Portfolio Company, SoonR reviewed in PCMag.com

SoonR (beta)

If you want to access your PC files and apps from your phone, now you have some options. SoonR goes further than programs like Avvenu in that it lets you access important PC ap-plications such as Microsoft Outlook and Skype remotely. Rather than simply browsing your PC and retrieving or sharing files, SoonR lets you effectively take part of your PC with you. What’s more, you don’t need a smartphone to do this. All you have to do is access the SoonR Web site through any phone’s browser. There’s no software to install on the phone, just on your PC desktop.

The SoonR client is a 2.49MB download (get it directly from www.soonr.com). I tested it using a Microsoft Windows XP PC and three phones: a Samsung MM-A900 over Sprint’s EV-DO network, a Palm Treo 700wx on the same network, and a Cingular 2125 with Cingular’s EDGE-based data network.

To get started, I installed the PC software client, told it what I wanted to access on my PC (such as photos or Outlook), and clicked the Web link sent to my phone. Without so much as an ounce of further configuration, I could view all my Outlook e-mail (including subfolders) from any of the phones, as well as my contacts and my calendar. When I read new messages on the phone first, it automatically updated my desktop Outlook to mark the messages as read.

This is powerful stuff for a free app. You don’t get push e-mail this way—you always have to click Refresh on the phone to see what new mail you have—but as a quick-and-dirty, live sync tool for Outlook, SoonR is hard to beat.

Viewing photos from the phones was also a snap. With SoonR, it’s easy to navigate to the cor-rect file, and viewing the photos themselves is reasonably fast. SoonR can take a 3-megapixel im-age and compress it to a small thumbnail of around 75KB for your phone’s screen. The result is sharp and colorful, though on occasion it still took about 20 seconds to download even that small a file using EDGE.

SoonR Talk is the third major component. It lets you connect with your Skype contacts, using the Skype application on your PC. I wasn’t expecting much from this part of the application, given how poorly Skype for Pocket PC performed during my review of that program. But it turns out that SoonR delivers even less: All it does is let you access your Skype contacts.

If you want to make a Skype call, click on the appropriate contact from your phone. What happens next is puzzling: SoonR actually calls your phone (yes, the one you’re actually using the SoonR app on). When you pick up the call, it then connects your Skype contact via your PC and transmits the resulting audio conversation to your phone. My Skype test calls were fairly clear, though there was about a 1.5-second delay between what I said and when the other party heard it. The problem with this approach is that you’re still using your phone’s daytime minutes while do-ing this. Even if you have an unlimited data plan, using Skype over SoonR doesn’t save you any money.

Skype aside, SoonR optimizes throughput so that data sent to your phone is compacted be-fore transmission. In theory, this means that you’ll be waiting around less often while using SoonR from your phone. This was borne out on my tests: SoonR felt faster than Avvenu when navigating my PC’s folders using the various phones, even when connected over EDGE. Unfortunately, SoonR’s all-text, WAP phone interface looks like a DOS windowing application from the late 1980s.

To remedy this problem, SoonR also offers a significantly more attractive AJAX interface. But you can access it only through Opera Mobile, a browser most phones don’t have built-in. I tried SoonR’s AJAX interface using Opera Mobile running on a Palm Treo 700wx, but the results weren’t worth the trouble. SoonR performed much more slowly under these circumstances, and getting the interface to recognize the stylus was a hit-or-miss affair. I was able to navigate SoonR reliably only when using the 700wx’s cursor control pad. Still, the AJAX development is en-couraging, and I’d like to see SoonR work on this aspect of the interface further.

Other SoonR features include desktop search integration (such as with Google Desktop Search and Windows Desktop Search), and the ability to access more than one computer. For that to work, you have to install the client on each PC, and then tie them all to the same SoonR account. As far as pricing, SoonR is free to use for now. In the future, the company will offer premium ser-vices that let you create encrypted backups of your data, make international VoIP calls, and even access everything when your main computer is off. That would turn SoonR into more of a genuine mobile messaging and data solution rather than one that’s tethered to your desktop computer.

In the end, SoonR offers some compelling advantages, notably the slick Outlook integration, the easy access to your documents, and the reasonably fast photo viewing. The Skype functional-ity is pretty pointless for now, but if you need to get files while you’re away from your PC, and you don’t mind leaving that PC on all the time, SoonR is tough to beat.