Do more than you thought possible with your Windows Mobile smartphone or Pocket PC, without spending a dime. From beating international roaming charges to easy backup, here's the scoop on seven free downloads you shouldn't miss.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
If you’re using your Windows Mobile smartphone or Pocket PC with only the out-the-box applications like the media player or calculator, you’re missing out on a world of value. Your handheld is, after all, a tiny computer.
What’s even better, you don’t have to open your wallet to begin realizing the true potential of your smart device. The following seven Windows Mobile applications, all free, are a great place to start.
For example, did you know you can work around international roaming charges for your smartphone? Before you lose the phone or break it, do you realize that you can back up all your data from the phone, gratis? Here are the details on these and other essential freebies, yours for the taking.
1) mDigger — Do Better Than That Simple RSS Reader
It’s near impossible to stay on top of all the relevant news and information now bouncing around out there in the ether every day–in the form of text, audio, video and everything in between. Solution:
The mDigger reader application, for PCs and Windows mobile devices, lets you select what Web content you want delivered to your Windows Mobile device, and in what form. The software’s similar to mobile RSS readers like Viigo, but mDigger allows you to get more than simple text. You can specify whether you want only text, images, video or podcasts from a given source, or a combination of those. And mDigger tailors that content to your device’s screen and user interface for the best possible presentation.
mDigger delivers “mClips” in place of typical RSS channels. You create your own personal mClips by choosing which specific information or content you desire from any Web source. Whenever a source publishes or modifies content, mDigger pushes it onto your handheld, meaning information can be accessed with or without wireless connectivity. mDiggers also get dashboard displays, which store important or noteworthy mClips, which can be shared or saved for later use, and albums, where saved mClips can be sorted and organized by groups or interests.
The mDigger app is available as a Web interface for desktop PC users, and it currently works on touch screen devices running Windows Mobile (WM) 2003, WM 2003SE (Version 7.6) and WM 5 and WM 6 (Version 7.6). The software is also available for handhelds without touch screens running WM 2003 and 2003SE (Version 7.6) and WM 5 and WM 6 (Version 7.6).
2) Skype for Windows Mobile — Beat Roaming Charges
The software works on hundreds of different Windows Mobile Standard and Pocket PC (with touch screen) devices, and its mobile interface looks very similar to Skype’s desktop PC software, known for being easy to use. One click on the Skype icon gives you access to your contacts. The application’s main screen includes information such as presence status and missed calls, new chats and voicemail notifications. The app also supports multi-person calls, call forwarding, and SkypeIn (incoming calls from non-Skype users) and SkypeOut (outgoing calls to non-Skype users). Skype-to-Skype, or calls between two users of the software, is free.
Note: You need a 3G or Wi-Fi-enabled handset with a high-speed wireless connection to use Skype for Windows Mobile. A minimum of 12MB of free storage memory, or 6MB if you are installing from a memory card, is also required.
3) Opera Mini — Browse the Mobile Web Better
All Web-enabled Windows Mobile devices come equipped with some version of the Windows Internet Explorer Mobile browser, but why stick to the basics? Opera Mini from Opera Software, a free browser that runs on most Windows Mobile devices, offers a number of valuable options.
For instance, you can switch the orientation of your device’s screen while browsing from standard (vertical) to landscape (horizontal) by hitting the pound (#) key at any time. Or, you can set the default orientation setting to landscape to always view pages horizontally. Just like the browser on your desktop computer, Opera Mini gives you a tiny cursor that you can move around to any spot or link on a page, instead of having to scroll up and down to get to the links you want. Alternatively, you can also use the numeric keypad to move around a page with Opera Mini; for example, the 2 key scrolls up and the 8 key scrolls down.
The browser uses a “Small Screen Rendering” function to fit any webpage to your display, whether or not that page is WAP-optimized for mobile devices, so you don’t have to scroll back and forth to see the full content. And because Opera Mini compresses the webpage data before sending it, the content is delivered more rapidly–and costs less, for those of you without unlimited data plans–because that content is squeezed into smaller packets.
Opera Mini even helps you decide where to begin reading the content on a specific page: The “Suggested Starting Points” feature first shows you a page overview–a zoomed out view that shows the entire webpage layout–and then positions the browser over the spot that it deems most relevant. Click your browser’s Enter key once to zoom into the recommend spot.
Final bonus: You can easily sync the bookmarks from your PC’s browser to your phone using the company’s Opera Link service.
Note: Opera Mini is not available for Windows Mobile devices from Verizon Wireless, according to the Opera website.
4) WorldMate — Don’t Leave Home Without It
WorldMate’s mobile service simplifies the lives of frequent travelers by automatically delivering content and services to mobile devices. For example, free features include the Itineraries Manager function, which stores on Windows Mobile Pocket PCs information on flights, hotels, meetings, public transportation and car rentals. You can also export travel information from booking confirmation e-mails, corporate calendars and more, directly into WorldMate, which will automatically assemble itineraries.
The app’s “Clocks” feature provides the current time and weather for five cities of the user’s choice. The Weather function offers three-day forecasts and weather details for four major cities. The WorldMate currency converter quickly translates U.S. dollars into Euros, Japanese yen and tons of other currencies, or vice versa. You’ll also find an online exchange rate service and an easy to use tip calculator.
Need to make a quick shopping dash? WorldMate even has clothing-size conversion tables for the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Japan in six clothing categories, such as shoe size, for overseas shopping. And there’s a global conversion tool that helps you convert different units of lengths, distance, weight, volume, temperature and pressure.
More sophisticated WorldMate Live features are available to WorldMate’s fee-based Premium subscribers. For fees starting at $74.95 a year, you gain access to real-time flight alerts, flight and meeting notifications, suggested alternatives to cancelled or delayed flights, and more. A slightly different version of WorldMate is also available for Windows Mobile smartphones.
5) PIM Backup by Dotfred.net — Don’t Lose That Sensitive Data
Safe is better than sorry when it comes to backing up digital information, whether it’s your PC’s hard drive, your iTunes music collection or all those contacts that you store on your Windows Mobile device.
And if you’ve got enough free space on a storage card, you can use that to keep backup data safe without the need for PC or server-based storage.
You have two options: Use a binary process for a speedier and more reliable backup, but understand that the contents can’t be easily changed or edited. Or, use a text-based backup process that takes a bit longer, but lets you later edit data. The apps work independently of the language settings on a specific user’s device, so you can restore a pocket PC that was backed up in Chinese to English, or vice versa.
6) MSN Direct — Get News, Weather and Stocks Sent Direct to Your Home Screen
Don’t want to mess with a complex RSS reader? Don’t have time to collect all those feed URLs and then load them onto your device?
MSN Direct, an application from Microsoft, sits right on your device’s Windows Mobile home screen to provide instant and up-to-date access to news, stocks and weather information from the MSN website.
To scroll through news stories, you simply click your device’s Up or Down navigation keys while the app is selected, and you’ll remain on the home screen while perusing content. By clicking the left or right keys, you can switch from News to Stocks or from Stocks to Weather. Customize these sections by hitting the device’s Left Soft Key beneath the word “Options” on the display, and then choosing which types of news you desire (World, Sports, Business, etc.); the city for which you want weather forecasts; and the specific stock information that you’d like.
MSN Direct works on the majority of Windows Mobile-powered devices; there’s also a Phone Finder on the application website to make sure your device is supported
7) Pocket Digital Clock – Ditch That Miniscule Display
The tiny digital clock on the Windows Mobile Pocket PC Today screen is not particularly helpful for those of us with less-than-perfect eyesight–to say the least. So while the Pocket Digital Clock application for Windows Mobile won’t provide any significant productivity gains or cost savings, it can save you the headache of holding your device within a few inches of your face like a crazy person just to see the time.
The Pocket Digital Clock app replaces the carrier network information bar that sits atop your Windows Mobile Today screen with a larger, easy-to-read white-on-black digital display. It’s not much different than the one you’d see on a typical digital alarm clock. And instead of hours and minutes, the clock also shows seconds and the current date, so you can hide the standard date line found on the Today screen and free up some more valuable real estate.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.