I’ve been using the E61 for only a short while. I got it Friday evening, so today is my first work day with the device. A few problems have cropped up, which I’m putting up in the interest of either finding workarounds or emerging for future firmware patches. A lot of them seem to be application level issues, or perhaps drivers. The network handling in particular seems a bit suspect.
The access point groups just don’t work out very well because switching networks doesn’t work well. Take the messenger app for example, which seems to have some real drastic issues when used for email. I had configured it to use an access point point group that included my home wifi and the access point for my cellular provider. When I walked out of my apartment this morning and my phone beeped to tell me it lost the connection to the wifi that was fine, I had it configured to notify me of status changes. But when I got to the office half an hour later and it was just continually popping up “messenger error” when I tried to open my Inbox I knew something was up that shouldn’t be. I had to hold down the red hangup key till it specifically closed down the gprs connection completely, and then manually select the access point within messenger, and reconnect. And that was just the start.
I have spotty coverage at work, my packet connection will bounce while walking from one side of the office I work in to the other. The email portion of messenger doesn’t seem to handle this AT ALL. I set up messenger to use just the cellular connection, thinking it was the switching of access types that tripped it up. But for a few hours during the day it did the same thing it did before. Pulled a message or two down for email, and then my inbox was completely inaccessible (SMS inbox as well, messenger would not run at all). Eventually I disabled the email connection and put it in manual update mode, since which it’s been working fine. But given that this device seems to be aimed at the corporate crowd, for whom email is their lifeblood, I just can’t dismiss this poor implementation of basic email functionality. If you’re thinking “Hmm.. I was going to get a blackberry, but this E61 has wifi and should do the same thing” cut that thought off right there. The E61 is not up to snuff yet as far as email goes, full stop.
That said, for me fortunately email is not a deal breaker. I would like to have my emails pinging me and letting me know what’s up, but I have hackerish workarounds that I can use to replicate that kind of function without having the device do it. However, the dodgy WPA support within the wifi stack seems to be a bit more fundamental. It works, I can use the device at home with my WPA configured access point. However I’ve seen a bunch of crashes and odd odd hangs especially when working with a low signal level. Russ says he’s seen nothing of the sort, but is on WEP instead. I tried out using my neighbors unsecured network for a while, and wouldn’t you know, it certainly did behave a lot better. Now, I could switch my network to WEP. But as we all learned with the well documented revelation of encrypted packet replay using ARP packets WEP shouldn’t even provide the illusion of safety any more. This is really more of an issue for me, and is more of a black mark for me than the email issue even. And once again, if being positioned as a device for the corporate warrior this device needs to handle WPA without the slightest hiccup.
I’ve also had a few spurrious reboots when searching for networks. I was curious how using the device on a public network, say an access point at the ubiquitous Starbucks or other local coffee house would be. For the most part things work out fine. Say you’re at Starbucks and are looking for the tmobile hotspot, and you see it there with a signal strength of 95%.. no problem. If however you don’t know exactly what you’re connecting to, the process is frequently experimental. I admit this might be a bit “high tech environment”-centric, but the device does offer an automatic scan and status display for network availability, so I have to assume they’ve considered the use of random network hopping. It’s one of the reasons I wanted a wifi device that was handheld, so I could just hop on any random network if there happens to be one available and try it out.
The problem is, the E61 doesn’t seem to handle non-responses very well. Sometimes it takes trying a few seemingly open networks to find one that works. Maybe they’re doing MAC filtering even though security is off, maybe you picked up a few randomly reflected beacon packets from some AP you can’t really talk to. The 770 handles this great. Scan network and try it, scan again and try, no problem. The E61 however does not seem to like this usage, and I’ve had it spurriously reboot on me a few times when trying to connect to access points. It seems like there’s a low level watchdog timer sitting down in the OS that’s just too tight for the response time of the wifi drivers. It doesn’t feel like something drastically wrong, the OS just seems to get pulled over and the system cycles. When it does come back within time it’s not a problem, but that random reboot, total joykill. Especially if you’re randomly scanning access points cause some crisis just occured and you need to get online to check it out. Waiting through the seemingly infinite boot time is enough to get you to drop the device and pull out a laptop, and right there you’ve pretty much killed the value proposition of the device.
I’m hoping a lot of this stuff can be taken care of in firmware. The messenger problem, definitely, that’s gotta be some software mixup. And any time the operating system falls over and applications fail I always assume that’s a bug and not some fundamental design flaw. Even if it is a design flaw, patch over it so that at least the device doesn’t reboot. Fail, sure. But fail a bit more gracefully. Nothing like a busy work day to bring the honeymoon with your new device to an abrupt halt.