Sometimes the pieces just seem to come together. Over the years I was entranced by the idea of using a compact, all-in-one electronic device that would seamlessly merge many useful services together. I did acquire a cell phone two years ago for the first time, but I was somewhat disenchanted with it– it was clunky, didn’t fit in most pockets, and because it was acquired with a discount service, its signal quality and range was limited. I could not have used it during my recent trip to New York State for example since the service provider only allowed access in Canada.
Some years ago I purchased a Pocket PC in the hopes of using it as a substitute for a laptop– I figured that the majority of my uses for portable computing did not require lugging a heavy laptop around everywhere. While I did manage to read a few e-books on it, it didn’t seem a good fit for the range of applications I wanted to use. Wireless Internet access (WiFi) was an expensive, power-draining add-on at the time, and as such I didn’t explore that avenue. As hardware, my Pocket PC is of limited use, but I did keep the bundle of software and e-book titles I purchased so as to use them on a future mobile device.
The main criteria I focused on for some time when searching the marketplace for a mobile device were: WiFi, Windows Mobile software, cell-phone service, a camera, and all of it fitting in my shirt pocket. Since I use Rogers for all of my other services (cable, Internet, and home phone services), it made sense to occasionally check what was available with Rogers Wireless. A few weeks ago, I came across the newly released HTC Touch Windows Mobile cell phone, and was greatly impressed since it had every feature I wanted (at last), and it was being sold for $99 while bundled with a 3-year voice/data plan.
Yes! You can check the weather with downloads over the Edge wireless service or through WiFi Internet! It even alerts me when I have email in my Hotmail account. The WiFi capability allows for a free alternative for data services when in range of a free WiFi hotspot.
I purchased a 2 GB microSD card for the phone– memory of that magnitude is now so inexpensive! The HTC Touch comes with a 2-megapixel camera and video recorder which is really the icing on the cake for me. So I now have lots of storage for photos, videos, audio files, and program files.
I loaded the latest version of the MobiPocket e-book reader and immediately copied over some Mobipocket files I had purchased some years ago from the Mobipocket site (the e-book files are stored permanently in one’s account at Mobipocket– in any case, the license on the e-book titles had to be validated for my device so the idea of storing your titles with the e-book source is a good one– FictionWise, another service I’ve used, does the same thing). So right now I have a file on my HTC Touch that contains all the works of Charles Dickens. It’s certainly not the most ideal way to read a book, but the convenience factor of having the titles always with you without adding any weight does overcome some of the limitations.
A big selling point for me was that this device should play the Netlibrary downloadable audio e-books from my library since the HTC Touch comes with Windows Media Player and therefore should play the files protected with DRM (digital rights management). As a librarian, being where the patrons are, using the tools they are using, is a big imperative for me, and it has been for a long time since I’ve found it important to maintain a balance between my specialized knowledge and a honed capacity to understand how patrons see the resources and services at the library. Some level of empathy is required to be a good librarian, and it helps to have an uncanny sense of how computers work as well. Still acquiring the entire skill set of a librarian is really a life-long prospect since new information resources, tools, and services are constantly appearing.
So I checked out and downloaded an audio e-book from my library’s web catalog. Antonia Fraser’s Love and Louis XIV would be my test title. After saving the file to the Windows Desktop, I launched it and was prompted to download the license. This required entering a Netlibrary username and password, but the process was quick and painless. So now to “synch” the file with my HTC Touch…
My first glitch– Windows Media Player in Vista did not recognize the 2 GB storage card in my phone. There was not enough available regular memory on the phone to hold the file otherwise. This was quite a showstopper, so I scanned the message boards on the Internet for solutions to the problem late into the night. I got up early the next morning to continue, and I finally found a solution after another hour of searching. There was a patch on the Microsoft KnowledgeBase site. I installed it, and sure enough, Windows Media Player saw the storage card and I could synch the audio e-book file to the phone. I imagine this fix will be bundled with the first service pack for Vista.
The next glitch was with the Windows Media Player that came with the phone. While it played the DRM-protected file just fine, I could not get Windows Media Player to start playing where I left off after I closed the software. The audio e-book would start from the beginning again, and I would have to fast forward to where I left off– not a pleasant process for a 13-hour recording.
I scanned the online stores specializing in software for Windows Mobile. I tried a demo of Pocket Player and it had the pause-and-remember feature I wanted– so I purchased it (what’s great about Windows Mobile software is its low cost compared to software for desktop computers). Pocket Player also supported Bluetooth phone headsets, and a wireless Bluetooth headset is what I wanted to test next. The HTC Touch did come with some earbuds, but I found those uncomfortable and I liked the idea of having the HTC Touch plugged in across the room and beaming me audio e-books while I walked around, did housecleaning, and exercised.
The first Bluetooth headset I tried was the Plantronics Voyager 520. This would make a great add-on for the phone functionality of the HTC Touch but not much else. The audio signal that the Pocket Player sent was not a stereo signal– the sound was essential graded for a comfortable and brief phone conversation, which meant the rich sounds of a deep-voiced narrator could not work with this setup. At this point, I realized I needed Bluetooth stereo headsets that support the A2DP standard. The HTC Touch supported this standard natively for Bluetooth stereo signals. I ended up returning the Voyager 520 and acquiring the Plantronics Pulsar 590 Bluetooth Stereo Headset which supported the A2DP standard. I listened to the entire audio e-book of Antonia Fraser’s Love and Louis XIV with few hitches (occasionally I walked out of range of the signal, and one or twice the Pocket Player software stopped playing after a few hours of listening and I had to reboot the HTC Touch).
After listening to the audio e-book, I wanted to check the renewal function on the Netlibrary audio e-book service at our library. A checkout of an audio e-book is for one week, and a one week renewal is allowed, provided it is done before the previous license expires.
I searched for the Antonia Fraser audio e-book again. I was presented with the checkout option, not the renew option, so I had to peruse the help files to find what step I was missing. I had to login first and then select the option to renew the license to play the file (the prompt is to renew and download, but the license is always downloaded when the file of the whole audio e-book on my computer is played next on my computer). That worked well, but I did notice that the clock started ticking immediately for another seven-day countdown. To get the maximum checkout time of two 7-day periods I would have to renew a few minutes before the old license expires online. When the license expires on the downloaded file there will be a prompt to download another license file. If you have renewed already with Netlibrary ahead of time then everything should work okay.
Next up for testing on my mobile information workhorse: a foldable portable keyboard and some experimentation with a free RSS feed aggregator called Viigo.