popup keeps appearing, even when your typing on the hardware one, at certain types of prompt. You might want to install a null keyboard CAB file. Worked for me...

What doesn't work is synchronisation, both Missing Sync and Pocket Mac don't support Windows Mobile 5.0 yet and neither are saying much about when they will. This isn't great, although again not to unexpected. I am living at the bleeding edge here after all...

However I had presumed I could just transfer my address book and calendars as vcard and ics files onto the palmtop and import them into the local applications. This sort of works for vcards, although there are disappointingly some problems with field entries migrating into the wrong places, for instance all my fax numbers ended up filed under the wrong headings. But for calendars the it doesn't seem to work at all as only the first appointment off any calendar I try and import into the handheld's software is registered, the other several thousand in the calendar file are discarded. This is pretty shoddy programming on Microsoft's part, a couple of for( ) loops wouldn't have hurt too much, surely?

There also isn't much information about developing for these handsets, unlike Nokia with their open source strategy and Python and Perl ports it's a lot harder to find out how to do things under Windows Mobile 5.0. One good resource I have come across is the XDA Developer Forums and Wiki which has a lot of information about the handset.

So do I like it? From reading the above you probably think I don't, but I have to admit having a palmtop with a proper VGA screen and WiFi is going to prove really useful. To be honest however, I might pull my shiny new Orange 3G USIM out of M5000 and put it in my reliable old Nokia 6600, replacing it with a cheap pay as you go USIM and keep my main number in a handset that I can actually carry around easily. Thankfully, unlike some other networks rumour is that Orange's USIMs will work just fine in a 2.5G handset. I use the phone a lot and the M5000, while a nice palmtop, is pretty impractical as a phone...

Update: I've now solved the issues I was having connecting to the Universal as a Bluetooh Modem from my Powerbook.