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REVIEW: Spb Software House Pocket Plus 4.0 for Windows Mobile Pocket PC
Posted by Heinz Burkart - on Tuesday, 16.10.07 - 19:49:13 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 28866x
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It's been a long time since we have heard anything about Spb Software House most popular program - Spb Pocket Plus and the last major release, Spb Pocket Plus 3, was launched back in 2005 already. In the meantime Spb has developed many other applications but now the long awaited version 4 of Spb Pocket Plus has been finally released.
As good as today's Windows Mobile Classic and Professional platforms are, there are still a lot of missing components that many Pocket PC users consider as seriously needed on the Windows Mobile touchscreen platform. These are simple things, like a close button that really closes, the ability to open multiple windows in Internet Explorer Mobile, the ability to view file properties in File Explorer, a task manager, the ability to place shortcuts on the Today screen, among many others.

Spb Pocket Plus is a utility that enhances all aspects of the Windows Mobile touchscreen operation system and Spb Pocket Plus 4 now enhances previously seen Pocket Plus versions as well, to make Spb's bestseller even better.

This review focuses on and describes the new features of Spb Pocket Plus 4.

New Features in Spb Pocket Plus 4:

So before you can test or use any program on your mobile device you have to install it. It is very important to me that the installation routine is very easy.

Spb Software House is known for its easy and smooth installation and so it is with Pocket Plus. A good option is the ability to put in the serial number on the PC.

During the installation you will be asked if you want to install a test version of Spb Diary and/or Spb Weather. If you agree, the installer will additionally download Spb Diary and Spb Weather over the internet and will install the one or both on your mobile device.

The installation is an automatic process like the following:

  1. Diary Installation
  2. Pocket Plus Installation
  3. Soft Reset
  4. Weather Installation

The installation of Pocket Plus is easy and smooth. I especially like the possibility to enter the serial number on the PC.

Because of the installation of Spb Diary and Spb Weather, the today screen is a little bit overloaded. Normally with Spb Software House software you can work right away after installing it. Because of the additional installation of Spb Diary and Spb Weather you have to change some options to get rid of the scroll bar:

Spb Pocket Plus 1. ScreenSpb Pocket Plus 1. Screen

In my opinion it would be better to integrate Spb Diary and Spb Weather in a Pocket Plus Tab. But with a few clicks in the options you get a clearer today screen already:

Spb Pocket Plus 2. Screen

If you are working with a Spb Software House product for the first time, I recommend installing Pocket Plus without Spb Diary and Spb Weather. Once you get more familiar with Pocket Plus you can always add Spb Diary and Spb Weather.

Before I describe the new feature in version 4, I would like to show you the general functions of Pocket Plus:

  • The main component of Pocket Plus is the today plug-in. It contains a program launcher and the capability to include system indicators. Well known is the battery indicator at the top of the screen which Spb Software House invented. Other today plug-ins can also be integrated in Pocket Plus.
  • The file explorer has been expanded with ZIP compression and encryption function among other things.
  • Pocket Plus is also a task manager. It can actually close programs instead of minimizing them.
  • The ability to assign additional actions to hardware buttons (e.g. Alt-Tab) is given.
  • One important feature is the safe mode. If you soft reset your mobile device, you can activate the safe mode. Then all today plug-ins and most of the startup programs will be deactivated. This can help you if e.g. one of your today plug-ins crashes and your mobile device won't start any more. In the safe mode you can deactivate or de-install the crashed today plug-in or program.

This review focuses on the new features. The "old" features are shown here only visually.

The options can be entered via system settings or directly from the today plug-in:

The Today Plug-in Settings:


The Skins Settings
Skins can be downloaded and installed directly on the mobile device:



The Header Settings:

The Close Button and Task Manager Settings:

The Battery Indicator Settings:


The Internet Explorer Mobile Settings:

The File Explorer Settings:

The Safe Mode Settings
The first screenshot shows the mobile device booted in safe mode. The second shows the options:

As you have seen above, Spb Pocket Plus 4 offers plenty of options to make it best working for everybody including many options to customize it.

More Program Speed and Less Memory Usage
A big disadvantage of Spb Pocket Plus was the speed and the great memory requirements. If you only used Pocket Plus you will not have noticed it, but users of heavy CPU programs like navigation software know what I am talking about. In version 4.0 Pocket Plus is much faster and requires at the same time less memory.

Spb Software House sent us a comparison list of the memory needs:

 
Version 3.2
Version 4.0
PC Installer
4,69 MB

1,55 MB

CAB Installer
4,39 MB
2,84 MB
ROM
4,20 MB
2,91 MB
RAM
2,20 MB
1,38 MB

Less MB at the PC installer is not so important. Today internet connections are fast and traffic is cheap. Much more important is the size of the CAB file which will be downloaded mostly on a mobile device. And there data traffic is expensive.

The ROM is the part of the mobile device where the programs are installed. The less memory one program needs the more programs you can install.

Even more important is the size of a program in the RAM memory. RAM is the memory where a started program will be loaded. If you start e.g. Mobile Word it will be loaded from the slower ROM to the faster RAM. Today plug-ins are always running. So every byte less is an advantage.

Spb Software House successfully reduced the memory consumption of Pocket Plus. One result is that Pocket Plus runs much faster now. A lot of users complained about the speed of Pocket Plus. But it is not so easy to redesign software. Spb Software House said they used more than 50 % of the developing time for Pocket Plus 4.0 on optimizing the code. And I must say it was worth it. Pocket Plus 4 is very fast now.

Tabs in Internet Explorer Mobile
Spb Pocket Plus integrates in the Internet Explorer Mobile the "tabbed browsing" function. For most of us this enhancement of Internet Explorer Mobile is all that we need and you must not buy a replacement for the preinstalled Internet Explorer Mobile.

The next screenshot shows the menu extension ob Pocket Plus in the Internet Explorer Mobile:

You can reach the menu also from the Pocket Plus icon in the upper right corner. The screenshot shows that two websites are currently open:

The "tabbed browsing" enhancement integrates very well in the Internet Explorer Mobile. I personally seldom need more.

Smart Scrolling
First I did not know what Smart Scrolling should be. A manual did not exist at the time I tested Pocket Plus 4 and the description of Smart Scrolling simply was: "finger-friendly scrolling".

After a while I thought of the Apple iPhone and the HTC Touch. And indeed Smart Scrolling is the same scrolling function. If you pull your finger over the screen it starts to scroll. If you pull faster, it scrolls automatically. The scroll bar is history with Smart Scrolling. Unfortunately I hadn't the time to make a video which actually shows Smart Scrolling.

Smart Scrolling is available for many inbuilt and Spb products:

Well done Spb Software House ;-).

File save/open in any directory
One of the annoying problems with Windows Mobile is that you can only save or open documents in the "My Documents" folder. This is the reason your memory card normally has a folder named like this. Outside of this folder you can not store documents.

Pocket Plus extends the standard open dialog of Windows Mobile and you can store and open programs outside of "My Documents". Bellow an example with Mobile Word where you can now save a document in the device root "My Device":

Maybe it looks to you like a small feature. But advanced mobile users will enjoy this function. If Microsoft will not take care of it, Spb Software House will.

Shortcut labels on today screen
Rather than doing a lot of explaining, just take a look at some screenshots. Until know Pocket Plus looked like this:

Use the new option "Show Label" to add or remove the label individually for every program icon:

And Pocket Plus looks like this:

Pretty clear, isn't it?

Placing multiple today plug-ins in one tab
A really nice new feature is the possibility to place more than one today plug-in in one tab. Until version 4 you could just add only one today plug-in in one tab. If you have a lot of today plug-ins your number of tabs quickly overgrows. Just think of all the small today plug-ins like lock device, windows live / messenger, inbox and many more.

The screenshot shows normal program icons and the today plug-ins inbox and Windows Live in the same tab. Of course you can integrate other today plug-ins like Spb Diary or Spb Weather. The number of tabs can be largely reduced:

In my opinion this feature alone is a reason to buy Spb Pocket Plus. Programs like Pocket Plus are used to increase the overall view of the mobile device. The possibility to place more than one today plug-in on a tab is the right way to do this.

Insert third party today plug-ins
One of my points of criticism was that Pocket Plus was not able to integrate third party plug-ins. Version 4.0 fulfills this criteria.

The picture below shows the integration of two different Spb Weather plug-ins. On the top, the well known Spb Weather plug-in, below one of a third party:

Especially with Spb Weather plug-ins the needs are very different. Until now Spb Pocket Plus users had no chance to integrate other today plug-ins. This is now possible and a long missed feature has been integrated in Pocket Plus.

Additional actions to hardware buttons
In Spb Pocket Plus version 4.0 the list of actions you can assign to a hardware button are increased.

Final Conclusion

Spb Pocket Plus 4 has major advantages in comparison to version 3.x. Many of the reasons for not using Pocket Plus are no longer valid in my opinion. The major features are that you can now add more than one today plug-in in one tab and the integration of tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer Mobile. In addition Pocket Plus 4 consumes less memory and is much faster. Third party today plug-ins can now be integrated.

Like any other program Spb Pocket Plus is surely not without any bugs. The question is whether it is bothering you much and how soon it will be corrected.

Spb Software House software is fortunately bug free. I only found one problem until now. If you rotate the screen, Pocket Plus must rearrange the program icons or e.g. rebuild the list in Spb Diary that they fit the screen. Sometimes this goes wrong or Pocket Plus starts thinking for a few seconds. This problem occurs mostly, but not only, with Spb Diary.
The errors I found so far are in the category annoying. They are not a reason to decide against Pocket Plus. I can remember similar programs that had the same problems. It took one or two minor releases to fix them.

Spb Software House has shown that Pocket Plus, as the first program of its kind, is not old fashioned. Spb Fans should upgrade to version 4.0 and all the others who have not used Pocket Plus until know should give it a try. It's worth it.

Spb Pocket Plus is available in 14 languages and it's compatible with Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Pocket PC, Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC, Windows Mobile 6 Professional and Classic (with touchscreen) and it supports all Windows Mobile screen resolutions. As always, a free 15 days trial can be downloaded. The full version of Spb Pocket Plus 4.0 can be purchased for US$ 29.95. Users of any 3.x versions of Spb Pocket Plus are welcome to upgrade to Spb Pocket Plus 4.0 for just US$ 14.95.


 
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