I have been carrying around a Motorola V551 and an Ipaq 4150 for about a year and although I was happy with the performance of both these devices the bother of carrying around both of them, dialing up through my cell to access the internet on my pda, and their age led me late last year to begin looking seriously at a converged solution.
My initial search was frustrating, as the more I read about the devices that were available the more it seemed that nothing on the market would meet my needs. These were:
A reliable cell phone with good battery life that gets a good signal in rural areas
A reliable pda that could handle all of my PIM functions
Daily internet use and access to the news through serviced like Avantgo
On demand access to my email
Several hours of daily use as an Mp3 player
Preferably Windows based as I needed to be able to view and use word and excel documents and I prefer the platform
Small/light form factor
Preferably useable on the Cingular network
The most obvious candidate on the market at the time for a converged device was the Treo 650. Although I was impressed with the reviews, several things gave me pause, first of all it seemed that the device was not able to do serious multitasking, a must for me. Additionally, I didn’t want to learn a whole new OS after using Windows 2003 for so long. Finally, rumors had it that a new Treo with windows would be coming out soon so I figured if I was just patient I might be able to get that phone.
Although I would consider myself somewhat of a tech geek, I have to admit that when I began researching converged devices I had no idea how complicated or confusing it would turn out to be. For example, I had never heard of HTC, a Taiwanese company that apparently manufactured almost every pda/phone of note out on the market, nor that the same phone from HTC was rebranded by everyone and their grandmother. However, once I got this sorted out, mostly with the help of the following website:
I finally starting feeling that there might be hope, this feeling was significantly strengthened when I found out about the wonderful devices from HTC that were available in other markets, and specifically when I found out about the HTC Wizard, which was not available in the USA but seemed to offer all of the functions and features that I wanted/needed. Unfortunately an unlocked version of the Wizard cost over $600, which was well out of my price range. Then I discovered the 8125, and of course howard forum’s 8125 pre-release thread, and like all of you I have been waiting for the phone to come out ever since.
My phone arrived yesterday, due to the almost limitless amounts of time that were available to me before it finally came out (yes that’s a dig at cingular ) I new exactly how I would customize the phone before it got here. I already had a 1gb mini sd memory card and most of the software I needed. But first a little bit about Ergonomics and build.
Ergonomics and Build
The size and weight are perfect for me, it weighs just about a little more than the 4150 I was using before, and significantly less than the two devices I was carrying around in my pocket. I also like the way the device looks, although initially I preferred the wiz200 (aka K-jam) look,the 8125’s simple industrial design has grown on me over the course of the weeks, and now that I can see it in person I love it.
I appreciate that HTC went with the standard mini-usb cable for power up and syncing, and I also appreciate the plethora of buttons on the device. Unfortunately, one major oversight on the part of HTC mars an otherwise well put together device, lack of dedicated Start and Ok/Close keys. Given my druthers I would have placed those two keys on either side of the directional pad where there is plenty of real estate. More about how I got around this problem below.
The buttons are all easily in reach and responsive, the only other problem I have had is that I occasionally hit the camera button when I am sliding out the keyboard. The keyboard itself is a marvel; I can easily type out long email messages and have even spent time editing reports and spreadsheets with almost no trouble. Of course the fact that the keyboard is a moving part means that the potential that it will get loose or break is high, this is just a reality of owning a device like this and it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Another small issue I have run into is that when the headphones are plugged into the device they jut out of the right side of the keyboard making typing with the device just ever so slightly awkward.
The integration of the sliding keyboard of course leaves plenty of room on the front of the device for a 240x320 screen. The screen quality is as good as my previous 4150 but obviously not as good as modern pdas with VGA screens. This doesn’t bother me much because first of all I’m not much of a snob when it comes to my display, and second of all I appreciate the savings in battery power that come with the lower quality screen.
I have heard some complaints about the sound on the stereo speakers, but I find sound to be loud and clear. The phone speaker is also quite good and the microphone provides good sound according to those on the other end of the call. The power button is well placed and recessed and I have not had it activate itself once in my pocket.
As I mentioned above, the long wait for the 8125 had me well prepared once it got here. I knew exactly what software I wanted to install and how I wanted to configure the device. For the benefit of those who might be having trouble, or those who are just curious, here is how I setup my 8125.
I had previously installed Activesync 4.1, which is required for Windows Mobile 5 devices. I had originally had quite a bit of trouble with the software, but quickly discovered that my problem lay with my firewall. Once configuring my firewall as outlined on the website below, I had no problems.
I hope this is helpful to others who are having problems with Activesync. I have also found this web page that may be helpful:
On the device itself I installed some software, made some registry tweaks, and configured the button layout to my preference. In terms of software I installed the following programs, all to device memory:
Spb Pocket Plus – this software fulfills several helpful functions, first of all it adds a today plugin that allows you to add shortcuts to programs, it makes the x button on the device actually close a program, it includes a handy task manager, adds an unobtrusive battery meter to the top of your device and adds several new button functions that you can then map to any button. Available at:
TCPMP – The Core Pocket Media Player is a feature rich media player that I use for mp3 and video playback. It allows you to play video encoded with the popular divx format which windows media player does not. Available at:
Mortsaver – This handy utility allows you to turn off the device screen and lock all of the buttons but still have programs run in the background. Very handy for those who want their 8125 to be there principal Mp3 player as it allows you to play Mp3 and stick the phone in your pocket without worrying about buttons or screen being activated. It also saves battery life as your touchscreen is turned off. Available at:
Avantgo – This handy free service allows me to download news stories from a plethora of sites and store them on my device to read whenever I want. This obviates the need to have GPRS active. It also is an RSS reader for those who use that service extensively. Available at:
Total Commander – A powerful file explorer that gives you access to your registry for easy editing. Available at:
Null Keyboard – Tired of having the software keyboard pop up on you all the time? Well so was I, this handy little utility basically adds a keyboard to your list that is no keyboard, thus keeping it from popping up. Available at:
Flash for Pocket PC – Allows you to view flash websites on your 8125. Very handy as one of my favorite sites is www.homestarrunner.com. Available at:
Google Local – This Java midlet provides quick use of google local. It needs to be installed directly to your device. Available at:
Smartskey – this handy little utility solved my previously mentioned problem with the lack of Start and Ok/Close buttons. The program assigns those functions to a press and hold of the soft keys, left for Start and Right for Ok/Close. Much more ergonomic than reassigning the keys above the screen to these functions, it also offers you the option of changing the function of the volume slider to scroll up or down, depending on which version you install. If you want it to start up every time you do a soft reset place a shortcut key in the Windows/Startup folder. I actually didn’t know how to create a shortcut until I had to do it for this program, so for those of you who don’t know here’s how. 1) Hold and press on the file you want to create the shortcut for, then choose copy from the pop up menu. 2) Navigate to the folder where you want to place the shortcut and hold and press in an empty area, on the pop up menu you will see a “paste shortcut” option. Available at:
(note: you will need to register with the site to download the file)
That’s it for software, now on to the registry tweaks. I performed the following registry tweaks on my device, all using the aforementioned Total Commander:
Speed boost – don’t ask my why this works, I’m not smart enough to know, but it does.
Use Total Commander to navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\FATFS\
Assign a value of 4096 to CacheSize
Assign a value of 1 to EnableCache
Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\StorageManager\Filters\f sreplxfilt\
Assign a value of 4096 to ReplStoreCacheSize
Perform a soft reset
Disable menu animation – removes menu animation which uses up system resources.
Use Total Command to navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\GWE\Menu
Assign a value of 0 to AniType
Perform a soft reset
Keyboard status indicator – adds a handy indicator that shows you when caps lock and symbol lock are activated on your keyboard.
Use Total Commander to navigate to \HKCU\ControlPanel\Keyb
Create a new entry with the name EnableIndicator
Assign the new entry a DWORD value of 1
perform a soft reset
Increase screen performance – this tweak increases your screen cache which allows yours screen and fonts to change faster. Beware that this also removes some resources from your general memory as well.
Change "limit" from "8192" (default) to "16384"
Perform a soft reset
Reassign left softkey on Today screen to open Notes application
Use Total Command to navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Today\Keys\11 2
Change the “Default” key to the name that you want to appear on the button (in my case Notes)
Change the “Open” value to the location of the program you want to open (in my case “Windows/Notes.exe”
Perform a soft reset
Please note that for all of these registry hacks it is important to wait a few minutes before you perform the soft reset so the device has time to write the change to ROM. If you try the tweak and it’s not working this is most likely your problem. These tweaks and more can be found on the following sites. I’d like to thank both the site owners and the posters for all of the help they have provided me and others:
The final thing I did to setup my device the way I wanted it is to map the buttons to make it useable by me. As stated before I installed Smartskey to add Start menu and Ok/Close functionality to my soft keys. I also installed the version that remapped my volume key to scroll up and down. My comm. manager key I left exactly as it came. My messaging key (above and to the left of the screen) is mapped to Spb pocket plus’ “close button context menu” function which provides a handy way to really “close” apps plus a task switcher. The Internet Explorer key (above and to the right of the screen) is mapped to mortsaver to easily turn off the screen. Since I don’t use voice tags, I reassigned the voice tag button to open Internet Explorer on a single press and to open my midlet manager (for access go google local) on a long press. The camera button I left the same, and of course you already know I reassigned my left softkey on the today screen to open the Notes application.
One of the issues that has been much discussed about the HTC wizard is the use of the OMAP 200mhz dual core processor. Depending on whom you talk to, the processor works fine, or the device is slow as molasses. I would also like to point out that how your device performs is supremely subjective, and depends greatly on what and how many applications you have installed and/or running at any given time. After using the device for about a full day I am very satisfied with its performance, and I’ve put it through the works.
Opening about 10 standard applications, the device ran just fine, and this included some memory intensive apps like TCPMP and Internet Explorer. That’s not to say that it never slows down a little, and for those who want instant gratification every time they ask the device to do something the 8125 is not for them. I recommend that those who use the device be sure to use a program like Spb pocket plus, or Magic Button to manage how many programs you have running at one time.
I would also like to make sure and point out that one of the benefits of having the OMAP processor is simply incredible battery life for a converged device. Every review out there, and my own experience, points to this being a device that can take significant use with little or no worry about whether the battery will survive.
As a phone I am very impressed with the 8125. Call quality is excellent and RF reception is outstanding. I expected to lose some signal strength moving from the Motoral V551, but so far I have noticed no change. Today while out at lunch my fiance’s basic flip phone was getting no signal, while I had 4 bars. At my place of work, where signal strength is poor, I consistently get 3 bars. The included handsfree headset works well and I have had no complaints from those on the other side of the call.
As an mp3 player using TCPMP the 8125 is obviously not as good as a dedicated mp3 player, but still does very well. It provides better sound quality both through stereo speakers and included headset than any other pda or converged device I have ever used. With mortsaver, its easy to stick the device in my pocket while working out, and then pull it out to record my reps and weight in excel.
I didn’t buy the device for the camera, except as a convenience, so I haven’t tried it out too much. The little I have noticed is that it’s fairly mediocre for 1.3 megapixels. Got a decent picture in a well lit environment but don’t expect too much. Also, as others have noticed, the flash is almost useless.
Internet access using Cingular’s Edge network has been solid, but nothing that blows me away. Websites on IE definitely load faster than my old ipaq dialed up through my Motorola phone, but for some reason updating Avantgo is much slower. Streaming audio using Windows Media Player works well, decent quality with few interruptions.
To answer a question that many have had, I am using the grandfathered Media Works plan with Cingular and it works just fine. I don’t know if the pda plan would provide better speeds. Using dslreports.com in the middle of the afternoon downtown in a major city with 2 bars of service I got a speed of 37 kbits/sec on the 600k file. Not impressive, I know but it has been sufficient for my needs.
For those of you who are having problems with your internet access the only thing I can tell you is that, as with many others, I had to go to Settings-Connections-Manage Existing Connetions-Proxy Settings and uncheck the box next to “this network uses a proxy server to connect to the Internet”. Wifi worked fine right out of the box.
Productivity software (word, excel, outlook, etc.) have been very responsive and if this is the most you are going to ask of the device you may never notice speed issues. Switching between open apps is also fairly quick, with barely noticeable lag. I have not tried Skype on the device.
Comparisons to Other Devices
During the month and a half between the time I found out about the 8125 and the time I received it I tried out several other devices. I don’t want to do a full review on each of these, but here are some brief thoughts about them in comparison to the 8125.
Three words “not enough RAM”. I really liked this device, I liked the form factor and to be honest I actually prefer the treo form factor with the qwerty keyboard on the front of the device simply because no sliding mechanism means that you can’t break it. It also places the navigation key and other buttons in a handier spot. Unfortunately the 32mb of ram (what the heck where they thinking?) means that I can’t do the most basic of multitasking function for me, surfing the internet while listening to music. Given the 8125’s better performance, and the fact that I don’t have to move to Verizon (reception sucks in rural areas) I much prefer the 8125.
What to say about the Wizards near cousin, a lot of the same bonuses, but it has significantly worse battery life, reception on the Sprint network sucked, and I hate the antenna.
I loved this smarthpone, and if I had no need of the qwerty keyboard and office applications I would have kept it. However, the 8125’s much improved productivity options makes it the right fit for me.
I actually liked this phone quite a bit, it has the same treo form factor that I like, and the keyboard is significantly better thought out and more comfortable than the treo. After reassigning the two keys surrounding the directional pad to Start and Ok/Close I was able to get significant one handed use out of this 2003SE device. Unfortunately the lack of wifi, older version of Windows and terrible battery life led me to return it and hold out for the 8125.
After finally receiving the 8125 and having used several of its competitors recently my opinion is that this is the best converged pda/phone device on the market today. Its limitations (somewhat slower processor, lack of start and ok keys) are far outweighed by its pluses (size, keyboard, battery life) and can be overcome fairly easily. Considering I signed a two year contract to get this phone I certainly hope that the keyboard doesn’t wear out on me, and perhaps I will change my mind in the future, but for now I am extremely happy with my purchase.