14 - Windows Mobile, Endless Options
Windows Mobile Offers Boaters Flexibility -- After Wading Through a Crowded Marketplace.

When it comes to buying a mobile phone and choosing a provider, no platform has more options available than Windows Mobile.

Every mobile carrier has support for Windows Mobile phones - the only mobile operating system that can make this claim. Data plans are available from Cingular, Orange, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and more than 100 others. Windows Mobile powered devices are available on GSM or CDMA networks. Windows Mobile Windows Mobile comes in three versions: Professional, Standard and Classic. For the boat, you probably want Professional.

There are also what seems to be an unlimited selection of phones. More than 40 different vendors produce Windows Mobile devices, including Motorola, Palm, HTC, Dell and HP.

The wide range of choices makes Windows Mobile a strong choice for boaters who are already using Microsoft products, such as a laptop running Windows and applications like Word or Excel. It is a platform that offers great flexibility.

The tradeoff is that users must navigate a landscape chocked with products that offer different features at different price points. The platform's ability to multitask, running multiple applications on the same processor, can also cause it to crash or hang. But overall, it is a rich and full-featured system that should be right at home onboard many boats.

UNDERSTANDING WINDOWS MOBILE

The Windows Mobile operating system comes in three flavors, Professional, Standard, and Classic. Standard and Professional devices are mobile phones that allow you to add applications to your device. Classic devices are PDA's rather than mobile phones, but many have Wi-fi and allow you to browse the web and access email from hotspots. The Professional and Classic versions support touch screen devices while Standard does not.

The Professional version grew out of Microsoft's Pocket PC devices. Windows Mobile Standard grew out of Microsoft's mobile phone devices, which were originally designed without touch screens. For your boat, you should be looking at Windows Mobile Professional mobile phones.

The Windows Mobile operating system is rich and full featured. Each successive version has brought it closer to the Windows system used on laptops. For many, this makes a Windows Mobile mobile phone more familiar. Windows Mobile Web Browser The web browser that comes with Windows Mobile works well. Look for version 6.1.

Performance is generally very good although Windows Mobile has been known to crash and hang occasionally. This is due in part to its multitasking capabilities. With multiple processes running at the same time, one is bound to see a performance drop and develop more problems with software interactions. Sharing the processor and memory between applications can allow an errant program to cause problems. Then again, this is just another example of the trade offs we boaters are so used to.

Windows Mobile is more powerful than Palm OS and does a better job of handling multimedia, including the HTML code that makes up most websites, music and video. All of these formats run well on a Windows Mobile mobile phone.

Windows Mobile 6.0 mobile phones can supply an internet connection to your laptop, a function called "tethering," using Microsoft's ActiveSync software. For users who need to exchange information with laptops running Windows, there is no mobile operating system that makes this easier.

The web browser that comes with Windows Mobile is quite good and version 6.1 added the ability to zoom out to a thumbnail view, which can help navigate a web page. Windows Mobile's web browsing capabilities can be enhanced with Opera Mobile, an excellent web browser replacement. (For more on other third-party applications, see Other Apps.)

SELECTING A PHONE

When it comes to selecting a specific Windows Mobile mobile phone the choices can almost be overwhelming. But with a little time and research we believe any user can find the right fit. We recommend that you start by looking for important features like a built-in GPS and a touch screen.

Portrait view Two major components of any phone are the screen and the keyboard. Make sure the screen can be seen in daylight and that the keyboard feels right to you.

Many Windows Mobile mobile phones have a built in GPS, which we feel is a big plus. Not only does it make configuring your mobile phone for navigation quick and easy, it is one less device to mess with, remember to take along, and to keep from dropping overboard. If you are looking to purchase a new Windows Mobile mobile phone, we strongly recommend getting one with an integrated GPS. However, if you already own one without a GPS there are several good options for adding a GPS. (For more on adding an external GPS, see Adding a GPS.) Note, if you are looking at a Windows Mobile phone from Verizon make sure that the GPS in unlocked.

Another consideration when purchasing a new Windows Mobile mobile phone is a touch screen interface. We have found that using a touch screen is much easier when underway. A touchscreen provides a more intuitive user interface because it requires fewer buttons and menu choices to get what you want. Navigation programs are also easier. In fact, programs like ActiveCaptain Mobile, Pathaway and TomTom all require a touchscreen interface. It's one more reason why we suggest using the Professional version of Windows Mobile. Palm Treo Pro Palm makes some solid phones that use the Windows Mobile platform, such as a Treo Pro.

Many Windows Mobile mobile phones have full QWERTY keyboards. Some offer screens that automatically convert from portrait to landscape views by sliding out a keyboard. You can have a built in GPS and a high-resolution camera. There are also versions out there that are extremely lightweight and small, with smaller screens and fewer features. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

When shopping for phones, you should try the various models you are considering. It is particularly important to try out the keyboards and view the screens, making sure to compare the screens in daylight and bright sunlight conditions, which is what you will find on a boat. We have found that some Windows Mobile devices become invisible in direct sunlight.

So which Windows Mobile mobile phone is right for you? There isn't a single answer. It depends on what features you want, and how much you're willing to spend. You also need to consider your mobile carrier and the networks supported.

TILT, HTC TOUCH

Our personal Windows Mobile device is the AT&T Tilt. There is a lot to like about this phone. It has a large, high-resolution touch screen and a large, slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS are built in and it comes with a 3 mega-pixel camera.

The Tilt also supports fast Internet connections with 3G wireless broadband, and tri-band UMTS/HSDPA and quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE. Built in tethering capabilities allow you to use it as a high-speed modem for your laptop. It comes with Microsoft Office Mobile, including Word, Excel PowerPoint and Outlook.

The chief complaints about the AT&T Tilt are its short battery life, a trade off for the added features and crisp, beautiful screen. It is also a bit bulky in size, and we have found the screen to be hard to see in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, the AT&T Tilt is no longer available. It has been replaced with the HTC Tilt 2 with similar features. The Tilt 2 is being released as this article goes online. The HTC Tilt 2 is about $299.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.

The Sprint HTC Mogul mobile phone is quite similar to the Tilt. It also has a sliding QWERTY keyboard, a touch screen that supports portrait or landscape viewing, Wi-fi, Bluetooth, built in tethering and Microsoft Office Mobile. It is a dual-band CDMA phone with support for EV-DO technology where available, offering faster download speeds. The built in camera is only 2 mega-pixel, but still adequate for a quick snap for your blog. The Sprint HTC Mogul can still be found on the web for about $150. Sprint has replaced the HTC Mogul with the HTC Touch Pro which is available for $299.99 with a two year contract. HTC Touch Pro Some view the HTC Touch as a competitor to Apple's iPhone.

Many view the HTC Touch as a competitor to the Apple iPhone. It has a look and feel similar to the iPhone, is extremely small and lightweight. The Touch Pro can display in portrait or landscape views and changes the screen orientation when you pull out the built in keyboard. It comes with HTC's TouchFLO interface, which makes the touch-screen "finger friendly." This allows you to interact using either your finger or the stylus. The Touch Pro has a built-in GPS, Wi-fi and Bluetooth, and comes with Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 Software. The 3.2 Megapixel Camera and Camcorder takes great shots. It's biggest drawn back is a short battery life. Verizon carries the HTC Touch Pro for for $99.99 with a two year contract.

The HTC Touch comes in several flavors, depending on where you acquire the phone. The HTC Touch Cruise can be purchased as an unlocked triband GSM phone with 3G, HDSPA with GPRS/EDGE connectivity from various web vendors starting at over $400. The most impressive thing about the Touch Cruise is it's small size and its light weight. There's a built in GPS, with TomTom street navigation software. The main camera is a 3 mega-pixel camera with auto-focus and there's a second camera for video calls or self-portraits. It has built in Bluetooth and WiFi, and an FM radio.

WINDOWS MOBILE PHONES FROM PALM

Palm also makes some great Windows Mobile mobile phones, such as the Treo Pro available from Sprint. It has a touch screen, full QWERTY keyboard, CDMA 3G connectivity, built-in Wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS, and Microsoft Office Mobile. The Treo Pro supports tethering to your laptop using a USB cable or Bluetooth. The enhanced 2 mega-pixel (1600x1200) camera and camcorder takes decent pictures. Like the Tilt and Touch, the battery life is a drawback, with most users needing to recharge daily. The Treo Pro is currently available from Sprint for $199.99 with a two-year contract.

Landscape view Every phone presents tradeoffs. Feature-rich phones can be heavier, and many consume more power. That means the battery must be charged more often.

There are literally hundreds of Windows Mobile mobile phones with an almost endless combination of features, performance and prices. Finding the one that's right for you will mean doing some homework.

Our best advice is to decide which features are a requirement - strongly consider a built-in GPS and touch screen -- and which are "nice to have." Then check with your mobile provider to determine which mobile phones they carry that meet your criteria. Try out the options if at all possible, paying particular attention to the keyboard and screen quality (and don't forget to look in direct sunlight). Then select the price point that works for you.

Note that many mobile carriers offer a 30 day return or exchange policy if you're not happy with the phone you choose, but some do charge a restocking fee. Be sure to check with your provider for details on their return policy.

Microsoft has now launched their Windows Marketplace for Mobile website. Similar to Apple's iPhone Store, Windows Marketplace offers hundreds of applications for your Windows Mobile phone. Applications are downloaded driectly to your phone running Windows Mobile 6.5. According to Microsoft's website you will be able to shop online from your PC soon.