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COLUMN: My favorite Pocket PC Applications on the Smartphone - Today MetrO
Posted by Editorial - on Thursday, 10.05.07 - 10:23:43 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 10711x
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(By Helio Diamant) Today, we will take a look on the first software that got my interest when I bought my first Pocket PC and actually it's the first software I have ever reviewed for - MetrO. This software was interesting to me not only because of the problem it solved and its usability qualities, but as well due to the interesting development model that permitted it to stay completely free over the years.
At the world of transportation and navigation, the most important word is "update". If software is not updated, it is dead. This is the point where Metro shines. The developers P. Bernard & F. Van Caenegem have gathered supporters from all around the world who send to them the updates on the transportation lines and schedules. Today MetrO covers more than 300 cities and after five years since I've first reviewed it, it is still updated every month with new cities and updates to existing ones. With all that, what would be the chance that they would issue a Windows Mobile Smartphone version?

Well, 100% chance. The Smartphone version is right there at the developers site and, just like the other versions, it is distributed for free as well. It is one of the last pieces of software left which are developed looking for 100% quality, updated as a clock and distributed for 100% free. No addware, no fees, just nothing.

Metro began at the Palm platform and was ported to Pocket PC five years ago. All its beautiful history was based on touchscreens. So how good can they be on a device that is operated only by the buttons? This is what we will verify here.

At the first time that we go into the software, we choose the city from the list. The list is actually a folder listing that includes all city files which we have decided to copy from the computer to the My Documents folder (in the Main Memory or in the Storage Card). The chosen city will be the default on next times we open the software and until we decide to change city. As usual, in the Smartphone, going through the list is easily done with the side wheel or the gaming button and the choice of a city can be done by pressing the wheel or the OK button. The menu offers, among other things, the ability to update the city file directly from the Internet.

After choosing the city, we get the main screen as seen above. Due to the lack of space, the developers did not write captions to the fields, so we need to guess that the first field is for current location and the second for the destination. Not very difficult, but I doubt the decision. I would prefer if the logo was somewhat smaller and we had place for captions. We also see fields for the weekday and the hour, since MetrO will calculate the route according to the availability of trains at the specified day and time. The default is current time, but we can change it in order to plan in advance.

I have had some small issues with the fitting of the fields to the small screen, sometimes some strange things occur, but it is not something that has prevented me from operating the software.

The menu is opened with the right softkey, then we can use the wheel to scroll around it, with the same one-handed "scroll-and-press" method which we have already learned. As with almost all Smartphone software, pressing the number according to each choice will provide us a fast-track to the desired choice.

Here we see the full menu, covering the whole set of choices. The only existing submenu is the one for the option Metro, which provides us with the ability to change cities and set preferences, additionally to some other feedback and communication options. The main menu provides us all the options that are hidden in the Pocket PC version behind the small icons in the screen, just under the destination field. Those are details of a route, going back, clearing the route, choosing destination by Contact data, seeing lines details, or choosing Points of Interests (a very useful option for tourists).

So let's do some navigation: using the Los Angeles map I have chosen Sepulveda Blvd. Search is done by just pressing the first characters of the station/POI and scrolling.

For the destination, I pressed Hollywood and was presented with all the options containing Hollywood in their names. I decided to go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Wow! I have found the first software that got a little crazy with the Smartphone Hebrew support. They must be doing something different than the others. Interesting, since it doesn't happen at the Pocket PC. Well, but this won't stop me in my quest to arrive to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Meanwhile I have verified my actual location to be Beverly Dr. and changed the origin. Now all I need to do is to press the Go softkey at the left.

Voila! Just as on the Pocket PC, I received two routes, the shortest route (in terms of time) and the route with the smallest number of train changes (something that can be very important for someone traveling with suitcases). The whole path is described above, including the places where we need to walk from one station to another.

From this point we can see details of the line, with all stations, the timetable and know exactly where we are within the line. There are many different options here and I recommend searching and finding the most usable options for you.

I have found one special interesting point that makes this software better in the Smartphone than it is in the Pocket PC: in the Pocket PC, when I turn off the device (or it times-out and goes into standby mode), the software closes. It happened to me many times that I had to go through the whole path again to see where I was or what train to catch from there. In the Smartphone, there is some difference in the standby mode that doesn't close the software. When I turn the screen on again, it is right there at the same position I left it. Very important, since in many cases I operate it in pressure of time to run to the right station and get the right connection.

Final Conclusion

Despite some minor problems in adjustment to the small screen and fitness to the Hebrew support, I found MetrO for Smartphone a software of very high quality, specially in usability terms. The software is easy and intuitive and it is a pleasure to work with it on the Smartphone. The fact that the device times out without closing the software is as well a point in favor of it, making it easy to make fast decisions.

Another point stands for the fact that we usually use this kind of software under difficult conditions and of lack-of-time, suitcases in the hand and swinging trains. In this case, the ability to use the software with one hand only becomes even more important. Last but not least is security: you wouldn't believe how afraid I was to take my JASJAR out of the pocket while inside trains in some countries. :-)

MetrO keeps in the Smartphone the same standards of quality, human engineering and update frequency that has made it a success in the Palm and Pocket PC world. In my opinion, it is one of those MUST HAVE software packages for every device and traveler. Very recommended, especially because it is available free of charge.

Helio Diamant is a Microsoft MVP for Windows Mobile and the founder and Editor in Chief of "Pocket PC Freak - Your Pocket PC Hebrew Site"

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