December 8, 2005

Managing your mobile phone with floAt's Mobile Agent

Author: Dmitri Popov

The modern mobile phone is a powerful device that you can use to store contacts, manage calendars, check email, and even browse the Web. But that's not all: install floAt's Mobile Agent (FMA) on your laptop or PC, connect it to your handset, and you can use the combo as a versatile communication tool. This article introduces you to FMA's features and shows you how to get started with the application.

Note that the current version of FMA officially supports Sony Ericsson mobile phones only. Unofficially, however, it does work with other brands as well. Supported features may vary depending on your particular handset model. FMA is currently available for Windows only, but the developers are considering porting it to Linux as well.

Getting started with FMA

First off, grab the latest version of FMA and install it on your machine. Connect your mobile phone to your computer using either IrDA, a serial cable, or Bluetooth, and create a link between FMA and the handset. Prior to version 2.1, creating a link between FMA and a mobile phone was a bit tricky. Luckily, the latest release of FMA includes a wizard that walks you through the procedure. To start the wizard, launch FMA and choose Phone -> Getting Started. Tick the "My device is set up and ready to be found" check box and press Search. Once the search is completed, select your handset from the list of devices. Give your phone a friendly name, and you are done. Press the Toggle Connect/Disconnect button to establish a connection between FMA and your handset.

To configure what data FMA should synchronize on startup, choose Tools -> Options -> General, and tick the appropriate check boxes. Keep in mind that enabling too many options will result in longer startup time. You might want to leave the available options unticked, and synchronize the data on demand.

FMA's interface consists of two windows: the Phone Explorer and the Main window. The contents of the Main window depend on what item is selected in the Phone Explorer. On startup, FMA selects the "root" folder in the Phone Explorer and displays the Today screen in the Main window. The Today screen is a default starting point that contains essential information about your handset and provides shortcuts to frequently used functions. Using the shortcuts, you can create a message, call a number in the list of recent calls, or add a new address book entry. The Today screen also provides useful technical information about your phone, including the battery status and charge count and phone temperature, serial number, and software revision.

The Phone Explorer shows the contents of your handset in a tree-like structure, where all items are grouped into sections. The Text Messages section allows you view, forward, delete, and archive messages, as well as reply to them. FMA also offers some clever features, such as the ability to create Favorites groups that can be used to send a message to multiple recipients simultaneously. You can also use FMA to create message templates and exchange messages in the chat mode. Using the Export messages command under Tools -> Import/Export Selected, you can export the selected messages from FMA into a CSV file. This can come in handy when you want to archive messages on your computer. You can also import messages from a CSV file into FMA, which may come in handy when you upgrade phones.

The Contacts section give you access to the contacts stored in the handset's memory and on the SIM card. Using FMA, you can add and edit contacts, and then synchronize new entries and changes with the phone's address book. Moreover, FMA allows you to synchronize contacts in Outlook. Similar to the Messages section, the Import/Export contacts feature allows you to import and export contacts using CVS files.

The Calls section contains your phone's call lists grouped by incoming, outgoing, and missed calls. You can call a number from the list, send the caller a message, and save numbers in the phone book.

The Files section lists the phone's file folders: Pictures, Sounds, Themes. FMA allows you to upload new themes, sounds, and pictures to the mobile phone as well as download files from it to your computer.

The Profiles section contains a list of available profiles. You can use FMA to switch between different profiles and edit each of them directly in the application. Finally, the Organizer section gives you access to the handset's bookmarks and calendar. FMA's simple yet functional calendar allows you to enter appointments and to-dos and synchronize them with the phone.

FMA's advanced features

FMA has a number of advanced features as well. For example, FMA allows you to use your laptop to manage incoming and outgoing calls. When you receive a call, a new window containing info about the caller pops up on your screen. You can accept or reject the call, but here is the clever bit: if your Bluetooth software supports the Audio Gateway feature, you can use your computer's microphone and speaker (or a dedicated headset) instead of the phone. Better yet, you can record the conversation for future reference.

FMA also allows you to synchronize the phone's clock, control the phone's camera to take pictures remotely (provided your handset has a camera), and turn the phone off. Basically, you can manage your handset without even taking it out of your pocket.

With FMA you can manage virtually every aspect of your mobile phone, but that's not all. You can actually use your mobile phone to control your laptop or PC via FMA. When you connect FMA to your mobile phone, the phone displays a list of different scripts, such as BramusICQ, iTunes, and Mouse. (If it doesn't, go to Connectivity -> Accessories -> FMA.) Using these scripts you can use your mobile phone as a remote control for applications such as iTunes, Windows Media Player, and VLC media player. There are also a couple of scripts that allow you to do even more impressive stuff. You can use the FileExplorer script to browse through files on your computer and open them from the phone. The Mouse script allows you to control the cursor -- effectively turning your mobile phone into a pointing device.


FMA can be a killer application for your mobile phone: it's simple to use, it's open source, it has some nifty features, and it adds serious value to your already capable handset. The only fly in the ointment is the limited support of mobile phones outside of the Sony Ericsson line. Let's hope that the next version of the software will work with a broader range of handsets.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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