Since I haven’t wrote anything here in a while, I thought I might say a few words about one of Android’s worst shortcomings: synchronization. We’ll take a look at the problem and what’s involved to fix it after the break.
Like many other people like me upgrading from Microsoft’s dead end series of mobile OSes to Google’s shiny new “sequel” Android, I was left scratching my head trying to figure out how to sync the device with my computer. We’ve been syncing our cellphones and handhelds with our computers pretty much for as long as computers and handhelds have been around, so it came as a shock to me when I dove into android how it lacks the simple ability to sync contacts, calendar items, notes, and tasks out of the box. Even stranger is the lack of third party software to do this, since you’d think that someone would be smart enough to invent a software to do so. Perhaps the most alarming thing of all is that there are around 50 pieces of software that claim to be able to do this while surprisingly few of them function at all, and only a small subset of that which can get the job done right.
How could something so simple get so screwed up? Let’s take a trip back in time to 1996, when Palm released Palm OS. In my eyes, Palm was the foundation for the modern mobile OS, and they did do a lot of things right (citing the fact that it was released with phones up until a few years ago), but that’s a writing for another day. From personal experience, Palm was very easy to sync; the devices all came with a dock or cable to connect it to the computer, and then you pressed a button in the software or on the dock, and everything would be synced up between the handheld and the computer. Very simple, yet effective at the same time.
Windows Mobile even had synchronization working right out of the box with their “ActiveSync” and “Windows Mobile Device Center” software. All you had to do was connect to the computer and all your information was updated in both places. Even today, most of us continue to use Microsoft’s proprietary “Outlook” software to manage our calendar, contacts, and tasks. It makes sense that Google might not want you to be able to sync your stuff with Microsoft Windows, and as such they do include some limited sync capabilities (of the contacts and calendar only) with their Google web based counterparts, which are about as useless as they sound.
In the wake of this overlook, developers took it upon themselves to build their own software to solve this. Someone even put together a website called SyncDroid.net to compare all the programs available to try to do this one task. Using their “filter” chart, we can start narrowing down and bypassing the useless stuff; for example, by selecting software that will actually sync all four of the needed categories narrows 50 items down to 10, and selecting only options that actually let you use your own USB cable narrows it down even further. From here, we’re given an acceptable amount of software to try now that we’ve filtered out the junk, some free, some paid. But what’s the most interesting is that not one of them work right. Every one of them has some kind of “dealbreaker” problem that prevents it from being useful including broken setups, the inability to do their job, tricky/impossible setup on the device, incompatibility with various desktop and mobile operating systems, and other problems.
From the ashes of mediocre software, one acceptable choice rises. Ironically, the free software “MyPhoneExplorer”, considering it appears to be translated into english from another language, works remarkably well. In its early days, it had a host of problems that prevented it from working right, but today the only things wrong with it are the fact that it can’t do Outlook categories and that it can’t handle recurrences and some of the English translations in the software are a little funny. It does everything very well where the other softwares (and even earlier versions of MPE) failed and even has a few unique perks, such as the ability to read and reply text messages right from the computer as they come in without having to touch the phone at all. The software is free, but you can donate from the FJSoft website if you choose, which uses responsive flash scripts instead of sluggish HTML5, making this process a breeze.
Like everything on that 50 item software list, MyPhoneExplorer has its drawbacks, but after hours of experimentation, I believe it is the best possible option for people looking to sync their Android devices with their computers. Is it complete? Not quite. But it is very close to being as good as “pocket outlook” and “Palm” ever were, and it is because of this software that Android finally stands to be the perfect and only sequel to Windows Mobile 6.