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Bye Bye Blackberry (Storm) - Hello Lotus Traveler on Symbian

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LotusTravelerNokiaE71.pngIn a belated follow up to my Blackberry Storm posting, I wanted to let you know that I did indeed return the Storm to Verizon after deciding that, even assuming all the bugs and performance problems would be fixed, the touchscreen keyboard just wasn't up to the job. I'm sure there are folks that rarely need to type who would still find the device appealing, but I'd be willing to bet the return rate on the Storm is the highest in industry history.

The other factor that was key to dropping the Blackberry platform altogether was the availability of a much less expensive alternative that still provides the essential "Blackberryesque" features of push email integration with Lotus Domino. I speak of course of Lotus Traveler, which this week was released along with Notes/Domino 8.5. Version 8.5 of Traveler marks a major milestone in the competitive landscape for push email, as it extends its reach to cover millions of Symbian smartphones (aka Nokia S60 based devices) and will put tremendous pressure on RIM considering Traveler is a free add-on to Domino.

So what does my new setup look like?

I chose the highly praiseworthy Nokia E71 smartphone with full QWERTY keyboard (pictured at right). At first glance it even looks like a Blackberry, but is considerably narrower (iPhone size), which makes one-handed typing practical, while still being wide enough to comfortably type "two thumbed". I purchased an unlocked unit from Amazon and hooked it up to the AT&T network and their $15/mo "MEdiaNet" unlimited data plan. We'll see how "unlimited" it actually is in a few days when my first full month billing cycle concludes. AT&T's Blackberry and PDA plans run $30, or $60 if you want to tether your computer to your phone. I'm not sure what you get for that the extra money, but I have all that functionality now. Even better, thanks to a neat little S60 application called JoikuSpot, I can turn my phone into a mobile WiFi hotspot and connect my computer that way, without a cable (though it does drain the battery at a fair clip so I can't miss a nightly recharge). Suffice it to say my train rides are more productive now (I'm actually typing this on the train home).

The Blackberry TCO gets even more expensive when you want to hook it up to Domino because of the Blackberry Enterprise Server costs. If you do need to go with Blackberry and want to at least avoid the hassle of setting up and maintaining your BES, you might consider the Shared BES offering from Prominic, the wonderful people who host my Domino servers for mail and apps. Prices are inclusive of licensing and start at $150 for setup + $30/month per device (1-2 devices) and drops to as low as $20/month for 11+ devices. They also offer dedicated BES. About $400 per month, plus $10/month/device.

For me these costs would top $500 in the first year alone, which in addition to AT&T's extra charges make the $400 price tag of my unlocked Nokia look pretty reasonable. Of course, you do have to install Traveler somewhere, and it only runs on Windows (Linux Please!). I'll have to check with the Prominic guys to see if they might offer a "Shared Traveler Server" at some point, since my own hosted servers run on Linux. Right now I'm using a spare machine in my home office to serve as the Traveler server. Any way you slice it the expense compares favorably to the Blackberry/BES solution.

How well does it work?

After struggling initially with stupid firewall issues I finally got the core push email functionality working beautifully. There is almost no lag between the "You've Got Mail" chimes on my laptop and my phone, and read marks, deletions, etc. all sync flawlessly so far. Oddly having overcome those firewall issues I still haven't been able to properly sync contacts, calendar, task, and notebook entries. The connection is made, but it wipes out all the data when I turn it on. My salvation has been the Nokia's built-in desktop sync feature which works out of the box with Notes 8 (It even asks which version you have, 6.5, 7, or 8). My Palm hotsync never did that without help from CommonTime's mNotes. Stay tuned while I sort out this last major hurdle.

So should you give your all your users a Nokia and ditch the BES?

The jury is out on this question. Setting aside whatever corporate security concerns that might affect the decision, what about the users themselves? Will they like the Symbian OS? The learning curve for this device has proven somewhat steep, as the various settings and menus are a bit...labyrinthine. Then again, the same can be said for a typical Blackberry device. The best results, in both cases, will involve a carefully pre-configured device that allows the user to hit the ground running with the essentials (mail and phone). One thing I don't like about the E71's narrower form factor is that the inbox is very cramped. They should reformat it so each message can show on 2 lines (the way Notes 8 and Outlook mail can). As you can see in the image above, the subject and sender are truncated for every message due to the limited real estate. There are tons of third-party applications out their for S60 (very reminiscent of Palm's application ecosystem), so I may be able to "fix" this problem by replacing the default email management app with a new one. There are also other devices with wider screens, including one expected to hit the market soon called the N97, which will be Nokia's first touchscreen+physical landscape QWERTY keyboard device. I predict the N97 will be a real winner, as it gets around the Storm's key drawback (no physical keyboard) while still offering the benefits of a large touchscreen that the iPhone has made so popular.

Then again, if Palm's impressive-looking "Pre" smartphone announced yesterday proves to be a game changer, who knows what brand devices we'll be carrying in a year or two.

Comments

1 - If I had to buy any already-released, non-Blackberry device today it'd be the E71 - awesome choice man!

I'm still waiting for a decent Android phone before I make the jump off of Blackberry myself Emoticon

-Chris

2 - Does Traveler require support from the phone carrier to work (ie, it's using the carrier as a connection medium) or will it operate over wifi?

3 - @2 Wayne, no the phone carrier is irrelevant aside from their connection to the Internet. The Traveler client on the phone needs the info on your Traveler server - hostname, ports, etc. - but will connect via whatever "access point" you tell it (mobile carrier, airplane wifi, etc.). Unfortunately it appears you would have to manually change the access point in the Traveler Client settings if you wanted to switch.

4 - Good choice Kevin.
I've been using one for a while too, we should compare notes sometime.

5 - I'm using a Nokia E61i now instead of an XDA Neo. Traveler 8.5 is much faster than the prior version.

>> Unfortunately it appears you would have to manually change the access point in the Traveler Client settings if you wanted to switch.
This is not a disadvantage for me because I do not have a unlimited data plan. So I use the phone carrier only when I'm outside the office. Wherever possible I use Wifi. Manually switching to predefined access points is OK for me.


6 - For Europeans the choice is a little more complex, since Blackberry services offer a European flat rate while the Traveler data traffic will be charged as 'normal data' which can be anything between 5 to 25 euro per Mb while traveling abroad.
So although I have a Nokia, I still use the Nokia Blackberry client to save data costs.

7 - Good choice Kevin!!!!
The thing I love with the Nokias is the ability to turn them in to a wifi router. After having trouble with the Jaikuspot I turned to the premium version of WHS Walking Hotspot and I absolutely love it

8 - Useful post Kevin. I have to decide between an iPhone and a Nokia myself having decided that the Blackberry is not really ideal for a two person company because of the cost of the BES (licencing and admin).

9 - @8 Re: Comparative Cost of Blackberry/BES.

We actually ended up getting a Blackberry Bold for my wife yesterday (I wasn't ready to unequivocally recommend the Nokia yet and she didn't like typing on the iPhone). While we were there, I probed a little more about AT&T's BB plans, and their "corporate" package *might* be all I need to hook her into my Domino mail server.

That would put her data plan at $45/mo ($15 of which is the "corporate" stuff), but theoretically I wouldn't need Prominic's BES. It's hard to know for sure since store sales folks don't understand the enterprise stuff well enough to answer such questions definitively. Stay tuned...

10 - You can see all messages including mail in 2 lines. It's under Messaging Options>Settings>Other>Folder view. At least on my phone version.

11 - Hi,

does traveler need a real data plan or does a simple illimited wap plan can work (ie: only allow to browse web sites on port 80) ?


12 - @10 - Bless you Marcis! I found the 2-line folder setting precisely where you said it would be, set it, and now have a brighter outlook on life (no joke), all thanks to you Emoticon I cannot believe that setting isn't the default on this device considering the screen dimensions. This is also an illustration of just how convoluted the menus are, since I actually did look pretty hard to find this and came up empty.

Here are some additional annoyances that perhaps you can assist with:

1 - If I delete a message at the inbox level with the backspace/delete key, the selection focus in the folder afterward is not the message immediately below the deleted message, but instead the one below that (i.e. if I just keep hitting delete-yes, delete-yes, I skip every other message). Is that a bug or is it intentionally designed to drive me nuts?

2 - In the contact list, is there a way to show all contact info available for someone without using so much screen real estate? With Palm OS, and in many well-designed Notes apps, you have a "read" and "edit" mode, where the former hides all the field labels and elminates whitespace to maximize the info on the screen. With my Nokia, you always see the labels and it is incredibly convoluted to update and add info to a contact. And I can't type dashes etc. in phone number fields - its practically unusable!

@11 - Benoit, I believe you can get by with just port 80 for manual syncing, however the "Autosync" or push functions use port 8642. There may be some proxy server/tunnel tricks you can perform to get around this, but someone else will have to advise on that. There are some other ports that might only apply to the connection between the Traveler server and the mail server (i.e. 50125/50126), but they do show up in the documentation so you never know. In my case, my home ISP blocks port 80, so I route around it using an alternate http port (you can also use https through port 443 or an alternate if that is blocked). If you are running a typical production Domino install in a proper data center, that won't be an issue.

13 - @12
1.If you want to delete more than one message you can select them all at once, select using Shift +up or down.
You can see more common shortcuts here { Link }

2. I think you can't hide labels. I do almost all of my contacts editing in Notes.

14 - Kevin great review and THANK you for posting it. I'm wondering if I can blog about your findings of Lotus Traveler & the E71?? I no longer have my E71 and don't work for a company that uses Notes/Domino any longer.

"Unfortunately it appears you would have to manually change the access point in the Traveler Client settings if you wanted to switch." You should look into other apps that specifically allow you to configure auto APN/Data connection when in range or specific time of day. I cannot recall the app as of yet but if you check Howardforums.com in the S60 section I'm sure you'll find it quickly.

2. This is amongst the most ANNOYING things in S60. Not typing dashes - you really shouldn't have to its the number you're trying to dial/save right? But its the incoming calls that do NOT always show the name; same with SMS preview. The new firmware update 2.00.13 may fix some of this but I'm unsure so cannot comment on that.

@Andre, where previously using JoikuSpot Light not Premium?

@Kevin, Did you set a default APN on your E71? (ie if you connect via Browser does it auto ask for a connection: no default APN) This may be part of the issue with Journal/Calendar/etc sync'ing. If you're using an app like Nokia Conversations uninstall it, as it may cause issues with Traveler.

15 - Hi Kevin,

could I get your E-mail id or any chat id so that I can consult with you about how to install traveler step by step and can try it out in our server. It would be a great help

My e-mail id is : somnath.dey@gmail.com

16 - Hi Kevin, i have some questions for you, we ar trying traveler 8.5 and it´s great, but we are having some issues, does´t work the names lookup, and the calendary entries are showed 3 hours later than the original, do you hear something about it?, thanks a lot!!!

17 - Hi How do I read Lotus Notes Phone Message on my Nokia E71 using Lotus Traveler ? I can only see the header of the email on my phone, and not the rich text.Emoticon

18 - @12 - Yeah the skipping down one line after deleting. That's a known issue with S60 FP1 devices: { Link }

There isn't a work-around, although it is fixed on S60 3rd Ed FP2 devices. (although that's not much help if you have a FP1 device.)

19 - I need Lotus Traveler Android APP.

20 - > For Europeans the choice is a little more complex, since Blackberry services offer a European flat rate while the Traveler data traffic will be charged as 'normal data' which can be anything between 5 to 25 euro per Mb while traveling abroad.

In your own country you most probably can get very affordable unlimited data plan and for abroad if you just limit yourself with mail - Traveler will do it. "Flat rate" Blackberry plans that include traffic abroad are quite expensive, even if you have to pay 5 euro per Mb abroad, you will not use 5Mb in a whole month (excl attachment) since Traveler is very good in traffic. It also concatenates large texts (still you can order it to download if needed). Very affordable.

21 - What intelligent peoples are IBM Developers Teams that they give no print option in Lotus Traveler Client for android

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