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Microsoft Exchange support arrives for T-Mobile G1

by Sully Syed on March 16, 2009

The first Google Android OS cell phone, the T-Mobile G1, is considered a best seller by anyone’s standards, with 1 million devices sold in just 61 days (a faster pace than the first iteration of the Apple iPhone). While I’ve personally been pleased with its performance during my long-term testing of the device, I’ve noticed that many people I talk to are instantly dismissive of the the G1 – considering it a flawed first effort.

Commonly, this criticism traces back to the lack of proper Microsoft Exchange support on the device. Sure, you could always have your G1 log in and poll your Exchange mailbox using the standard IMAP4 e-mail protocol, but then you’ve sacrificed all the features that make consumers and corporations choose Exchange over simple e-mail: The integrated contacts list, the terrific calendar functionality, extra e-mail features, built-in security, and a first-class desktop application for when you are at your desk.

And who’s to say that criticism isn’t well warranted? With its full QWERTY keyboard rounding out the input options aside from the clickable trackball and touchscreen, the G1 was immediately considered to be a potential competitor to Research In Motion’s BlackBerry line of devices, which currently serve as the default mobile communicator for today’s workforce. A lack of Exchange support out of the gate soured many on the notion that their BlackBerries could finally be replaced with a new, more multimedia-capable, “fun” device. (Apple’s iPhone, while delivering “fun” in spades, never got more than a moment’s consideration due to its lack of a physical QWERTY keyboard.)

I’d like to say that the original reason I began to delve so deeply into this topic is that one of the key services we offer here at myhosting.com is Hosted Exchange Email, but that’s not true. The truth is, like most developers, I carry a device that allows me instant access to my work e-mail on the occasion that system issues arise that require a developer to resolve. For years a BlackBerry device served this decidedly unsexy purpose, but when on day one of the T-Mobile G1′s release we managed to snag one (despite our headquarters being located in Toronto, Canada), I was an immediate convert. I set my G1 to log in to my work e-mail every 30 minutes and attempted to wean myself off depending on my BlackBerry 8700g.

At first, I was only partially successful: The “pull” method of checking e-mail, coupled with the lack of access to my calendar and contacts, required me to hold on to both devices, even if the BlackBerry mostly resided on a desk at home. But as I began to explore the inroads on Exchange support for the Google Android OS via various web forums (Android Community being a standout), a solution emerged: NitroDesk’s TouchDown For Android and Exchange.

For starters, let me allow the people at NitroDesk to make their introduction in their own words:

TouchDown lets you access your corporate Email, Contacts and Calendar right from your Android-powered phone. Works with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003/2007 SP1 and with most online Exchange hosting providers.

With TouchDown, your office email, calendar and contacts are available right at your fingertips. You can choose how long to retain your email on your phone. You can choose to download ALL your Exchange contacts to TouchDown any time you want, but get all changes automatically every time you check your email.

You get quick access to your day’s agenda, optimized for viewing on your phone. You can choose to dismiss past events to simplify the view.

My first use of TouchDown left me with a conflicted view, as via it basic Exchange functionality did exist but was hugely limited. Today, however, a preview version TouchDown made available to paid customers (yes, TouchDown is not free, but we’ll get to that later) boasts the key feature that truly turns the T-Mobile G1 into a corporate-friendly device: Push e-mail via Microsoft ActiveSync. In layman’s terms, new e-mail is displayed on your G1 as soon as it’s received by your mail system. In my case, this meant that I no longer was made aware of important e-mail a half hour after its arrival in my mailbox.

My quibbles with the latest version of TouchDown are minimal: The user interface for the account configuration screens have a few buttons that are uncomfortably small to be pressed using the touchscreen. The lack of a “Select All” function on the e-mail view means I have to individually highlight each message I want to delete if I have a number of messages arrive at once. Lastly, the cost of the application, which I’ll discuss separately.

NitroDesk offers two flavours of TouchDown:

  1. A free version, whose limitations are an Inbox-only view of e-mail with a history of one day, and read-only access to your contacts and calendar. You can download and install this version by searching for “touchdown” in the Android Market.
  2. A paid version of the software, which costs $29.99 USD. This version gives you access to all of e-mail folders with a message history of as long as you’d like, full read/write access to your contacts and calendar items, and as of this writing, push e-mail via ActiveSync in the 2.0.000 preview copy of the software.

My customer support experience as a paying customer has, to date, been excellent, with even a mixup with billing on my end taken care of quickly (we mistakenly ordered two copies of the software while only needing one). NitroDesk’s developers also seem to be extremely open to input on bugs and features to be included in future releases.

As push e-mail functionality becomes official for TouchDown, I expect that more consumers and organizations that at first turned away from the T-Mobile G1 as an enterprise-ready mobile device to get on board – especially with the release of the G1 outside of the United States (1, 2) and more cell phone providers and developers get behind the platform.

To prove I’m putting my money where my mouth is, I’ll be saying goodbye to my BlackBerry for good as of today. I encourage other tech workers stuck with unsexy mobile devices to follow suit.

Sully Syed
Software Developer
SoftCom Technology Consulting Inc.

Related posts:

  1. Exchange Support in Snow Leopard, Palm Prē, Android and more
  2. Hosted Exchange Email now available from myhosting.com
  3. Hosted Exchange vs. Email: Elevate your Experience
  4. iPhone 3G and myhosting.com Email Integration Options incl. Free Exchange Account
  5. Mobile Websites: Are They a Fad or Should Businesses Invest in Them

{ 8 comments }

paul May 27, 2009 at 12:56 AM

I’ve always been baffled by the lack of respect for Windows Mobile–and never more so than after reading your blog, which doesn’t even mention it. Yes, WM devices are a little complicated for business people…but you’re a techie, for crying out loud. You used a Blackberry until the G1 came along? It that’s true, then for years you’ve missed out on complete, seamless over-the-air syncing of all your Exchange Email, Contacts and Calendar with your handheld. Where do you think the ActiveSync functionality that you so covet, and which these for-pay third-party applications struggle to provide, came from?

Sully Syed May 27, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Because of our company’s need to be familiar with the e-mail capabilities of our customers’ devices, I at one point used a Qtek 8310 on Windows Mobile 6 as my personal phone, as well as the HTC TyTn, the HTC TyTn II, the HTC Advantage, and for short periods of time a bunch of other WM6/7 devices from HTC whose model numbers I’ve now forgotten.

My conclusion to date has been that while Windows Mobile 6/7 is a powerful and popular mobile OS, the WM experience can be summarized as being slow, kludgy and particularly unintuitive. I think that myself and others generally conclude that we can put up with polling our e-mail inboxes if it means the rest of our smartphone experience will be better for it.

Of course, much of the fault lies with the hardware manufacturers who loaded WM6/7 on phones with anemic performance just for the sake of offering a smartphone to the masses, but in my opinion Windows Mobile is still the least “sexy” mobile OS out there.

R4 ds September 25, 2009 at 9:21 AM

Fantastic mobile, I am very impress with it sepcially from it battery life and its fastness

Gareet Brown February 26, 2010 at 6:31 AM

Here are my impressions about T- mobile G1 phone:-
G1 slide out QWERTY keyboard, support for the fast 3G networks, GPS and Bluetooth technology, offers a number of free apps through Android Market and much more. The compass mode works absolutely well, spin it in any direction it will move fine.
The phone of my dreams, I have it for a while now and it is still in really good condition.

Randy5 December 30, 2010 at 11:10 AM

I agree that the G1 was a great phone. I’m surprised that people you know considered it so flawed.

Rusher February 17, 2011 at 6:54 PM

I always had trouble with email pulling myself. I’m glad it wasn’t just me!

OfftheWall August 18, 2011 at 8:51 AM

I didn’t realize that ActiveSync came from Windows Mobile, paul.

Texas2Step September 27, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Any opinions on the latest version of Windows Phone, Sully Syed. I’m curious if WP7 has been able to win over Windows critics.

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