Five years ago, iAnywhere Solutions brought a new Web-surfing experience to handheld users with its AvantGo service. It gave wrists a break from having to scroll in all directions to view a site on PDAs and smart phones by delivering specially formatted and personalized Web sites to your device. And now, 7 million users later, version 2005 adds improvements such as enhanced wireless synchronization, better channel management and selection, and more integrated help options. The software works on Palm, Windows Mobile (Pocket PC), and Symbian devices, but the best part? It's free. If you frequently cruise the Web from your handheld or even if you're an occasional visitor (why not--it's free), AvantGo 2005 is a must-have application.
Installation and setup are virtually painless, but it'll eat up some time since you have to wade through a field of questions about your interests, career, and more; AvantGo says it's to better personalize your Web pages, or channels, as the company calls them. After downloading the software, an installation wizard walks you through the rest of the process. Directions are clearly spelled out, so you shouldn't stumble into any roadblocks. A quick ActiveSync operation loads the app onto your device, then launches the AvantGo Web site. From here, you can choose from more than 1,200 channels, including Reuters, USA Today, Rolling Stone, CNET, the New York Times, GolfOnline, and more. AvantGo also recommends certain channels based on how you answered the previous questions. Just note that you're allowed to download up to 2MB of free content, and your daily sync limit is 20MB. If you crave more, consider upgrading to a Power User Premium account for $14.95, which gets you 8MB of content storage and 80MB for your daily sync limit.
We loaded AvantGo 2005 onto the HP iPaq hx2750 without a hitch. The new tabbed interface makes it easy to get to the program's various menus: Home, Manage Your Channels, Account Settings, Help, and Service Alerts. Before you dive into the Web, you might want to take a second to customize the look and feel of AvantGo to your liking and tweak your wireless setting. All of this can be done from Account Settings, where you can switch the font size and select from the Classic, Khaki, Chrome, or Blue Moon themes. The enhanced wireless features are a nice touch, too. You can opt to go online automatically, and you can shorten sync times and minimize wireless costs by choosing which channels you want to sync (see below).
While all this behind-the-scenes action is great, the Home screen is where the real excitement takes place. You can access your channels and preview others. With version 2005, you can now launch the Internet from within the program rather than having to open Internet Explorer. If you enable wireless features in Account Settings, you'll notice check boxes next to each channel and a refresh button at the bottom. Rather than updating the content on every channel each time, which can take precious time and money, you can tick off only the channels you wish to sync at that time, then press the refresh button. If you want to add or remove any channels or edit your channel layout, just hop over to the Manage Your Channels tab and do your thing. Since AvantGo is limited to only the available channels, the company has made it easier to access the rest of the World Wide Web by including a new section at the bottom of the screen for launching a browser within the program.
During our tests, we perused various sites, such as MSNBC, Yahoo, and Sporting News, and it was refreshing to be able to read a story straight through and not have to scroll left and right to get the whole page. The stories also remain on your handheld until your next sync, so you can read them offline at your own pace. Other than getting our daily fix of news, we were also able to punch in our zip code and get local weather from AccuWeather as well as movie times from Hollywood.com. One thing to keep in mind, though: AvantGo delivers only the major headlines and stories and doesn't provide all the content (namely, images) found on regular sites. Updating and syncing channels took a couple of minutes, but it wasn't anything we couldn't live with. Also, removing and adding channels was a cinch.
As we mentioned before, there isn't much to the installation other than a few mouse clicks, and the program as a whole is pretty intuitive. Still, issues arise, but luckily, AvantGo offers several technical-support options. You can find a FAQ section under the Help tab, but for a more comprehensive Q&A list, check out AvantGo's Web site. We ran into a problem when trying to open one site; we got the following message: "Online connection error. Account locked. Please try again later." A quick trip to the company's support page cleared up our question. However, if you don't find the answers there, you can e-mail your query for free, or you can get phone support via a Trouble Ticket for $19.95. Support hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.