Smartphones Now: Five simple Windows Mobile tricks

winmoThe tricks contained within this post probably aren’t going to be revolutionary to most seasoned Windows Mobile users but if there’s one thing I can’t stand about the operating system, it’s how many steps and/or the amount of extra software it takes to do simple things sometimes. Here are five tricks that don’t require any extra software and should each take under a minute to perform. Feel free to leave any of your own dead-simple tricks in the comments below. 

Speeding things up

Some people are unaware that when you close a program in Windows Mobile, the program doesn’t actually close. It stays open and running in the background so that, just in case you need to use it later, it’ll be all ready to go for you. Well, get too many programs running in the background and guess what happens? Your phone slows down. Here’s how to close one or more running programs, which will in turn speed up your phone.

1. Click Start > Settings > System tab > Memory > Running Programs tab

2. Choose the program you’d like to close completely and click Stop. I generally close all programs except the one I’m using.

You can also shut your phone off and power it back up, but that’s no fun and it takes over a minute to do in most cases.

Increasing available storage

You’d be shocked and amazed to discover how much space browsing the web takes up on your device. That’s because Pocket Internet Explorer keeps a cache of temporary Internet files in your system memory in order to cut down on data loading times for sites you frequently visit. I cleared out these temporary files the other day and it freed up a whopping 15-megabytes of space. That’s a lot when you consider that most Windows Mobile phones have well under 100-megabytes of built-in storage.

Here’s how to quickly clear up some space on your device.

1. Open Internet Explorer

2. Tap Menu > Tools > Options > Memory > Clear Temporary Files

Your phone might appear to freeze for a bit, but that’s just because it’s puking up all the garbage that it’s been retaining for so long. It’ll start moving again soon, though.

Working with e-mail

The initial setup of your mail service is beyond the scope of this article but here are some tips for working better with your e-mail once everything’s all set up.

If you have a G-mail account you get a ton of messages every day, change your e-mail address in the E-mail Setup area to, replacing "yourusername" with your actual user name. Adding the "recent:" to the front of your address tells Google to only send messages to your phone from the past 30 days and will, in effect, free up a lot of space and save you a lot of downloading time.

You should have a section of your e-mail setup called something like "Download the following messages" where you can set Windows Mobile Messaging to download e-mail from today only, the past three days, the past month, and so on. There should be another option where you can choose to download the header only, the entire message, or the first 500, 1000, or 5000 bytes.

I find that 500 bytes is too short for some messages and instead opt for the first 1000 bytes. If you choose to display just the header, you’ll have to manually click each e-mail you’d like to read in its entirety and reconnect to your e-mail service to download the full message(s). It’s a big pain most of the time. The first 1000 bytes should give you most or all of each message so that you can either delete or reply without going through a bunch of extra steps. Be careful, though. If you get a lot of large e-mails (with attachments, for instance), it’ll take a while to download even 1000 bytes of each message and it’ll drain your battery much faster than normal.

In the interest of battery life, if you get more than 25 e-mails each day, set this option to Once a day or Never. If you need to constantly check your e-mail, just open up the program and do a manual Send and Receive every time you want to get your new messages. All it takes is one instance where your phone tries to automatically check for messages when you’ve got a weak signal and the amount of time it takes to slowly download everything sucks the life right out of your battery.

Use your phone as a flashlight

This is one of my favorite tricks whenever anybody drops something under a table in a restaurant and it always gets a "of course Doug has a flashlight built into his phone" comment, but it’s ridiculously simple and most people with Windows Mobile devices can do the same thing if your device has a built-in camera and flash.

Simply navigate to your camera program and turn on the flash. It should stay illuminated until you turn it off. On most devices, it’s a focused beam of light instead of an actual flash that illuminates an area at the exact moment that you take a photo. Use this trick sparingly, though. It’s a huge drain on your battery.

Quickly turn various connections on and off

This will be done differently depending on your phone but most devices have a hardware button that you can hold down to quickly access your connection settings. It’s great if you’re getting on a plane, going into a meeting, or just want to conserve some battery life.

On the PPC-6700, for instance, you can hold down the Internet Explorer button to access this feature. On the Motorola Q, you hold down the home button. Check your device’s manual to figure out which button to use on your own phone.

I keep the Bluetooth function of my phone off at all times and I’d suggest you do the same unless you use that feature all the time. It’s a pretty good drain on the battery. Likewise, if your phone has a wireless network connection, you can keep that turned off unless you use a wireless connection in your home or office frequently. On my PPC-6700, I found that my connection to Sprint’s network was fast enough that being connected to my wireless network at home didn’t provide enough extra speed to justify the battery drain. Your mileage may vary, especially depending upon which network you use.

More tips and tricks

Anyone out there have any really simple, quick tricks? There’s a lot of really good device-specific information in’s forums section and other sites like it if you have questions about your particular phone. HowardForums is also a really good resource and there are a lot of sites that cater specifically to one particular phone model. Just search for your phone or a phone you’re thinking of buying and you’ll be able to find plenty of info by real people who use the technology every day.