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REVIEW: WebIS FlexMail 2007 for Pocket PC
Posted by Heinz Burkart - on Friday, 06.10.06 - 16:10:20 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 26128x
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FlexMail 2007 was developed by Web Information Solutions who is well known for its PIM replacement PocketInformant. FlexMail replaces the built in Pocket Outlook. It is meant to manage your E-Mails on the Pocket PC. The protocols POP3, IMAP and MAPI are supported and in addition you can even connect via a SOCKS proxy server. SSL encryption is of course also implemented.

Those who do not need the SOCKS communications may want to know why they should buy an additional E-Mail program. This test should answer that question.

First a list of some of the functions which are not included in Pocket Outlook:

  • Automatic rules to sort POP3 and IMAP E-Mails
  • Manual rules for MAPI accounts
  • Searching for items in all accounts and directories (a function even the PC Outlook has not built in)
  • Simpler directory synchronization
  • Advanced spelling check
  • More options for POP3 and IMAP
  • and much more.

For this review, I've used a T-Mobile MDA Vario II with Windows Mobile 5 and QVGA screen resolution. As a server I used a Microsoft Exchange Server with Push functionality and a public certificate, POP3 and IMAP.

Let's start with the installation of FlexMail 2007. As known from WebIS, the installation is offered as direct device installation (.CAB) or PC-Installation. The program is only available in US English.

The installation is as easy as expected. Problems did not occur. It is only important to use the version 3.1/Build 988 or greater. The previous builds aborted the program with an expired beta period even when the program was registered.

Starting FlexMail 2007 takes a long time. You have to wait several seconds and so I recommend to let the program run. So just minimize it instead of closing it.

An assistant will be opened if you first start FlexMail 2007. You can decide if you want to use FlexMail as a client for E-Mail, SMS or both. In some rare cases I got an error when selection the SMS integration. In this case you have to de-install FlexMail and install it again. Nevertheless, please note that FlexMail 2007 isn't handling MMS messages:

First Run

In my test scenario, ActiveSync was configured and so FlexMail shows the MAPI account. All directories can also be seen. They are empty, of course, but can be marked for download as usual.

If some of you are wondering about the Pocket PC 2003 look and feel, it can be changed to the familiar Windows Mobile 5 softkey menu bar. This is recommended as described later:

Main Screen

FlexMail 2007 comes with a vast number of settings. Because of this I will only mention the most important ones.

In the following screen you can select to show the FlexMail icon in the system tray when minimized. This is also known by other programs e.g. PocketInformant. The second option closes the program instead of minimizing it. As mentioned before it takes a long time for FlexMail to start. So I recommend leaving the program running. You can always close the program with menu and close:

These options control the integration of FlexMail. If FlexMail is used as the default E-Mail program the system shortcuts are also replaced. The default messaging symbol Stanard Messaging Logo is replaced by the FlexMail shortcut FlexMail Messaging Logo. These changes are also visible in the start menu:

Applications Settings

The notification settings can be customized as well - on a very detailed level. The POP3 and IMAP settings works without any problem. But in the case of MAPI, no notifying messages appear when new messages arrive. Since Pocket Outlook is replaced by FlexMail, all Pocket Outlook notifications are deactivated as well. Hopefully WebIS will release a bug fix soon.

Nitification Settings

The connection settings are very flexible. In my opinion it is an advantage if you can define the connections settings in each program separately. That way the user can determine which programs opens a connection which normally produces costs:

Connection Settings

In this settings page you can define the way the E-Mail are listed:

Mail List Settings

The following options how read mails are handled are known from the PC E-Mail programs already but new for a Pocket PC mail client. As more and more E-Mails are sent in HTML, they are hard to read on small devices. FlexMail can reformat HTML mails and show you these E-Mails in plain text format:

Mail Read Settings

Not much to say. A picture says more than 1000 words:

Mail Send Settings

What shall we do with the deleted E-Mails? Just define it here:

Mail Delete Settings

In the last options window you can determine the font and font size for nearly every element in FlexMail:

Fonts Settings

The next step is to configure the first E-Mail account.
First you open the list of accounts. In my example both ActiveSync and SMS was configured automatically. With tab & hold you open the context menu and add a new account:

Accounts List

For this test I configured an IMAP4 account on my E-Mail server. In the next steps I enter the account data. POP3 configuration is analog:

New Account Wizard

Now you need to define the type of account. In our example IMAP4. FlexMail automatically sets the correct port number. Host means the incoming mail server. Here imap.theunwired.net:

Incoming Mail Server Settings

In the next step you have to enter your authentication data. As you can see, FlexMail is very structured and asks for the necessary account data step by step. Thus creating an account is very easy even for beginners:

Incoming Mail Server Authentication

My outgoing server also needs an authentication. Otherwise everyone could use this server including spammers. Host again means the FQDN of the server. In this case smtp.theunwired.net.

Outgoing Mail Server Settings

If the outgoing mail server needs authentication you need your account data again. In most cases they are the same as the incoming mail server. Of course FlexMail has an appropriate option that avoids entering data twice:

Outgoing Mail Server Authentication

Every account or storage can be given its own name:

Account Name and Storage

For every account a separate storage folder can be defined. Of course storage cards can be used. Thereby not only attachments can be saved on a storage card but also the E-Mail data itself:

Account Storage

Congratulations from FlexMail for creating a new account. In this step the account data are not checked whether they are valid or not. Most important is the "Show advanced settings" options. There you can see additional options:

Congratulations

One of the additional options is the possibility to define a signature. Import of text files is also implemented:

Signature

In the list of accounts the new one is visible now:

Inbox List PPC2003 Style

To make sure all account data are valid the new account should be synchronized.
If you are wondering about the Pocket PC 2003 look, yes you are right. The standard view is in Pocket PC 2003 style. Due to some problems with the Pocket PC 2003 style, I recommend to change to Windows Mobile 5 style:

Send Receive PPC2003 StyleSend Receive WM5 Style

The first time you receive mail from your account, you also see whether the account data are valid or not. In the example it worked with the first try:

Send Receive Status

Until now there was no major difference between the built-in Pocket Outlook and FlexMail 2007. FlexMail is very well adapted to small screens. This is one big advantage for Pocket PC Users. 3 different views are available.

First a short look at the view menu. "Soft Key Menu Bar" switches from Windows Mobile 5 to Pocket PC 2003 style. In the picture Windows Mobile 5 style is activated as you can see on the soft key bar.

In every view a preview can be switched on and off. QVGA screens are a little bit too small for an additional preview window.

View Settings Menu

"Multi Pages" view shows two tabs to change between the folder and the message window.

View Folder List

This picture shows the "Multi Pages" view in the messages tab. It is very easy to change between the message and the folder view. Very nice.

View Message List

In comparison, the "Single Page" view. It sure looks a lot like Pocket Outlook.

View Message List

Last but not least the "3 Pane View" in which all windows are visible. The folder and E-Mail list and the preview.

In addition, I will show you the Pocket PC 2003 style in a direct comparison to the Windows Mobile style in the next picture. Actually it is much easier to handle, if there were not the problems with changing the views. And this is not the only problem with the Pocket PC 2003 style as will be described later.

(Who knows Dr. Seuss? Take a closer look at the subject.)

View 3 Pane

Same view, different style. Windows Mobile 5 this time. Unfortunately some buttons like deleting or moving E-Mails are missing as seen in Pocket PC 2003 style.

The menu bar from Pocket PC 2003 is replaced in Windows Mobile 5 by the soft key bar. This is related to Windows Mobile 5. But it is possible to place a menu above the soft key bar and put the missing functions there. I don't know why the FlexMail 2007 developers haven't thought about this. It is standard on most Windows Mobile 5 programs.

View 3 Pane

Of course an E-Mail program should notify me when new E-Mails arrive. POP3 and IMAP4 accounts normally look regularly if the server has new E-Mails. MAPI accounts do this either with ActiveSync or with the Exchange push function. It is especially important when you use the Exchange push function to get a notification, because every new E-Mail will be sent to the mobile device immediately after having been received by the Exchange server.

Notification functions with every sort of account except MAPI and so except the communication with the Exchange server. This is of course not acceptable. So we have this brand new function of E-Mail push to get new E-Mails immediately on our mobile device after they have arrived at the Exchange server and FlexMail 2007 does not notify us. First I thought I made a configuration error. But a short look at the WebIS support forum showed me that I am not the only one with this problem. The previous version did not have such problems. Those who use the Exchange push services will not enjoy FlexMail 2007. WebIS should fix this problem very soon. Otherwise it is better to use the built in Pocket Outlook or an older version of FlexMail.

This brings us to the next problem with the Pocket PC 2003 style. To use the spelling check function the manual describes that you have to click on menu and then on "Check Spelling". But there is no menu in the Pocket PC 2003 style! Only after having switched to Windows Mobile 5 style the function like priority, encoding, check spelling, and others are available.

Maybe I missed something. But I read the manual from the beginning to the end and did not find a solution. Therefore I must assume that the function is not available in Pocket PC 2003 style, the manual is not exact enough, or the program is not intuitive. All 3 cases make us suspect that FlexMail 2007 is not yet completely finished.

Final Conclusion

FlexMail 2007 is a comfortable and easy to use program. Users sitting behind a company firewall will be glad about the possibility of using extended security communication like SSL POP encryption or SOCKS proxy.

The available views in FlexMail 2007 are optimized for small screens. In my opinion you can't get more out of a QVGA screen.

Unfortunately some functions don't work properly when switching to Pocket PC 2003 style (see Additional Functions). Also the missing menu bar above the soft key bar makes the impression of "quick, we need a Windows Mobile 5 compatibility".

In Build 988 (which I used for this test) notifying doesn't work. Especially in times where Exchange push is more and more common this is not a small error anymore. Additionally new E-Mails are not shown in the inbox of MAPI accounts. The same goes for the outbox. Sent E-Mails remain "optically" in the outbox. If FlexMail is closed (not only minimized) and reopened the view is refreshed and you can see that the E-Mail where sent and received.

This level of quality is normally not known from WebIS especially since we are used to have a much better quality from PocketInformant.

If you have already bought FlexMail 2007, then use a previous version until the notify error is fixed. Everyone must decide whether the described features are needed or not.


 
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