Jul 30 2005
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: if you’re a Mac user you can’t use a PocketPC. That hasn’t been true for years, and with new software options and technologies like Bluetooth, its even less true today.
So how do you make a Pocket PC talk to a Mac? In this oversized review I’ll take you through three solutions and provide you with the pros and cons so you can pick your own.
Before we dig in I want to mention the complexity of what we’re after. While those who blow it off as impossible are wrong, those seeking to close the gap should know neither side is interested in making it work. Neither Apple or Microsoft offer much help to these developers. Keep that in mind when bugs arise.
Now, for the particulars. I tested the following solutions on a Dell Axim x50 running Pocket PC 2003 SE and a Mac mini running Panther (both with WiFi and Bluetooth).
Now let’s get to it…
PocketMac Pro 3.0
Around since 2001, PocketMac has been connecting Pocket PC’s to Macs for years. PocketMac also offers the widest suite of Pocket PC utilities. There are two levels of sync solutions as well as a backup-only application and a cool theme editor.
PocketMac Pro (now at version 3) syncs data with the Address Book, iCal, iPhoto, iTunes, Entourage, Mail, Daylite Now Up to Date and iSync. It also allows you to browse the device, connect through WiFi and Bluetooth and connect to the AvantGo offline browsing service.
As a great extra, PocketMac Pro also comes with apps to view and edit Pocket Word and Pocket Excel documents in their native format. PocketMac also has a utility to convert common .exe application installers into Mac-installable .cab files. This is great, though it only works with about half the installers I came across.
Now the price you pay for this feature-rich, flexible sync solution (besides $41) is in stability. In my testing experience I found PocketMac pretty easy to set up, but experienced several syncing errors including a couple kernel panics and a hard reset of my Pocket PC.
So? PocketMac is a mixed bag. You won’t find these kind of features and extras anywhere else. So like the pass offense, you can cover a lot of ground, but there are risks.
Fortunately there is a demo, so you can try your luck before you buy. Your setup might work better than mine.
PocketMac Pro 3.0
The Missing Sync for Windows Mobile
Mark/Space software started out enabling Mac users to sync with Sony Clie’s. With the Missing Sync Pocket PC they introduced an alternative for Pocket PC/Mac synchronization.
The successor to the Missing Sync for Pocket PC is the Missing Sync for Windows Mobile. I did most of my testing on a beta version, but found it rock-solid.
The Missing Sync for Windows Mobile (referred to hereafter as That Sync Application with a Really Long Name) does not have as many bells and whistles as PocketMac, but what it does do, it does very well.
MSWM syncs the Address Book, iCal, Entourage, iTunes, iPhoto and AvantGo with your device. It also installs programs and backs up your My Documents folder. Like PocketMac, you can sync via Bluetooth and WiFi and mount the Pocket PC as a removable drive.
You can also install applications from .cab files. Unfortunately, there’s no utility to convert .exe installers. MSWM allows you to share your internet connection (as does PocketMac) even via Bluetooth.
Setup required half the time of PocketMac, and was as easy as running the installer, restarting and plugging in the cradle.
Like its competitor, MSWM has a menu item that can launch the full program, install applications, mount the device or initiate a sync.
With the Missing Sync, you’ll miss out on some of the extras offered by PocketMac, but you’ll enjoy a fast, stable sync. It is not flashy, but it is guaranteed to get you there.
Going it Alone
There’s always another option. In this case, I’ll show you how you can get your Pocket PC from your Mac without any software help.
Of all the options, this is going to be the crudest – but hey, if you’re this cheap you won’t mind.
Installing applications and moving files is a matter of accessing the Pocket PC from your Mac or vice-versa.
Once you have a .cab installer there are a heap of ways to get it to your device. If you’re stuck with an .exe, take it to a PC or open it in Virtual PC. After you’ve run the installer you can usually go dig the .cab out of the Program Files/Microsoft ActiveSync folder.
The easiest way to get to your Pocket PC from your Mac is Bluetooth. Once you Pair (Bluetooth menu > connect to device) you will be able to mount the entire contents of your handheld including memory cards (which, by the way can also me used to transfer files to the device).
In my experience Browse Device worked much better than Send File. I also noticed that long transfers don’t always work.
Alternately, if your PocketPC can access the web you can email files to yourself. If you’d prefer to do this in a more orderly manner, consider FTP. For security purposes, create a new directory and an FTP user that can access only that folder/directory. You can do this on a remote server or from your Mac (through Sharing > FTP). Now, with a free FTP client on your Pocket PC, you can download installers and whatever other files you want to transfer.
Alas, there’s no free way to sync your mail, contacts or calendar. For that, you’ll want one of the previously mentioned solutions.
There it is, three solutions to Mac/Pocket PC sync. Depending on your hunger for extras, risk aversion and budget, there’s a right one for everyone. So, fear the Pocket PC no longer.
For this review, my pick is the Missing Sync for Windows Mobile. It is well worth the money, and offers the most important features in a quality solution.