In addition to simply making calls, cell phones have become powerful organizational and entertainment devices with daily calendars, extensive phone books, digital cameras, and MP3 players. While this is all well and good, actually managing that information on your handset is another matter. Typing your phone book on a standard keypad is tedious, transferring text messages to a computer can be tiresome, and getting pictures off your cell phone can be expensive when you're sending them as multimedia messages by way of your carrier's data service.
That's where cell phone syncing software such as Susteen's DataPilot Universal Kit come in. Not only does it allow you to manage much of the data on your cell phone, it also helps you sync that data with a PC or a Mac. While we found DataPilot useful overall, we were disappointed that not all the functions worked with every phone. Though it's an improvement over Mobile Action's Handset Manager 9.0, DataPilot isn't worth the $79.95 price tag ($99.95 for the Mac version), despite its glossy and accessible interface.
We tested the DataPilot with the Sony Ericsson S710a. Since we had the Universal Kit, it came with USB connectors for most major phone models, including Sony Ericsson, Sanyo, Samsung, LG, Nokia, and Motorola. Alternatively, if you have an Audiovox, Kyocera, or Siemens phone or you don't need so many connectors, Susteen sells individual data kits for $59.95 each. Installing the software via the CD was mostly easy. We were guided through an informative step-by-step process, but the software couldn't identify our phone automatically. For some reason, the S710a is one of few phones that you have to set up manually--not a huge deal but worth mentioning.
Once we were up and running, we were pleased with the interface. The main menu is designed to resemble an image of a generic cell phone. Each of the buttons on the graphical keypad activates a different function, with the name of the function appearing on the phone's "display." Also, you can open the user guide, look for software updates, and exit the device from the main menu. A big bonus was that DataPilot, unlike Handset Manager, lets you keep two functions open at the same time.
The phone book feature allows you to download contacts from your mobile to your computer. You can then edit them or store them for safekeeping. Editing current contacts or creating new entries was much easier with a computer keyboard than with a phone keypad, but we ran into a snag when we tried to upload contacts back to our cell phone. While there's an option for uploading or downloading selected contacts only, we weren't able to use it with the S710a. As a result, we had to transfer all our contacts back and forth on each try, which took time. That's not a problem in itself, but since a phone book upload automatically overwrites any data on your phone, you'll need to be careful you don't erase anything permanently. On the upside, DataPilot can interface with Outlook, Outlook Express, and Palm Desktop.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to use the text-messaging feature, which allows you to compose, send, and edit text messages on your computer. This would have been hugely useful, but about half of all DataPilot-supported phones are not compatible with the feature, and the S710a is among them. In short, it's a definite minus. We were able to use the calendar function, though, and we liked being able to create and edit calendar entries on the computer, then sync them to the phone.
Though it may sound all business, DataPilot allows you to have some fun. You can download phone pictures to your computer and back again or upload new photos to your phone for use as wallpaper. If you have Bluetooth or an infrared port on your phone, DataPilot gives you a great way to get pictures off your phone without paying for your carrier's data service, but not all phones are compatible. DataPilot also offers a rudimentary photo editor for personalizing your shots. Be advised, though, that you have to first transfer a picture to your computer before you can open it in the editor. Also, you can't transfer videos (unlike with Handset Manager), and the software was unable to detect some photos on our phone.
DataPilot lets you compose your own ring tones on the software using an attractive piano keyboard interface. You can choose from a number of instrument sounds or noise effects. You can also edit music files on your computer and edit them as you wish. The only limitation is that a phone's included ring tones can't be transferred in any way.
A final feature was modem capability. If you're ever without an Internet connection, your cell phone can act as a modem with the help of the software. To do this, you'll need your ISP information (this varies from mobile to mobile, so contact your provider for details) and a data plan from your carrier. Additionally, data speeds vary from carrier to carrier, and any minutes you spend online will be deducted from your monthly plan.