This is Sprint PCS Info’s first review of a product. Brace yourself, as we are going take products to task when they need to be, and declare them the holy grail when they are.
PocketMac Pro 3.3 is the latest version of the first program that allowed Macintosh users to keep in touch with their Pocket PC. How does it stand up to its competitors? Does it do the job right? Read more to see the results…
PocketMac has a lengthy installation process, but it is simple to follow along, even without reading any instructions. During the installation process, you are presented with the PocketMac setup window, which gives you the welcomed opportunity to setup the device’s preferences before an initial synchronization.
It’s good to note now that PocketMac Pro is the program that Sprint Pocket PCs should use. PocketMac also sells a “Phone Edition” version of Pocket Mac, but this is not for Pocket PC Phones, but rather Microsoft Smartphones. This is confusing for people that initially visit Pocket Mac’s site that own a Pocket PC Phone, but the site has a device list that allows you to identify your product and will say what solution they offer is right for you. As of this review, all Sprint Pocket PC devices are compatible with PocketMac Pro.
The interesting design of PocketMac is something that is worth talking about. Instead of implementing a seamless one-click-no-options zero-configuration system, similar to other programs for Mac, PocketMac provides an experience that is much more similar to Microsoft’s ActiveSync.
PocketMac does go a step farther though, it also installs synchronization software on the Pocket PC. This installation takes a split-second, if you’re just clicking okay on every dialog (bad idea always), you wouldn’t even notice it. This software presumably enhances PocketMac’s ability to do the job right when comparing information between the PDA and the Mac. This software is completely seamless, you don’t notice it running ever on the PDA, even during synchronization.
I hate product activation. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Developer’s right to protect their intellectual property should end where my experience as a customer begins. PocketMac unfortunately does have product activation built-in. After entering your serial number, you are required to connect to the internet, and send off detailed information about your computer to a company where it checks to see how many times you have activated the product and with what computers you have activated it.
PocketMac’s post-sale documentation says that you are only allowed to activate the program on two computers, after which you must get on your knees and beg with the developer to grant you clearance to install on another computer, should a need to arise.
Now, you might think that this is my biggest complaint with the software, and it is. However, it’s nothing compared to the product’s biggest competitor, Mark/Space’s Missing Sync for Pocket PC. Missing Sync takes it a step farther, and binds its activation process to your PDA, not the host machine itself. And there is no room for any flexibility, once you activate a PDA with your serial, that’s it.
This is especially troubling for Sprint PDA owners, because, let’s face it, Sprint PDAs have a high failure rate. I’m on my third Hitachi G1000 (which was used in testing the device for review), and I’ll be on my fourth by the end of the week (thanks to the phone portion now completely failing to power on… but that’s for another day). Compared to PocketMac, I would have had to buy four copies of Missing Sync to equal the one purchase of PocketMac, and that doesn’t take into account the two other Pocket PC devices that I own.
Synchronization – Contacts
While Apple lets you sort your contacts just about any way you want to, and separates business contacts and companies from personal names and numbers, the Pocket PC lacks these luxuries. Thus, no sync can be perfect, and sorting will always be an issue. Thankfully, PocketMac doesn’t shoot these problems back upstream. While some contacts might appear awkward when initially displayed on the Pocket PC, this is purely a limitation of the Pocket PC itself.
PocketMac does not however flawlessly tackle the problem of having more contact information than the Pocket PC can accept. The Pocket PC can only hold a couple of email contacts per-person, while iSync allows you to have unlimited email and phone contacts with one person. PocketMac transfers the work and home contacts, but there is no way to force the system to take selective contacts, or override with individual contacts. If there was one feature I’d like to see in a next version, it’s the ability to have an “exceptions” list, and pick and chose contacts that I want to force to sync the names and numbers the way I want them.
Also, PocketMac does not handle hard resets well at all. In the event of a hard reset, PocketMac thinks you’ve deleted all contacts on the Pocket PC’s end. It then prompts you how to handle the detected deletion. While it would be easy to just click the “restore contact” button, you have to do it for every single contact. There is no, restore all for this synchronization button, while there is one that when pressed after a hard reset (to grant the confirm-all deletion request) makes all your contacts on your Mac go away… like magic.
Synchronization – Calendar & Tasks
Continuing with the excellent ability to prevent contact collapse, PocketMac synchronizes calendar and to-do lists with iCal perfectly. New events and tasks are entered under the PocketMac category, but can be re-categorized under whatever you want. PocketMac never once messed up a single even synchronization.
Unlike Missing Sync, PocketMac does not screw up internet-subscribed iCal calendars. Missing Sync is notorious for transferring internet-subscribed iCal calendars back from the Pocket PC as new events, creating two and sometimes three duplicates of the internet calendar in one of your pre-existing calendars.
Missing Sync also lacks the ability to have its own calendar in iCal, so it dumps events that it thinks originated on the Pocket PC into the “unfiled” calendar on iCal. This can spell catastrophe on your calendar, as with PocketMac you can simply delete the PocketMac category when things go bad, deleting all unfiled calendar events usually is not an option for most users.
Similar to contact synchronization, PocketMac is equally bad at handling calendar events and tasks after a hard reset. Again, the lack of a single button, forcing a user to restore each event individually can have you pressing one button for quite awhile. And again, the “grant all detected deletion” button will conveniently wipe every single event recorded in iCal… wonderful.
iSync is a great program, but PocketMac makes it an optional experience. PocketMac can sync with all of iSync’s standard databases without actually using iSync’s conduits. This is a welcome control, as sometimes when doing initial synchronizations with new devices, problems can arise, and iSync doesn’t have a one-click undo process (yet, anyways).
PocketMac also includes a standard set of extras that all Mac-to-Pocket PC “Pro” bundles come with. Ability to syncronize picture libraries, and MP3 libraries are nice little additions, but file managment is the crucial edition. Mark/Space’s Missing Sync mounts the Pocket PC on the desktop. Bad idea. Bad idea. Mac OS X immediately starts placing it’s resource information on the Pocket PC, eating the memory away with small little files that the PDA will never use. While this is a limitation of Mac OS X itself to not handle PC drives better, PocketMac handles the problem, instead of ignoring it.
PocketMac has an external application that acts as a proxy between files on the Mac and files on the Pocket PC. That way, you have full control over what goes in and out of your PDA.
Also important is the ability to install programs on the PDA. The Pocket PC world has not caught up to the simplicity of Palm’s .PRC installation yet. With Palm, almost all programs are sent as a simple PRC file, that you just open on the Palm and the program installs. While Pocket PC’s have a similar implementation of program installation, with .CAB, most programs are distributed as a Windows installer, that copies the CAB onto a temporary directory, and then launches the CAB installer on the PDA. As more and more Pocket PCs go totally wireless, more and more programs will be distributed with the ability to install without a Windows computer, but that doesn’t help Mac users today.
Thankfully, PocketMac comes to the rescue as much as it can. While Missing Sync will merely install a CAB file if you’re lucky to have one (something anyone could do simply by copying the CAB to the PDA and opening it there), PocketMac will try to tear apart any Windows-based installer you throw at it, rip the CAB out, and install it for you. While you could do this yourself, by taking a Windows Installer to Stuffit Expander, digging through, finding the CAB, and copying and launching it on the PDA, PocketMac does this in a couple of seconds, and it may do a better job at finding CAB files than manually. Again, PocketMac can be a lifesaver if your PDA hard resets and you need to re-install a program on it while on the road.
PocketMac is so good Microsoft should buy it and re-brand it as ActiveSync for Mac. Really, it’s that good. As I’ve said previously in the review, I purchased Mark/Space’s Missing Sync for Pocket PC, and after comparing it to PocketMac, I couldn’t call Missing Sync anything other than defective when put in comparison. Apple lists Missing Sync as their recommended option for iSync compatibility, thanks to it offering no external configuration interface. This is one case where I have to disagree with Apple’s suggestion, PocketMac excels where Missing Sync struggles.
My only two product suggestions are to have a fail-safe automatic backup/restore function for all local items synchronized (in case you accidentally click the wrong button and wipe all your contacts, calendars, and tasks), and to get rid of product activation completely from the product.
Before PocketMac, I would tell Mac users to have some form of Virtual PC or some old PC laying around if they wanted to own a Pocket PC, but PocketMac handles just about every situation that you would need a PC to fix or handle or install something. The best part is, they let you try it before you buy. That’s something that their competitors have no answer to, no matter how you try to match them up.