With all the buzz about Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7, there’s one group that may feel left in the cold: those with older Windows Mobile 6.x devices.  Here’s some ways you can keep your now-obsolete device a little more viable and useful today.

Windows Mobile devices can’t do as much as many newer smartphones, but with some software updates and new apps, you’ll find that there’s still some life in your device.  Let’s look at how you can update your OS, add some modern apps like the Opera Mini browser and Evernote, and even use your phone as a MiFi replacement.

Image by OndraSoukup

Update to the Latest Windows Mobile with a Custom ROM

One of the first things you can do to keep your Windows Mobile device doing as much as it can is to update to the latest OS rom.  Your device may already have an updated rom available from your OEM or carrier that you can install; check your phone manufacturer’s site to see if one’s available.

Alternately, you can often find custom built roms with newer versions of Windows Mobile than your OEM offers online at XDA Forums.  Do note that installing 3rd party roms may void your warranty, but if you’ve got an aging device that’s already out of warranty, that’s not a concern anyhow.

Left, stock HP iPAQ 210 image from HP.  Right, Windows Mobile 6.5 custom rom on an HP iPAQ — courtesy XDA forums

XDA forums includes roms and other apps for tons of devices, including ancient Windows Mobile POS devices and newer Android powered tablets.  To find the info about your device, search for it on the top right search box, or browse by manufacturer from the menu.

Installing a new rom can be somewhat difficult, but generally you’ll have to connect your phone to your computer, run the rom setup, and wait while it flashes your device.  You’ll then need to setup your personalized settings and sometimes install extra apps to improve stability or add regional customization.  Once this is done, you’ll be ready to use the latest version of Windows Mobile on your device.

Rom Update Utility screen from HTC Support

Find Roms and more for your phone on XDA Forums

Install Android on Your WinMo Device

Wish you could just switch to an Android device without all the fuss of trying to modernize Windows Mobile?  Amazingly, there’s ports of Android available for many of the most popular Windows Mobile devices!

These won’t run as good on your phone as they would on a new Android device, and may not even let you use all of your hardware features or the Android Marketplace, but they still might be more fun to play with than an old version of Windows Mobile.

If you haven’t already tried out Android on your old phone, be sure to check out Justin’s informative article about Running Android on Your Windows Mobile Phone.


Get a Modern Browser

Most of the time, a full-featured mobile browser is the main app needed on a smartphone.  IE Mobile is hardly a competent browser in older versions of Windows Mobile, but thankfully Opera Mobile 10 fills in the gap.

Opera Mobile brings tabbed browsing and modern HTML support to a wide variety of devices, and even supports Flash videos on some phones.  It even makes it faster to browse the web with Turbo mode, which compresses the sites you visit on Opera’s servers so your phone won’t have to download as much data.  This lets you have a browsing experience nearly as good as Safari Mobile or Android’s browser without buying a new phone.

Download Opera Mobile or Mini for your phone

Install Some of the Most Popular Apps

Your phone doesn’t have to be left out of the app craze.  There’s quite a few apps on Windows Mobile that can help you keep somewhat up to date.  Windows Mobile includes email and calendar apps with Exchange support out of the box, as well as basic Office apps that are decent for minor edits or making a basic spreadsheet on the go.  You can even use Word Mobile as a lite eBook reader with free .txt formatted eBooks from Project Guttenberg.  For everything else, here’s some of the top apps available:

We’re big fans of Evernote, the popular notetaking tool that lets you keep up with everything you find on the go, online, or on your PC.  Evernote even works on Windows Mobile phones, so you can snap pictures and jot down notes from anywhere and view them on your computer.  The Evernote app doesn’t let you save notes offline like the iPhone app does, but it works great otherwise.  This is the app I’ve used the most on my T-Mobile Dash over the years.

Download Evernote for Windows Mobile

If you can’t stay away from Facebook, you don’t have to get a new phone to stay connected.  The Facebook app for Windows Mobile lets you view your wall, comment on posts, upload pictures, videos, and status updates, and quickly see your friends’ contact info.  It’s not as full featured as the Facebook iPhone and Android apps, but it gets the job done.

Download Facebook for Windows Mobile

It seems like half the apps in the iOS App Store are Twitter apps, so any phone that has a browser that can access m.twitter.com can’t be missing out on too much.  Sometimes, though, it is nicer to access Twitter directly through an app so you can easily reply, retweet, and even read tweets offline.  PockeTwit is one of the best Twitter apps for Windows Mobile devices, and it supports all the major Twitter features including URL shortening and photo uploading through popular photo sharing services.

Download PockeTwit for free

Windows Phone Marketplace
There are actually a wide number of apps available for Windows Mobile, but most of them are uninteresting, overpriced, poorly designed, or a combination thereof.  If you’d like to search for more, though, you can check out the ones available in the Windows Phone Marketplace.  Most of these apps are newer, and you’ll find some that may spark your interest such as the Netflix app, Shazam, or AP Mobile News.

Browse the Windows Phone Marketplace or Install it on your Device

Find Unique Uses for Your Device

There’s some other ways you can put your Windows Mobile device to use.  If you’ve got a data package on your device, you can use your phone as a wireless broadband doggle for free.  The included Internet Connection Sharing app lets you share your mobile internet connection with a computer over a USB cable or Bluetooth connection.  You’ll usually find this app under Start –> All Programs –> Accessories.  Some carriers remove this app on devices they sell, but if you’ve installed a newer rom as above, you should have it available.

Just run the app, select the network to use, connect your phone to your computer, and moments later you’ll be surfing on your computer via your phone.  If you have a newer smartphone that doesn’t allow internet connection sharing, this might be a good reason to keep your older Windows phone around.

You can also share your internet connection over WiFi with WMWifiRouter.  It lets you create a virtual hotspot so any device nearby can connect to the internet through your phone.  This app costs $19.99 (free) but if you’re considering purchasing a MiFi and have an older Windows Mobile device laying around, this might be a great alternative that can save you some money.

Use it as a Paperweight

Alternately, you could do what most people suggest … use your phone as a paperweight or doorstop.  It’ll look at least a little more up to date than that wooden block that you’re currently using for a doorstop!


Just Give In and Get a New Phone

If you’ve struggled with your Windows Mobile device for years and want to have a more modern smartphone experience, unfortunately all of these tips are only going to get you minor improvements.  It just might be time for you to get a new phone.  In our team, we’ve got Android, iOS, and webOS fans … none of us have a Windows Phone 7 yet, but it’s worth considering as a promising modern smartphone option.  You could even purchase an iPod Touch as a halfway upgrade if you want a newer smartphone but can’t afford a new contract.  I currently use a T-Mobile Dash as my phone, but have been using a 3rd gen iPod Touch for everything else.

Each of these more modern platforms will run better and let you do much more than your older Windows Mobile device ever did.  Actually, you’ll likely be surprised how much better your smartphone experience is on a newer device.  If this isn’t something you can do, though, we hope these tips will help you get the most life out of your existing quasi-smartphone.

Do you have any other great ideas for keeping a Windows Mobile 6.x device alive and kicking, or should we just call them dead already?  Let us know in the comments below!

Matthew Guay
Matthew Guay is a veteran app reviewer and technology tip writer. His work has appeared on Zapier's blog, AppStorm, Envato Tuts+, and his own blog, Techinch.
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