Is that the office in your pocket or…?

Remote phone, e-mail and even VoIP technology have progressed to the point that techno nerds aren’t the only ones carrying cutting-edge devices. Are you one of the growing number of executives enjoying the convenience of greater portability? Or are you sitting in meetings, or lunches, confused by all the noises coming from your co-worker’s pockets? Either way, you can use a look at some of the latest hand-held technology and a few pointers on how to get the most out of your office-away-from work.

The burgeoning Blackberry market recently added service bundles for HTC S620 Blackberry-like Windows Mobile (currently advertised as version 5, but presumably due to be replaced by a Windows Mobile 6 version) handset with a fairly complicated set of options for voice and data calls packages. However, the big innovation is the built-in VoIP, which offers substantial savings on mobile calls with free hour-long internet phone calls to landlines from Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, as well as from home and office.

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The new Orange SPV E650 is based on the same HTC handset and is expected to become the first Windows Mobile 6 device to arrive in Europe, so it’s worth comparing their service.

Customers might however be advised to wait a few weeks for the arrival of the first Windows Mobile 6 devices. While not a major upgrade, Windows Mobile 6 has some significant improvements. Most importantly for mobile workers, it delivers the ability to view e-mails in their original rich HTML format with live links to Web and SharePoint sites, which means text and images are displayed as they would be on a PC, and are available from a corporate e-mail server such as Exchange Server 2007, from Web-based accounts such as Hotmail or from a myriad of other popular service providers.

Many users are very excited about the new Windows Live for Windows Mobile, which provides access to Windows Live services such as Messenger.

For professional users the biggest productivity boost, and perhaps the biggest incentive to invest in a new Windows Mobile 6 smartphone, is that the newest version of this platform offers the most genuine Microsoft Office system experience in the mobile versions of Office Outlook, Office Word, Office Excel and Office PowerPoint by bringing capabilities once available only on the PC versions of these products to the small screen. This allows users to neatly view, navigate and edit Word documents and Excel spreadsheets in their original formatting, without affecting tables, images or text, and to view PowerPoint presentations on their device. But does this really herald the arrival of the pocket office?

To make these mobile versions of Office work, many of the new devices such as the HTC S620 feature a slide out QWERTY keyboard to make data entry easier. However, this is generally achieved at the expense of a touch-sensitive screen, so a toggle wheel, rocker key or joystick controller tries to replace the stylus, with varying degrees of success considering that Windows relies so heavily on the good old mouse. Just try using a Windows PC with only a keyboard and you’ll see what I mean! Many of the new handheld devices are designed for one-handed operation, with all the limitations that brings. Other devices – including HTC’s P4350 – do manage to include touch screen and keyboard, so choose carefully. The new OS version will indicate what you’re getting:
Windows Mobile 6 Professional, as with Pocket PC Phone Edition, is for mobile phone-wireless handhelds or smartphones with touch screens; and Windows Mobile 6 Classic, as with Pocket PC, the ever-dwindling number of new non-phone wireless PDAs.

And talking of screens, it’s worth trying before you buy. Can you really do much more than send a text message, albeit as an email, on such a small screen? I defy anyone to do any meaningful Excel work on one of these, although text editing in the new Office Word may just about be feasible provided you have fairly good eyesight.

And what about Internet access while on the move? If your idea of “productivity” is combining a Web browsing session with watching a lot of paint dry, then maybe, but then again you’d probably quite content browsing the Web on a WAP phone! For serious use over any length of time, don’t even bother. The technology in terms of hardware and software just isn’t ready on handheld devices. If this is what you really want, take a look at the more expensive Ultra Mobile PCs or HTC’s forthcoming Advantage device with its 8GB hard drive and 5-inch VGA color touch screen.

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