Microsoft My Phone, Part 2

My Phone is clearly a response to Apple's MobileMe service, a free service that synchronizes contacts, calendar appointments, tasks, photos, videos, text messages, songs, web browser favorites and documents between your Windows Mobile-based smart phone and your My Phone account on the web.

Paul Thurrott

October 18, 2009

6 Min Read
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Return to Part 1.

The phone management is simple enough: You get a list of connected phones, can delete any of them at any time, and can access a "find your lost phone" feature, which I'll look at in just a bit.

Phone management.

There is a separate page for almost all of the data types you can sync between your phone and the web. These data types include contacts, calendar, tasks, text messages, favorites, photos, videos, music and documents. What's missing, of course, is email, but then that is synced between your device and whatever email services you've configured.

For many data types there is an archive choice that will store that item on the web only, removing it from whatever device(s). This is certainly handy enough.

The contacts list looks a lot like that in Windows Live People, and you can use it from the web to do things like find duplicates, which would be painful on the phone itself.

Calendar actually provides a graphical calendar that's like a mini version of the calendar from Windows Live Calendar. You can add, edit, and delete schedule items, as well as archive them.

My Phone calendaring.

Text message management is interesting, and is a feature that's not available from MobileMe.

And while favorites, photos, videos, and music sync works as you might expect--with one notable exception around photos and social networking services that I'll discuss below--the documents sync has an interesting side effect: If you've downloaded any Windows Mobile applications (which arrive as *.cab files typically) to the device's Documents folder, they actually get synced up to the web. You could actually use this unintended functionality to archive these installers for later use.

Finding your phone and restoring data

As with MobileMe, My Phone offers a way to find a lost phone. To do so, locate your phone in the Connected phones list and click the link titled Find your lost phone. You have two options here. The free version will let you see the location on a map where your phone was last synced. This is of minimal value, as you might expect, but it could help in circumstances where you literally aren't sure if your phone is at, say, work or home.

Of course, it's of no value whatsoever if there's no map data. And in my testing, I was never able to get My Phone to show me a map.

If you've really lost your phone, however, there are some premium My Phone features you can pay for, including a way to ring your phone loudly for 60 seconds, lock your phone so that no one can use it, and erase (or "wipe") your phone remotely so that your data will be safe. These features are similar to what Microsoft first offered via its corporate-oriented Exchange Server, and Apple offers a subset of this functionality via MobileMe.

My Phone provides ways to help find a lost phone.

The beauty of the premium functionality, of course, is that you only have to pay for it when you really need it, and I suspect that anyone who does end up paying for this will be very happy to do so. Compare this with MobileMe, where you're essentially just paying for something you never need.

If you do ever need to restore data to your phone, perhaps because you've replaced the phone and want to get all the data from your old phone onto the new one, My Phone is a treasure. Using this service, you can easily re-sync all your data to a wiped phone or a new phone. As with the premium functionality, it's something that you'll welcome if you ever need it, as anyone who's had to do the phone-to-phone data shuffle will tell you.

Share photos with social networking services

In a weird bit of side functionality, My Phone lets you share photos you took with the phone with four social networking services: Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, and Windows Live. You can do so via the phone or from the web site.

From the phone, you share photos from the device's photo application, which is called Pictures & Videos on my device. Tap Menu and then Share, and a new My Phone screen will come up with links to your configured networks. Select a network, add some descriptive text, and click Share.

I tested this with Windows Live. Shared photos pop up in a folder called Mobile photos and are available in full resolution.

From the web site, you can similarly share your photos, singly or in groups, with any connected social networks. This is slightly less ponderous than phone-based sharing and seems to be quicker as well.

Photos shared via My Phone can show up in various social networking services.

Installation and availability

My Phone is available now for any Windows Mobile 6 or higher mobile device. You can access the web-based parts of the service easily enough with any PC-based web browser, but to associate your device with the service, you'll need to access it via the mobile browser, using a painfully long URL. (Seriously, you try typing on a junky Windows Mobile keyboard.) From there, you download and install a CAB file.

On the phone, the My Phone application is really just designed to configure and manually perform device synchronization. You can also access the photo sharing features via the phone's photo application.

Final thoughts

It's interesting to compare My Phone to MobileMe because the two services are both so obviously products of their creators. Where MobileMe is flashy and expensive, My Phone is pedestrian and free. MobileMe works best with Macs, and only with iPhones, whereas My Phone works only with Windows Mobile devices and with dominant Windows-based PCs. Both services are arguably designed to keep you within the respective software makers' ecosystems, but Apple of course markets MobileMe as a high-end (and paid) add-on, whereas Microsoft goes the more traditional route and makes My Phone a part of what you get for free, just for joining the Windows Phones family.

My Phone isn't great, for the most part, but it certainly is valuable. And while it's no reason to go the Windows Phones route, it's certainly something that every Windows Mobile device owner should take advantage of. I'd like to see better integration with Windows Live, especially with the online storage, and fewer ads on the web site.

Overall, I'm about as ambivalent about My Phone as I am about Windows Mobile in general. It gets the job done but isn't that inspiring. Recommended for those people who already have Windows Mobile phones.

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About the Author(s)

Paul Thurrott

Paul Thurrott is senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro. He writes the SuperSite for Windows, a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE, and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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