Windows Phone Thoughts: Running Voice GSM 2.5 review

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Sunday, February 9, 2003

Running Voice GSM 2.5 review

Posted by Philip Colmer in "SOFTWARE" @ 03:00 AM

Got Pocket PC 2002? And a mobile phone? Looking for tighter integration between the two? Then look no further - Running Voice GSM might just be what you've been looking for.

If you use your mobile phone for wireless data connectivity, or you wish you didn't have to synchronize both your Pocket PC and your mobile phone with contact information, Running Voice GSM from Pocket Presence offers a feature-rich product that goes a long way to integrating the two devices.

PDA and mobile phone in harmony?
The problem with having multiple sophisticated devices such as a Pocket PC and a mobile phone is that they each have their own different way of being synchronized. You might tackle this by treating your desktop or laptop PC as the "master" source, but then you've got the issue of different fields of information being transferred, depending on the capabilities of the destination device.

Contacts on the Pocket PC will take pretty much every field that can exist in an Outlook contact, whereas a T68i mobile phone will only take the name, phone numbers for home, work, mobile & fax, email address, title and company. From a communications perspective, the obvious omission is the contact's address, but that's because it isn't particularly relevant to a mobile phone.

It is issues like that, and other advantages that could be gained from device integration, that led Microsoft to develop the Phone Edition of the Pocket PC platform, but where does that leave owners of two separate devices?

Enter Running Voice GSM 2.5, hereafter referred to as RVGSM for short :-)

There are six areas of functionality:
  • Dialpad
  • Address Book
  • Box Manager
  • Message Writer
  • Speed Dial
  • Data Manager
Each of these will be looked at in more detail, but before you get the most out of RVGSM, you need to set it up. This is controlled through the Options window.

Setting up the options
The first thing you need to do is tell RVGSM how it can communicate with your mobile phone. It will support infrared, serial or Bluetooth (BT) if you've got a supported BT interface & phone. That last point is very important. Although BT is a standard, not all devices are equal in their support of BT. Nokia mobiles, for example, do not implement BT in the same way as Sony Ericsson and this can have an impact on how they get used in conjunction with RVGSM.

It is strongly recommended that you look at the system requirements before purchasing this software. If you have any compatibility questions, you should get them clarified with Pocket Presence support staff before purchasing the software as there isn't a trial version available. The compatibility page also explains how the functionality of RVGSM will be reduced if you've got a Nokia mobile phone.

Figure 1: Specifying the device connection method

The top of the Pocket PC display shows the GPRS status and signal strength. This is useful if you are using Bluetooth and don't necessarily have the mobile phone in sight.

RVGSM communicates with the mobile phone through a second layer of software called Flexport. By using Flexport, other Pocket PC software can use the communications channel to the mobile for access to the Internet while leaving RVGSM able to communicate with the phone at the same time.

Figure 2: Getting & setting the divert numbers

An advantage of using software on a Pocket PC to communicate with your mobile is that you can enjoy a much richer user interface to manage aspects of the mobile that might otherwise be tricky to set up. An example is shown in figure 2, where you can get from the mobile how your calls are being diverted. You can then alter the numbers and set them back on the phone.

Figure 3: Setting PIN status and the PIN number

You can also enable or disable the need to enter a PIN number when the phone is turned on, and what that PIN number is.

Figure 4: Button mappings

RVGSM offers a rich choice of functions that can be mapped to any of the five hardware buttons. Like Media Player, one of the functions is to toggle the screen on & off. This is quite an important function with software like this since, to get the most out of it, the Pocket PC needs to be on as much as possible. Turning the screen off can extend the battery life quite significantly.

Making and receiving calls
As with a mobile phone, RVGSM can be configured to play different sounds when there is an incoming call or a text message.

Figure 5: Tone selection

This is an area where RVGSM and the Pocket PC Phone Edition do better than conventional mobile phones - even the polyphonic ones - since you can play back any WAV file you like!

Figure 6: Profile configuration

You can also set the ring volume, and whether or not that volume increases the longer the call rings, for each of five profiles supported by RVGSM.

When there is an incoming call, RVGSM becomes the active application and tells you either the number of the caller or, if there is a match against the phone's memory, the SIM or your contacts, who the caller is.

A recent free add-on from Pocket Presence called TeleBuddy allows you to associate images with contacts.

Figure 7: An incoming call with a TeleBuddy image

TeleBuddy comes with a number of clipart images that you can match against your contacts, or you can provide a BMP image of your own.

You can accept an incoming call on your mobile phone or by clicking the green handset icon in RVGSM. Likewise, you can reject a call by clicking on the red handset icon.

There are a few ways of initiating an outgoing call with RVGSM:
  • Tap the number out on the dialpad
  • Paste a number that has been copied from elsewhere, e.g. from an email
  • Select an entry from your contacts or from the phone's memory or SIM
  • Using a speed dial button

Figure 8: The dialpad for RVGSM

From the dialpad, you can select the profile you want to use in RVGSM.

Figure 9: Calling a contact

The speed dial feature in RVGSM allows you to define three groups of five contacts. These are initially set up in the Options tool.

Figure 10: Defining the speed dial contacts

You start by deciding which of the three groups you are going to edit, as shown by the yellow, red and blue coloured icons. Then you can pick a contact either from the Pocket PC Contacts list or from the phone's memory or SIM card.

Figure 11: Using speed dial

Using speed dial is very easy - select the category that you've placed your caller into and then click on the caller's name.

Managing calls and text messages

Figure 12: The Box Manager

The Box Manager is where you can keep track of the calls you've made, calls you've missed, and sent & received SMS text messages.

Figure 13: Voicebox showing received and missed calls

A nice feature here is that you can make notes against a call. This could act as a reminder of the conversation or, in the case of a missed call, why you need to ring them back. You can also set a priority flag on a call entry.

Tap and hold on a call gives you a menu that allows you to send a text message to the caller, call them back, delete the entry or add the caller to your contacts.

Tap and hold on a text message gives you a menu that allows you to send a text message back to the originator, call them, delete the entry, add the originator to your contacts or export all SMS to a text file - a very useful feature!

Figure 14: Sending a text message

Sending a text message with RVGSM is very easy - click on the To label to get a list of contacts, select all of the contacts that you want to send the message to, enter your text message with your favourite text entry method and hit Send.

RVGSM, like MSN Messenger, supports the concept of pre-entered phrases. These are defined within the Options pages and retrieved by clicking on the Message Writer icon on the toolbar. The Message Writer tool also supports EMS rich text and figure 14 shows the formatting options available.

Managing data

Figure 15: The Data Manager

The Data Manager is a way of bringing together common data-oriented tasks on the Pocket PC:
  • Messenger
  • Email
  • Browsing the Web
There are two additional buttons to allow you to define a data connection and to check on the data statistics.

Figure 16: Connection statistics while browsing

An added-value feature of using Flexport for managing the data connections is that you can easily see how much data you are sending & receiving, how long you've been connected and what the current speed is. This is all made visible by clicking on the circular radar icon at the top of the Pocket PC screen. The statistics window has been well designed - when used with Internet Explorer, it only covers the address bar, so you can easily leave it open most of the time.

If you want to keep the statistics window open but it is in the wrong place for the application you are using, you can tap and drag the window to any part of the Pocket PC display apart from the title bar.

You can also extend the statistics window to get a moving graph of how the data throughput has performed.

Figure 17: Data throughput graph

This is a nice touch and, again, well designed.

Working with Bluetooth
Although RVGSM can work with a cabled connection or infrared, it really does come into its own if you've got Bluetooth hardware that is supported by the product. The mobile phone essentially becomes just GSM/GPRS hardware, much like a GSM PC card for a laptop. The Pocket PC becomes the user interface for the phone.

If you are using a Bluetooth headset, RVGSM has to be used slightly differently than if you have a wired headset. The reason for this is because, at the moment, BT equipment works in a point-to-point mode, i.e. phone to headset or phone to PDA. The consequence of this is that you can't have all three devices actively connected at the same time.

RVGSM gets around the problem by offering an additional profile called "Passive". You lose a lot of the interactivity between the PDA and the phone because the phone is no longer able to send information to the PDA. The benefit, though, is that you can initiate a call from the PDA and use the Bluetooth headset with that call.

Nokia phones, unfortunately, always need passive mode in RVGSM. This is, apparently, down to the way that Nokia have implemented the Bluetooth software & hardware.

A few minor problems were uncovered during this review:

  • Although the installation appeared to go smoothly, the Pocket PC did not want to establish contact with the mobile phone. Pocket Presence soon diagnosed that the Flexport software hadn't installed properly. The component was installed separately and that cured the problem.

  • The software did appear to stall occasionally, sometimes needing a soft reset to recover the system. A bit more feedback from the software when things are taking longer than they should do might help, but then it is a balance between keeping the user informed and pop-ups that appear so often that the user becomes irritated.

  • Right-tap & hold on the contacts needed the red dots to go round twice before the menu appeared. Other applications manage it in one go, and it is disconcerting to wait longer because you aren't then sure whether tap & hold is supported.

  • My mobile doesn't have any contacts stored on the SIM card. When I changed the contact display context to SIM, the display obviously didn't have any contacts to display, but this also meant that tap & hold to change the context didn't work. Luckily, there is a menu available from the toolbar button.

  • The play buttons in the tone selection page didn't work.

  • I also have software from Vodafone that establishes GPRS connections through my mobile phone. It has the advantage that the connection doesn't get disconnected when Inbox has done a send and receive. However, reconfiguring the Vodafone software to use the Flexport "device" instead of the Bluetooth modem caused RVGSM to think that it was offline. The statistics part of the software worked but other parts such as the signal strength didn't.
One area where RVGSM could be improved is in the use of profiles. At the moment, you can only define a single ring tone and a single message tone. The profile definition only allows you to vary the volume. Modern mobiles allow you to associate different tones with each profile and it would be useful to have this flexibility in RVGSM.

Where to buy
The software can be purchased from Handango for $34 (affiliate link).

This product provides a very rich feature set, integrating as much of voice, text messages and data as possible, short of producing a single product like Pocket PC Phone Edition. It is well designed and easy to navigate through all of its capabilities. It is clear that Pocket Presence will continue to develop and enhance the product. The most recent update, version 2.5.1, supports additional devices, and there is a free add-on, TeleBuddy, to allow you to associate images with incoming calls.

If you use your mobile phone and your Pocket PC together, but either can't afford a Phone Edition or don't want to move to a single device, this product may help you to bring the two devices closer together. Highly recommended!


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