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Enfora GSM/GPRS Compact Flash Card GSM0110— for Pocket PCs and Windows Notebooks
Posted Feb. 26, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Looking for a way to turn your Pocket PC into a phone? Want to surf the web and get email anywhere GPRS cellular service is available? Check out Enfora's CF card which turns Pocket PCs with a CF slot into a phone and wireless data device. There are very few CF cellular cards on the market, and Enfora's card is sure to please. This quad band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) card will work anywhere where GSM service is available, and you'll supply your own SIM to use the card. Unlike many cell phones which are sold and subsidized by carriers, Enfora's card is sold by electronics retailers and is unlocked for use with any carrier. The card offers GPRS class 8 for data but doesn't support EDGE or 3G.

To use the card, you'll need a Pocket PC with a CF slot and an activated SIM card from your wireless carrier. You can use your mobile phone's SIM: simply take it out of your GSM phone and put it in the slot in the CF card. You can also use the card in a Windows notebook and Enfora includes a CF to PCMCIA adapter in the box. The card requires no external power and draws current from the CF or PCMIA slot, as do other network cards. Since celluar wireless network cards have relatively high power requirements, Enfora sells an optional rechargeable 1,000 mAh battery pack which snaps onto the card's head.

The Enfora is a type II CF card, and all Pocket PCs with CF slots other than the long discontinued Jornada line have type II slots. It has a tray on the top face of the card where you'll insert your SIM, and a small swivelable antenna and activity LED on the edge that protrudes 1" from the top of the PDA. Enfora ships the card with a software CD containing software and drivers for Pocket PCs running Pocket PC 2002, Windows Mobile 2003 and Windows Mobile 2003 SE. In addition, they include software and drivers for notebooks running Windows 2000 and Windows XP. The software is made by BVRP who also make the Bluetooth to mobile phone connection software shipped with the HP iPAQ hx4700. We tested the card on a Dell Axim X50v Pocket PC running Windows Mobile 2003 SE, and an Electrovaya Scribbler Tablet PC running Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005.

Enfora GSM card

The optional battery and the Enfora CF card

Enfora card in Axim X50v

The card inserted in the Axim X50v with optional battery attached

Enfora in Dell Pocket PC

 

Reception

We found that the card had middle of the pack RF with the antenna extended: it got 3 bars out of 5 on the signal strength meter on the 1900MHz band using Cingular and T-Mobile. The card was 10 feet away from our 1900MHz cellular repeater where other phones such as the iPAQ 6315, palmOne Treo 650 and the Audiovox SMT5600 get 70% to 90% reception. On the 850MHz band using an AT&T Wireless SIM, the card fared better, though it still got a weaker signal than those phones. If you plan to use the card in areas with good reception, don't worry. Even in poor reception areas, data transfer rates were a tad slower but the card never dropped voice or data calls. The card did get decent data transfer rates with 1 to 2 bars, and voice quality was exceptionally good.

Getting Connected: Pocket PC

Insert the included CD into your PC's CDROM drive and install the Pocket PC software. It will be ActiveSynced to your Pocket PC and you'll be ready to configure your connection settings for voice, data, SMS and more. Be sure to put your SIM in the CF card's tray before inserting the Enfora GSM/GPRS card into your Pocket PC. Then run Pocket Phone Tools from the Programs group to start. The software will walk you through the setup process. It will first attempt to read your SIM and automatically detect your carrier and the appropriate settings for that carrier. Throughout the setup process, you'll see the settings the software has chosen, and you can change them if needed. The process is very user friendly and painless. In many instances you need not even know the correct settings for your carrier as the software has a large database of settings for the major carriers.

In addition to configuring voice services and SMS, including setting the voicemail number and SMS call center number automatically for T-Mobile, Phone Tools knew the right settings to use for GPRS and filled them in for us. It then created a new connection under Settings-> Connections in the Windows Mobile built-in Connection Manager under a new group called pocket Phone Tools.

The app walks you through additional settings for SMS (validity period, message type, transfer messages to Pocket PC from SIM option), Dialer settings (on when app is loaded checkbox, and you can set the ring sound), My Text (10 canned text entries which you can edit), Advanced Settings (log events, re-initialize modem at each connection) and Security (set the SIM's PIN code so only those who know your SIM code can use it). You can revisit these setup items at any time should you need to modify them.

Once you've set up your connection settings, you'll be greeted by the main Phone Tools screen. When first launching the application there will be a few second delay as the program checks your SIM card to ensure that nothing has changed (i.e.: you're using a different SIM card). The app won't do that check again unless you exit the program (not just minimize using the X at upper right to close the app) and re-launch it.

Most of the screen is used for SMS: the top row of icons open up your received and sent SMS mailboxes and your SIM's phonebook. Sent or received SMS messages are listed below, with a pane showing the body of the message that's currently highlighted. The bottom row of icons, which we've labeled in the screen shot on the right, allow you to send an SMS, receive an SMS, open the phone dialer screen and connect via GPRS to the web. You'll see a signal strength meter in the top menu bar when Phone Tools is running (even when minimized), just as you would on a Pocket PC Phone Edition model.

Surfing the Web using GPRS and the Pocket PC

Once you've got your connection set up, you can open a GPRS connection by tapping on the globe symbol at the bottom of the Phone Tools screen or by using the Windows Mobile Connection Manager icon on the top taskbar. BVRP's software will take over and establish the connection and you'll be ready to surf the web, download email, IM and more. The software made a successful connection the first time about 90% of the time. When it failed the first time, it was able to establish a connection the second time. Here in California, T-Mobile and Cingular share the same towers and have been doing some tower migration recently, which understandably sometimes confused the card into thinking we were roaming or had changed carriers when we were not.

Connection speeds over GPRS averaged 35kbit/sec with T-Mobile, a slow GPRS carrier in the US. We tested using the DSL Reports mobile speed test at www.dslreports.com/mspeed with their 50 and 100k tests. 35kbit/sec is average for T-Mobile. Using Cingular we got 46kbit/sec.

Using the Pocket PC as a Phone

Like most cellular cards, the Enfora has a standard 2.5mm headset jack which you'll use for voice conversations. The Pocket PC's built-in speaker and mic are not used in phone mode and phone audio is not routed through the Pocket PC's audio circuitry, so you'll have to use a headset plugged directly into the CF card.

You'll use the dialer screen to make and receive voice calls. The user interface is quite good, and you'll see a window that tells you the current carrier's name, shows phone status and mimics a cell phone LCD screen, displaying numbers as you enter them in the dialer and showing incoming phone numbers. The dialer has large finger-friendly buttons for the on-screen number pad, call send and end buttons, as well as buttons to open Contacts for dialing, speed dial (15 numbers) and call log. There's also a volume control slider and buttons to mute incoming and/or outgoing voice. The dialer screen displays signal strength and battery level at all times.

Voice quality was excellent! Generally these cards are data-centric with voice support added as a secondary feature. But the Phone Tools dialer, contacts integration and large feature set combine with excellent voice quality to make this a viable phone solution if you don't mind using a headset for all calls.

 

screen shot

Above: the setup screen. Below. the main Phone Tools window which you'll see once you've completed setup.

Below: the phone dialer

Using the Card with a Notebook

Nothing beats a card that does dual duty. If you travel with both a notebook and Pocket PC then this card is a real bargain since you'll be able to unwire both devices with a single solution. The card comes with drivers and software for Windows 2000 and Windows XP machines, and a PCMCIA adapter so the card can be inserted into a notebook's PC Card slot. The Enfora card works as a wireless modem on a notebook and offers voices services. As with the Pocket PC, you'll plug a standard mobile phone headset into the jack on the card, since audio isn't routed through the notebook.

Install mobile Phone Tools from the CD, put the CF card in the PCMCIA adapter and insert it into your notebook's PC Card slot (make sure you've put your SIM into the CF card first!). Double-click on the mobile Phone Tools icon on your desktop to get started creating a connection profile. Before connecting over GPRS, you'll create a new connection and enter your carrier's APN name as necessary (i.e.: internet2.voicestream.com for T-Mobile's unlimited VPN data service). To start a new data session and connect over GPRS to the web using your carrier's data service, click on the globe icon in mobile Phone Tools. In about 10 seconds you'll be connected and ready to surf the web and use other Internet based applications such as email and instant messaging.

mobile Phone Tools for PC screen

 

The illustration above shows the mobile Phone Tools screen. The main window acts like a mobile phone's LCD, showing signal strength, roaming status and the phone number you're currently dialing or in conversation with. The Dialer button to the right of this window opens up a standard cell phone dial pad with call send and end buttons. You can enter numbers using your notebook's keyboard or this on-screen dialer. Mobile Phone Tools has buttons along the bottom to establish an Internet connection over GPRS, send an SMS, check email or access your SIM phone book. The SMS functionality is very good and should please heavy texters.

The application was fast and reliable and the driver software is robust: connections were fast, voice calls worked flawlessly as did text messaging. Data throughput will vary by carrier and signal strength, and we got about 40kbit/sec using T-Mobile's GPRS service. If the card had EDGE, it would really shine in notebook applications since PC applications use more bandwidth than mobile phone or even PDA apps, and EDGE is twice as fast as standard GPRS — perhaps in a future version of the card!

Conclusion

GSM/GPRS CF cards are few and far between, but the Enfora solution is top notch. Good software for both Pocket PCs and Windows notebooks make this a cost-effective solution for road warriors. Connections are reliable, the software is intuitive and has many features including SMS, SIM phone book management and voice dialers. If you intend to use this with a Pocket PC for hours on end, do consider the optional battery pack, or get a second battery for your PDA. While you won't be getting anything like broadband speeds with a GPRS card, you will have service almost anywhere you travel and this is one of the few solutions that can turn your Pocket PC into a phone.

Pro: Reliable and full-featured software. Handles voice and data well, and has a nice SMS application. One solution for both Pocket PC and notebook. Unlocked for use with any carrier's SIM. Quad band for use anywhere GSM service is available. It can turn your Pocket PC into a phone!

Con: No EDGE for higher speed data. Documentation is skimpy.

In the Box:
GSM/GPRS card (GSM0110): CF card, PCMCIA adapter, software CD with brief PDF manuals covering Pocket PC and Windows software installation and use.

Compact Flash Modem Battery (sold separately): battery pack, world charger with 3 interchangeable prongs.

 

Web site: www.enfora.com

List Price: $229 for CF card.
Optional Lithium Ion battery pack available for separate purchase (two versions available: 550 mA and 1,000 mA).

 

 

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