I’ve been quite the busy little Windows Mobile bee over the last couple of days. Inspired by Aura Mae’s comment that she used the HTC Advantage as something of a computer replacement, I set out to see whether I could achieve the same. Any boy, was I blown away by the results!
The Advantage’s 5inch screen (which is the same size as some UMPCs) and VGA resolution means you can cram more into the screen – especially when you use the RealVGA utility to run it as its native 640 x 480 resolution. This, combined with a big helping of third party software, turns the Advantage into a capable notebook replacement.
Is that an awesome-looking Today screen or what?
I should mention first that I actually had two tries at setting the Advantage up. First time I got it working just perfectly, and then discovered an unfortunate bug in its firmware that wouldn’t let me turn it back on without a soft reset after it had gone to sleep. Minor stumbling block – a trip to the excellent XDA Developers forum revealed the excellent AP Dual ROM with lots of extra treats built in.
Flashing the Advantage to the new firmware took awhile, but it went off without a hitch as I followed the instructions religiously – there’s always the off chance that you can accidentally brick your device when flashing new ROMs!
Now let me take you through all the different applications and accessories I’m using to turn the Advantage into a UMPC. The Today plug-in you saw at the top of my screenshot is the HTC HomePlug that comes with the AP Dual ROM as an optional add-on. This gives me a large digital clock at the top of screen, icons showing missed calls, email and SMS, and tabs for switching to weather, photo contacts, a launcher, music player and profiles (I removed a couple of the tabs due to function overlap with the SPB Pocket Plus plug-in).
I haven’t used SPB Pocket Plus in awhile, and I was amazed by how much it’s advanced in that time! The program consists of a few main features: a today plug-in, task switcher (adding a “real” close button), Pocket Internet Explorer plugin (for adding tabbed browsing) and smart scrolling for using your finger to scroll through lists.
The Pocket Plus today plug-in is simply amazing – especially when you’ve got 640 x 480 pixels to work with! You can create up to 6 tabs of shortcuts that consist of program links, system settings, links to files and folders and system indicators. A small feature I was pleased to see that wasn’t there last time I used it is the ability to add a label below each icon.
With this plug-in, the Today screen becomes a lot more like a Windows desktop – you can drag icons to any part of the screen (letting you keep certain parts of the screen free, like I do for showing off a background picture), have small or large icons, and cram as many things into there as can possibly fit!
A couple of goodies included in the ROM are Teksoft FingerTouch and WkTask. Teksoft is a VGA-compatible software keyboard that’s miles better than the standard keyboard, with various configurations such as full QWERTY, numeric keypad and two letters to a key – the latter lets you hold the Advantage with two hands and use your thumbs to enter text.
As you’ve probably noticed in the above screenshots, my taskbar actually shows the programs that are running – essential if you’re big on multi-tasking, and a must-have when using the Advantage as a notebook replacement.
Then there are the bog-standard Pocket PC apps that look exceptional in VGA, such as Mobipocket Reader, and PhatNotes. You can really see the difference in the latter two programs, where the extra real estate is well-utilised.,
As for hardware, I’m using the Advantage with the ThinkOutsideand mouse. I haven’t used these accessories with a Pocket PC in awhile, and I was pleased to discover that the WM6 Bkuetooth software recognises these accessories without needing to load extra driver software (unlike in WM5). With these two set up, I can happily have several tabs open in Pocket Internet Explorer (including one for email – I prefer accessing my email online rather than downloading it to my device), be chatting in MSN Messenger and have music playing simultaneously, all without having to resort to the stylus and able to switch between each application easily thanks to WkTask. Plus, the Advantage doesn’t slow down when running all these programs at the same time!
The Advantage also functions as a phone, but it doesn’t have a built-in microphone, so you have to take calls using speakerphone until you’ve got a Bluetooth headset. For phone calls, I use the Motorola SoundPilot S705, which supports A2DP and AVRCP. The cool thing about this particular headset (in addition to letting you plug your own headphones into it) is that it has a small LCD screen which shows incoming caller ID – so you don’t even need to take the Advantage out of your bag to see who’s calling. Awesome stuff!
For my day to day purposes (which is mainly simple word processing – which Word Mobile is more than adequate for – Web browsing and email), the HTC Advantage works a charm. It’s significantly smaller and lighter than my Asus R2Hv, just as capable (GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), plus adds 3G and HSDPA, which I make ample use of. The built-in 8GB Microdrive plus my 8GB SanDisk microSD card (in a miniSD adapter) gives me 16GB of storage, which is ample for my needs. Plus, its battery life much better than the R2Hv’s, easily lasting me a whole day where the R2Hv is lucky to last a couple of hours.
I still need to hold onto the R2Hv for when I need the “full” desktop experience, but for day-to-day use the Advantage is ideal. It’s just the right size for me to carry it everywhere (and I use it for movies, music, gaming and eBooks when out and about), and the screen and resolution (as well as the right software and hardware) makes it perfectly competent as a notebook replacement.
My next purchase? The adapter that lets me connect it to an external monitor and also connect USB flash drives. Sweeeeeet!
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