One for the Plus Column - Pocket Plus 2.0 by Spb Software House
Product Category: Utilities Manufacturer:Spb Software House Where To Buy:Handango [Affiliate] System Requirements: Pocket PC 2002 or Windows Mobile 2003 device (some WM2003 devices may not be compatible); 1+ MB of storage memory Price: $14.95 USD
Adds launcher functionality to the Today screen;
Enhances File Explorer;
Enhances Pocket Internet Explorer;
Adds many new alarm functions;
Provides Close button configuration;
New "always visible" battery level indicator in the task bar;
Selected applications can be specified to "always minimize".
Alarm enhancements don’t work with all Windows Mobile 2003 devices.
Summary: The Pocket PC operating system has been the foundation of many very popular handheld devices. However, despite its popularity, many Pocket PC owners find that some desired features are missing, incomplete or not designed to their liking. Spb Software House has just released the latest version of Pocket Plus, a utility program that addresses many of these Pocket PC shortcomings.
So just how useful is it? Read the full review to find out! What’s New? Prior versions of Pocket Plus provided such features as a Today screen plug-in, a task manager, repeating alarms and enhancements to Pocket Internet Explorer and the Close button. New features in version 2.0 include a new set of enhancements for the standard File Explorer, as well as an "always visible" battery level indicator in the top task bar. In addition, the Today screen plug-in is better than ever with support for multiple tabs and extended themes. Finally, a number of new enhancements to Pocket Internet Explorer are added to those provided in earlier versions of Pocket Plus. Let's look at these features in more detail.
A Better Today The Today screen plug-in is one of the hallmarks of the Pocket PC OS. With it, Microsoft took a different approach to the “home page” concept than the folks at Palm, providing calendar, task and e-mail information in place of the launcher used by Palm. Naturally, some Palm converts and others expressed a preference for a launcher on the Today screen, while others liked Microsoft’s idea. So is there a perfect solution?
Well, I don’t know if it’s “perfect”, but Pocket Plus tries to provide the best of both worlds, adding a launcher as a Today screen plug-in while still displaying the rest of the standard Today screen information. This differs from other Today screen solutions such as Snoopsoft’s Dashboard, which provides the ability to pull up separate calendar, e-mail, task and launcher pages. Pocket Plus provides an effective alternative that doesn’t limit itself to one type of display. Figure 1 shows a standard Today screen with the Pocket Plus launcher plug-in on the bottom.
On the Main tab, you find a variety of icons for program launching, system monitoring and system utilities. Tap on the icon for Pocket Word and, as you’d expect, the application opens up. Most of the larger icons are for system monitoring… they include system memory, storage card memory and battery charge level. Another large icon (I think it’s supposed to be a light bulb, although on this screen it looks more like a globe) has a slider under it for adjusting backlight brightness. Finally, there a little “home” icon with an arrow next to it that allows you to cycle through the extended Today screen themes included with the product.
What is an "extended theme"? Well, in addition to the wallpaper and color changes that most theme managers support, extended themes provide new icons for the Today screen plug-in that complement the theme.
Also, Figure 1 shows the "always visible" battery indicator. That's the green line at the top of the screen. As it's part of the top task bar, you can see the battery level in any application that shows the task bar.
Figure 2: Drag and drop your icons.
The Today plug-in has some features that are clearly inspired by the desktop functionality in Windows on your desktop computer. For example, you can rearrange the icons by using drag and drop, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 3: It’s a beautiful arrangement.
Drop it and voilà! The icon is on the left of the screen.
Icon management is also similar to desktop Windows. Figure 3 shows the icon management menu that comes up when you “tap and hold” on an icon. In this case, I’ve done so on the Calculator icon in order to change it from a large icon to a small icon.
Figure 4: Shrinkage! Haven’t you ever heard of shrinkage?
And there you have it… a small icon for the Calculator. In addition to changing an icon’s size, you can also swap out the icon for a different one.
Figure 5: You’re not going anywhere until you straighten up your desktop!
Icon arrangement is also a snap. I like my desktop icons very specifically organized, so I usually turn Auto Arrange off when using my desktop. Thanks for Pocket Plus, I can now do the same thing on my Pocket PC.
Figure 6: It's a beautiful arrangement.
A quick session of drag and drop and I’m done. Yeah, that’s much better. Felix Unger would be proud of me for being so neat!
Figure 7: System icons
The other standard tabs include the Connect tab, which contains icons for connectivity related applications such as e-mail and Pocket IE. Figure 7 shows the System tab, which provides access to many of the applets on the Settings screen, while adding even more. For example, you’re a single tap away from applets such as Clock, Remove Programs and Align Screen.
If you’re running Windows XP on your desktop, you may recognize the large square green icon that looks like a button with an asterisk. This is the Reset icon, and with Pocket Plus, it allows you to perform a soft reset without using the Reset button. When you tap this button, Pocket Plus asks you to confirm that you’d like to perform the soft reset, so you don’t do so by accident.
Figure 8: Themes to work pretty well.
In Figure 8, I tapped the “cycle themes” icon that I described above. This is one of the 20 extended themes included with Pocket Plus, and more are available. Note the new set of icons that highlights the new theme.
And this just scratches the surface. You can create more tabs (up to 5), rename existing tabs, and add new icons. For example, if you’d like, you can create a Games tab and move the icons for all of your games there.
Overall, the Pocket Plus adds a lot of versatility to your Today screen with this handy plug-in.
Exploring Your Pocket PC
Figure 9: The basic File Explorer
The Pocket PC comes with the File Explorer applet, which suffers from some extremely limited functionality. For example, it has no method for moving up a folder or for looking at file properties. Figure 9 shows the barebones File Explorer window.
Figure 10: Adding some much needed flair…
Pocket Plus adds some useful options to the standard File Explorer, as shown in the Settings screen in Figure 10. It provides both the “moving up a folder” and “looking at file properties” capabilities described as missing in the previous paragraph. Pocket Plus also adds ZIP file functionality and storage card formatting to File Explorer.
Figure 11: The changes are subtle, but significant.
Figure 11 shows File Explorer with the Pocket Plus enhancements. Notice the “folder up” icon in the top menu bar.
Figure 12: Zip right through all your file management tasks.
And now the “tap and hold” menu for a file includes the abilities to add the file to a ZIP file and to view the file’s properties.
These enhancements won’t turn the standard File Explorer into a replacement for a dedicated third party product such as Resco File Explorer. But if your requirements for a file explorer are fairly simple, Pocket Plus provides very functional enhancements to the standard File Explorer. They may be enough to make a third party file explorer replacement unnecessary for you. Explore Your World How quickly things change in the world of technology. When the first Pocket PCs were introduced, Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) was designed with the idea that it would be used in a very limited fashion, since options for connecting a Pocket PC to the Internet weren’t very portable at the time. So to say that the features in Pocket Internet Explorer were limited back then is an understatement.
Fast forward to a few years later, and you'll find that many new Pocket PCs are coming with built-in wireless connectivity. At the same time, you can walk into many Starbucks and McDonalds locations and go online wirelessly there. Connectivity is much more portable and easily accessed than it was just a short time ago, and as a result, people are looking to do more extensive web browsing from their Pocket PC. And as they attempt to do so, the shortcomings of PIE become all the more evident. Finally, the features added to PIE when the various OS upgrades were released were limited, so the current version of the browser is still very similar to its first version.
Figure 13: Pocket Internet Explorer now does windows!
Once again, Pocket Plus comes to the rescue! The first PIE shortcoming addressed is the fact that it can only have one window open at a time. So if you need to go from one page to another and back, PIE has to reload the first page when you return. Pocket Plus adds the ability to open multiple windows in PIE. Its functions are accessed through the little Pocket Plus icon added to the menu bar. Figure 13 shows the added menu. The current window is the item on the menu with the bullet in front of it. By choosing New Window from this menu, as you might guess, a new window with the current contents is open. Enter the address for the new page or site in the Address Bar.
Figure 14: A new window opened.
OK, now we have two identical windows open, with the currently displayed window highlighted by the bullet. At this point, enter the web address for the new page or site.
Figure 15: If you haven’t ordered those flowers for Mom by now, it’s too late!
The new page is displayed in the new window.
Figure 16: Back and forth, back and forth. Make up your mind, will you?
The Pocket Plus menu allows you to move back and forth between these windows without the need to reload each page.
Figure 17: You need a full screen view to fit all of the breaking news!
If you’ve used PIE on a Pocket PC, you know that the relatively small screen limits the amount of a page that can be displayed. To help with this, Pocket Plus also adds a full screen mode, which removes the menu and address bars from the screen. To return to the standard screen, tap the little icon in the lower left corner.
Figure 18: "Source for the goose, Mr. Saavik."
A new feature for version 2.0 is the ability to display the HTML source code for a displayed web page. As shown in Figure 18, the code is displayed in Pocket Word.
Figure 19: Somebody save me...
Yet another new feature is the ability to save images through PIE. This feature is accessed through the "Save Picture As..." command now available through the tap and hold menu for pictures.
A number of well chosen and well designed additions to PIE by Pocket Plus make it a much more functional browser. Don’t Be Alarmed For a product that’s supposed to be able to keep track of your appointments and make sure you get to them on time, the Pocket PC provides some pretty weak alarm functionality. If you don’t or can’t react to the alarm in some way (like tapping the snooze button), it basically goes off once and that’s about it.
Figure 20: This screen speaks volumes.
Pocket Plus adds a great assortment of new capabilities to Pocket PC alarms. Figure 20 shows one of the settings screens for the repeating alarms. The ascending sound volume is the real winner here, in my opinion. If you’re in a quiet area, you should hear the alarm while it’s still at a low volume and shut it off before it annoys others. If you’re in a noisier area, the alarm will eventually get loud enough so that you should hear it. No set volume can provide that versatility.
Figure 21: More options.
Figure 22: No power trip for the repeating alarms…
Figures 21 and 22 show more of the repeating alarm settings. You can set the alarm to play continuously or in a set of repeating series, and you can configure the number of times the alarm will sound in each series. You can also tell it how long to continue to play the alarm. And finally, so that repeating alarms don’t wear your battery completely down, you can set them to stop when the battery gets below a certain charge level.
This functionality can be very helpful. Unfortunately, SPB warns you that the repeating alarms may not work with all Windows Mobile 2003 devices and, lo and behold, my upgraded iPAQ 5450 is one of them. However, it does work fine on my iPAQ 2215. According to SPB, this is due to an issue on the OS side. At any rate, as always, it behooves you to take advantage of free trials to uncover any problems or incompatibilities. It's worth noting that the repeating alarm functionality is turned off by default, so when you first install Pocket Plus 2.0 it will not interact with the alarms in any way until you turn this feature on. Closing Time Few design decisions that Microsoft made with the Pocket PC OS have elicited as much controversy as the Close button. Rather than closing the application as in desktop Windows, tapping the Close button actually "minimizes" the application on the Pocket PC. This means that the application actually remains in memory. As the Pocket PC needs memory for other things, the OS will automatically close some of these applications that are open in the background. The rationale behind this is that commonly used programs will remain in memory in the background and for that reason switching to them is faster than if they have to reload into memory.
Many Pocket PC users have indicated that they're less than happy with that approach, and I include myself in that group. I don't like the idea of program memory being clogged up with programs that I know for certain I want to close. Also, rumor has it that the process that manages closing these programs when memory starts to fill up has some quirks to it.
Products that offer alternatives to the Close button approach are common. But Pocket Plus adds its own unique spin to this type of utility, which they integrate with their Task Manager.
Figure 23: Close button options
Pocket Plus offers 3 options for the Close button: Close, Minimize and Show Menu (for the Task Manager). These can be assigned to three Close button actions: tap, tap and hold and gesture (tap and slide down).
Figure 24: For you, I'll make an exception…
A feature that makes Pocket Plus' Close button solution stand out is the ability to assign an application that will always be minimized when you tap the Close button. This could be useful if, for example, you make frequent use of one of the "super PIMs" like Agenda Fusion or Pocket Informant. To speed things up, you may want to leave such an application minimized so that it comes up more quickly the next time you access it.
Figure 25: The Task Manager
Figure 25 shows the menu that Pocket Plus displays for its task manager. This menu has comparable functionality to other task manager products. What Else? Pocket Plus also includes an automatic fix to a WM 2003 defect that adds spurious data to a notification database every time you soft reset. If the database gets too full, it could affect performance, so Pocket Plus cleans out the database for you.
Conclusions Overall, I'm very impressed with Pocket Plus. I’d have to say that it provides at least as much utility as the WM 2003 upgrade that I applied to my 5450, and it’s much less expensive and much easier to install… no ROM update required. I also like the fact that Pocket Plus integrates with the existing Pocket PC functionality so seamlessly. Other than an extra icon or menu command here and there, almost everything it enhances looks and works pretty much like it did before the enhancement, just with enhanced functionality, so there’s almost no learning curve. This should be comforting for people who have adjusted to their Pocket PC and may be reluctant to change things around. There’s a lot of functionality here for not much money… highly recommended!
I didn't see anything about vga support for the higher end pda's. Does anyone know if it does that?
Pocket Plus doesn't have any stand-alone modules other than the Today Screen plugin, so insofar as the built-in File Explorer supports VGA mode, so will Pocket Plus 2.0 because it's just a plugin for File Explorer. I think the only question would be whether the extended themes have VGA support, and I don't think they do.
Until SE comes out and real VGA devices ship, I wouldn't expect to see many vendors offering full VGA support yet - there's just not enough devices in the market yet to make it cost effective to do so.