I've been in the market for a new phone for most of the last month, and I settled on the Motorola MPx200 early last week. The MPx200 run Microsoft's "Smartphone 2002" software, a pared-down version of their PocketPC/Windows CE operating system. I haven't had a PC running Windows on my desk for years; I'm traditionally a Linux guy, although I've been using an Apple PowerBook for almost two years as my primary computer. So, I'm going to try to answer two questions:

  1. How well does the MPx200 work?
  2. How does it work with the Mac?

The phone itself seems well-designed. It's a flip phone, roughly the same length as a credit card but slightly narrower. It's about the same thickness as my PowerBook. This makes it smaller but thicker then my old Sony/Ericsson T68. The screen is bright and clear. In indoor lighting its as good as any small screen that I've ever seen. I have no idea how well it works outside; I'm in Seattle, and it's winter :-).

The Smartphone platform differs from Pocket PCs and Palm by not using a touch-sensitive screen or stylus. Instead, it's more like a traditional phone, with a semi-joystick and a couple menu selection buttons. This makes it usable one-handed, at the cost of some flexibility. This is clearly intended to be a phone first, and a PDA only tangentially. On the other hand, it has a decent CPU (TI OMAP at 132MHz) and somehow manages to have room for a SD card. You can install new software onto the phone; there are emulators for most handheld gaming platforms, IM clients, ebook readers, and media players available. It'll play MP3 files and display JPEG files, plus small Windows video files right out of the box. It has a basic calendar/contacts/tasks suite, plus a POP/IMAP mail client and a small version of IE.

There are a few nice features that struck me at once. First, the USB connector on the bottom is a standard mini-USB connector, so it should be easy to replace if it gets lost. Next, the phone can use the USB cable for networking; since AT&T Wireless's IP connectivity is so expensive, this is a nice feature. Third, the phone will charge itself directly over the USB cable. This means one less cable to carry when traveling, and one less wall-wart hiding underneath my desk at work. Fourth, the contacts/call log/speed dial setup works very well. In general, if you start dialing numbers from the "home" screen, the phone will start filtering through the contacts and call log lists, and show you entries that match the numbers or letters that you entered. So, if I enter 6 2 7 (6 is MNO, 2 is ABC, 7 is PQRS), the screen shows me the entries for my boss (Mark) and my sister-in-law (Mary). This is the only time that I've ever seen a workable form of autocomplete on a phone, and it doesn't get in the way of the common case--if I was actually calling 627-1234 or something, I could just keep dialing and the obvious thing would happen. It's not a bad design; I'm kind of surprised to see it coming out of Microsoft.

On the downside, the battery doesn't last very long. I've seen claims of 24-300 hours for standby time; mine seems to be in the 48-72 range, but I've never really let it go that long without charging. I actually ran it dead playing solitare over the weekend; with heavy use I doubt it'd last much longer then a day. Fortunately, it charges fast and comes with two charging cables (AC and USB). Motorola refers to the battery that comes with the MPx200 as a "slim battery," implying that a longer-life model is available, but they don't list it on their website, so I doubt that it actually exists.

The built-in email client claims to work with POP3 and IMAP. It doesn't support SSL in either case, and I don't think it supports anything better then plain-text authentication. However, it does seem to work with POP, and it even does a decent job handling attachments. You can email pictures to the account that the phone checks, and it'll download and cache them for you for offline viewing. Out of the box, the phone can handle MP3s, JPEGs, and windows-encoded video, and there are tools for playing MPEGs. I'm not sure how useful that is on a phone, but flexibility is a good thing. The phone supports MIDI and WAV ringtones. With a bit of a hack, it's possible to store WAV files on the SD card and use them as ring sounds and alarms.

In general, I like the phone. The combination of size, format, bright screen, usability, and flexibility make me pretty happy.

Now for the bad news. The third-party sync software (Pocketmac Smartphone 3.0) is abysmal. It just barely manages to work well enough to keep me from returning the (otherwise excellent) phone. In general, Pocketmac Smartphone feels like what I'd expect from an open-source project around version 0.7--most of the functionality is there, but it misbehaves all the time, and a lot of things just don't work the way you'd expect them to work.

  • I have to reboot my Mac every time I want to sync. Once I've plugged the phone in and then unplugged it, Pocketmac won't recognize it again until I reboot.
  • It crashes all the time. I've had it crash 3-4 times per day.
  • It doesn't always sync right. I have a calendar entry that I moved from 4:30PM to 11:00AM and it refused to update the phone. Similarly, I have a couple contacts that won't update either.
  • The calendar sync doesn't work right. Right now, it duplicates a couple entries every single time I sync the phone, so I keep having to go in and delete duplicate entries in iCal. I've had it delete entries from iCal as well, which is completely unacceptable.
  • Even when it works, the iCalendar handling is bad--each comma (,) in .ics files is escaped with a backslash (\,). Pocketmac doesn't handle this right, so I have a phone full of entries like "go to Costco\, buy lunchmeat"
  • There's no way to sync only specific calendars. I have a couple information-only calendars that I'm subscribed to in iCal, but I only display when I'm looking for information from those calendars. Unfortunately, Pocketmac syncs those onto the phone as well, completely swamping my personal calendar entries with noise.

I've had a tech support ticket open for almost a week, with no response at all from them. I can see it sitting in their ticket queue online, status "open".

Fortunately, they have some competition in this space--Mark/Space also makes Mac<->PocketPC sync software. They don't support Smartphones right now, but I've seen a handful of requests. Hopefully the situation will resolve itself--either Pocketmac will improve or Mark/Space will replace them. Until then, the phone still syncs, sometimes, and that's good enough for me at the moment. Barely.

Update:Pocketmac's support people finally got back to me and pointed out a couple mistakes that I'd made with respect to my tech support request--I didn't read the notice that they were all at Macworld for the week, and I didn't send the tech support ticket to the right group inside the company. Oops. They're looking into my problems now. I'll post another update if they get things to work.

Update: See my updated MPx200 status.