SoonR is hardly new but I never really looked at it until now. A demo at Mobile 2.0 opened my eyes to what SoonR can do. It’s a unique application and web service that uses your mobile browser to really extend your phone’s capabilities in may ways, not the least of which is making cheap International calls using Skype and accessing your PC’s files and Outlook.
After you sign up for the free service, and install a small application on your Windows or Macintosh PC you can use any mobile browser to connect to www.soonr.com/mobile and:
- Use Microsoft Outlook. SoonR lets you read the e-mail in your Inbox, answer and create e-mails, view you address book and make phone calls to your contacts. You can also view, create and delete your Calendar events.
- Access files on the PC. You can browse the PC’s directory tree from your phone with a Windows Explorer-like GUI. Files can be viewed, downloaded to the mobile or emailed to any address. File viewing works best with file types your phone browser natively supports – which for most phones is just text, html and images like .jpg, .gif and .png. SoonR does do limited file conversion – it can convert Word documents to text or PDF and Excel to PDF. You can also view .jpg or PDF previews of also sorts of files like Powerpoint, Photoshop, Visio, TIFF and Framemaker. Unless your phone can view PDF’s this feature is mainly useful for verifying that you have the right file before using SoonR to email it to someone – a 176×220 jpg of document is much too small to be readable. A slide show function that lets you click through all the images in a directory – just the thing for when you want to show off vacation or family pictures.
- Search your PC. If you have Yahoo, Google, Microsoft or X1 desktop search installed you can use it to search for files, e-mails IM’s, etc on the PC. Items found by the search can be viewed or downloaded to the phone like any other file.
- Make Skype Calls. You can make a call by entering a Skype number into a web form or by picking a Skype contact from SoonR’s address book. SoonR calls your party from the PC and completes the connection by initiating a Skype-Out call from your PC to your mobile phone. This means really cheap international calls. Instead of paying your carrier $1/minute or so you are only using cellular minutes plus the SkypeOut charge. Until 2007, SkypeOut is free between two US numbers – which means you can make calls to any Skype number in the world for the cost of a domestic cell call. Calling a landline or mobile adds the cost of another SkypeOut call – 2 cents a minute to many countries.
- Send SMS. – you can send 20 text messages a day for free. A nice touch is that you can define groups and send a SMS to a group of contacts.
SoonR also has a PC Browser interface at www.soonr.com that lets you do all of the above from a remote PC. There’s also a Yahoo Messenger interface. By sending an IM to the SoonR bot you can do things like emailing a file or sharing a folder with another SoonR user.
I’m impressed with SoonR. It’s very mature for a beta. Everything, file viewing, texting, desktop search, and even the Skype integration worked right the first time. The Skype piece is particularly slick, you just enter the number into SoonR in the mobile browser, and a couple of seconds latter your phone rings and you are connected.
The mobile side of SoonR is completely browser based so there are no Java configuration and incompatibility issues to worry about. Which also means that SoonR works with Verizon, Alltel and other BREW carriers.
As nice as SoonR is, there are a few additional things that I wish it did:
- Usability of the mobile pages is pretty good but would benefit from accesskeys, especially in the e-mail screens were it takes too many key presses to do a simple task like deleting the current e-mail and moving to the next. There are accesskeys in SoonR’s Skype pages, so hopefully they will be implemented on the rest of the site.
- The speed of retrieving and deleting Outlook e-mail could be better. My standard test of deleting the current e-mail and retrieving the next took an average of 20 seconds, about as fast as Yahoo or Windows Live mobile web e-mail but twice as long Gmail’s. My PC is a P4 with DSL running Outlook 2003 so I don’t think it’s the bottleneck.
- Page size in the directory listings can be a problem. It’s easy to have hundreds of files in a directory that you are sharing with SoonR. SoonR lists the entire directory as a single mobile page. Mobile browsers don’t take kindly to pages with a hundred or more links. I’m surprised that SoonR doesn’t break these long listings up as it does paginate desktop search results and resize images.
- I wish SoonR allowed viewing PDF’s as text like you can in Gmail. SoonR does let you preview PDF’s as a jpg image but the text is too small to read.
- I’d like to be able to create small notes on the phone synchronize them with Outlook’s Notes. I can compose an e-mail and send it to myself but that’s so kludgy – using the notes facility in Outlook would a lot more elegant.
- Support for other e-mail applications and PIM’s like Thunderbird, Act!, Notes and Outlook Express would be nice too.
As it stands, SoonR has become an indispensable part of my mobile use. It gives me easy mobile access to my Outlook Contacts, Calendar and e-mail, cheap international calling, free SMS sending and a great way to share my photo album. I recommend that you give it a try. I’ve added SoonR to the Yeswap.com mobile portal under Mail-SMS-IM-IRC
Ratings: Content: Usability: