Is ther such a thing as a review of a software package that doesn't work with your hardware. The answer is YES and a positive review at that!!!Originally Posted by zorro
I am a loyal SprintPCS user ever since AT&T tried to charge me $250 to end my agreement to go to war in Bosnia. Sprint on the other hand gave me an international calling card I could use against my monthly bill while I was vacationing across Europe this past summer. What a difference a carrier makes. However, Phone Control and CDMA phones are anything but an perfect match. I tried PhoCo for the first time well over a year ago, back when I had a fast (per those days standards) internet connection on an Samsung A500. I also have used Phone Control successfully with an Aircard 550 CDMA phone card (this is currently my CarPC phone/internet card). I also recently acquired a PPC6600 Pocket PC Phone, but I haven't begun to try using it with Phone Control.
This review will primarily focus on the Sierra Wireless Aircard 550 and Phone Control. Zoran Horvat, creator of Phone Control (PhoCo), (I can't call him a friend cause he's chewed me out more than I care to remember) is a likeable guy, not unlike most developers on the MP3Car forums. As he should be, he's proud of his creation - a skinnable, phone interface for a wide variety of phones allowing a PC to control many functions of the phone itself. Dialing, answering, using the PC as a Headset, phonebooks, dialed calls, recieved call, SMS in and out all can be accessed from the PC using his software for many phones. Previously, his software was created for serial cable connection between the PC and the phone; he has recently also incorporated bluetooth PC to phone connections for bluetooth phones.
Zoran, however, like most developers, doesn't like being pestered to make his software work with a phone system that doesn't use a standard cellphone/modem commands/control interface. And I will admit I was a newb (not n00b, careful you guys leave the flamethrowers on the workbench). I wanted this to work no matter what. I will admit, Zoran cordially accepted all the information I could throw at him about CDMA and he helped me as best as he could given the limitations of CDMA. And I must say, as I have many times before, "Thank you Zoran Horvat for a beautiful piece of software."
Installation is a breeze with the 1.5.1 version now incorporating an installation wizard and a setup wizard - no more codes to learn, no more editing xml files. Numerous warnings (docs, install, setup, etc.) remind the user of mandatory prerequisite software. If you do run into an issue not addressed in the documentation help is available both on the PhoneControl home website as well as MP3Car.com forums. Search to see if your issue has already been addressed before posting a question, though. PhoCo is mature enough program that most issues have been discussed.
The Aircard 550 is a Sprint PCS PC Card cellphone with proprietary drivers from Sierra Wireless. These drivers were installed previously in my CarPC for always on internet access (3G, not EVDO). PhoCo uses these drivers to access the card's phone function. The Aircard works as a phone via a headset socket on the exposed end of the card next to the antenna connection. So without a headset, you can't hear or talk to the caller. I considered a Skype-like program that would work through the computer internally, but wanted "better" front-end integration and it just felt wrong to use a cellphone for internet to get a phone service (did that make sense.)
The CDMA Problem: CDMA phones don't use the standard AT Command set. The other phome networks support a phone with a built-in modem, CDMA uses software and the network then simulates the modem for the phones. Because of this, PhoCo cannot interface with the "modem."
The Workaround: The Sierra wireless 550 is the only CDMA PC Card with a headset jack for regular phone use. The PCS Connection Manager for the 550
simulates some of the AT Commands for the PC. PhoCo and the PCS Connection Manager happily coexist. (Oh by the way, Sierra Wireless just updated their connection manager to also support 802.11b/g so if a wireless connection is available it will automatically switch your data connection to the faster 802.11 mode, but that's another story.)
How does this coexistance support CarPC's: The phone's phonebook can be exported to PhoCo externally (i.e., offline) using Zoran's PBConverter program. PhoCo can then be used to dial direct or from the internal (PC) phonebook and answer the phone. PhoCo will keep track of outging and incoming calls (you can also assign pictures to your phone book entries and phone control will display it when you dial or recieve a call fron a phonebook entry.) PhoCo will not ring, but thats O.K. cause PCS Connection Manager does. PhoCo cannot send or recieve SMS, but PCS Connection manager will take care of the recieve side and with always on internet there are innumerable SMS software packages to handle the outgoing SMS.
So my car has a phone! Use from my end is extremely convenient now with PhoCo integration into my front-end. I use RoadRunner as my front-end, and with PhoCo fully integrated the phone screens have the same look and feel as the rest of my front-end. So as long as Road Runner is running PhoCo is always ready and waiting. No extra software for ME to load, no extra steps for me to incorporate it. Dialing is a lot easier on my 10 inch touchscreen than if I had a phone in my hand. Scrolling through the phonebook is a treat and PhoCo stores up to 5 numbers per name entry allowing me to quickly search for a name, select which number to dial, and initate the call even when driving (much, much, much safer than trying to look at a tiny cellphone screen.) Answering an incoming call is also simplified and a callerID popup from the PCS Manager lets me know who's calling; two taps on the touchscreen and the call is connected to my bluetooth headset. So I don't have SMS or access to the phones internal phonebook - it's not like I carry it around in my pocket. Sure its not like I'm saving any money by adding another phone to my cell contract, but my goal was simple: fast internet and a phone with the simplest connection to my tablet without overtaxing my USB port. Goal achieved. Keep in mind this hobby is all about personal customization, what works for one may not satisfy another, I'm happy, your results may vary.
As a side note, always on internet is not really always on unless you're streamimg audio/video and this card will send and recieve calls even with an internet connection as long as its not active at the time and will hold internet activity until the call is completed and then continue automagically. If a call comes in otherwise PCS Connection Manager will post a notification of a missed call or voicemail message at the first break in the internet flow (another great "feature" of using this card with always on internet and PhoCo.)
One last bit of info on the Aircard 550. This card doesn't talk thru the computer. I have a Jabra 250 universal bluetooth headset and reciever plugged into the card for phone use and a backup corded headset for when the Jabra battery dies. I have contacted a couple friends at Jabra and Skullcandy and I hope to have a solution that allows me to tie it into the computer through an external USB sound card.
Overall, PhoCo does exactly what it advertises. Zoran has provided integration of the software into several CarPC frontends including RoadRunner, Centrafuse, inCarTerminal, MobileMediaCenter, MobileImpact, etc., allowing seamless intregration of phone functions (limited only by your phone's modem capabilities.) Installation was easy and flawless. After working with Zoran on several CDMA issues, we were able to get basic functionality using the coesistent softwares and therefore I'm happy with the integration given the limitations of CDMA networks.
As alway I have learned (the hard way at times) to let the developer have the last word. So, in a MP3Car post earlier this year Zoran had this to say about CDMA support, "My decision to stop working on CDMA phones is because the protocol implementation for this phones really sucks. I have all the documents from Sierra Wireless and I know that the fully implementation of it more than enough for such software as PhoCo but I haven't seen one phone yet that has implemented more than dialing or retrieving the network quality (except the Moto V710).
If things are gonna change in the future (with newer phone models) and I have someone with the technical skills needed to do some tests for me, I maybe change my mind."
P.S. He's still helping us poor CDMA users, it's just not officially supported.
About the Author: GizmoQ is a technology integration consultant, and computer hobbiest from the St Louis, MO area. He has 24 years of computer integration and automation experience, 21 years access to what's now known as the internet, and owned one form or another carPC with navigation for the last 12 years.