Group Review: Nokia’s Mail for Exchange v Dataviz’s Roadsync

Push E-mail Comparison

For S60 users there’s been two choices for some time over how to get push e-mail and synchronise natively over-the-air with an Exchange (or Zimbra!) server using the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol (as opposed to adding a third-party application as Blackberry or Good Mobile Messaging does). Dataviz’s Roadsync product was first to the market, but costs, and Nokia’s home-grown Mail for Exchange product which was added more recently, was free, but initially more feature-limited. After more-recent releases of Mail for Exchange added a number of key enterprise features and meeting invite functionality a number of commentators suggested Roadsync may not have much of a future. I’ve been testing them both in daily use for the last 9 months and these are my thoughts…

Product capability

Both products offer push e-mail with calendar and contacts sync to an Exchange server. Meeting invites are also supported by both products so they can be responded to from the phone. Only Mail For Exchange offers task syncing, but Nokia’s standard calendar application displays these either mixed in with the standard calendar view or in a single inflexible list making the use of this data less than convenient.

Screenshot0001

Roadsync allows all mail folders (either root or sub-folders of the inbox) to be synchronised and also allows messages to be moved between them [see right]. Mail for Exchange only allows access to the Inbox and does not allow messages to be moved.

Both products support the Exchange administration function ‘remote wipe’ in case of loss or theft, but only Mail for Exchange enforces the handset lock feature requiring an unlock code to be entered and performing a wipe if it is repeatedly entered incorrectly.

Both product also support access to the Exchange Global Address List although Roadsync’s approach provides a slightly better presentation.

Roadsync is the only product to support any Exchange 2007 features such as e-mail flags, online searching, UNC file share access and faster message retrieval, but I was unable to test this as I didn’t have access to an Exchange 2007 server.

Both product support N and E-series devices from Nokia, but Roadsync supports all of both ranges (plus some S60 3rd edition FP1 devices and some non-Nokia devices such as the new Samsung SGH-i520) whilst N-series support from Mail for Exchange is limited to more recent models.

Winner: Close, but Roadsync just. It has more features and differentiates in other areas through better interface. Administrator control of handset lock is likely to be a significant concern to enterprise users though.

Program status screens

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[L: Roadsync, R: Mail For Exchange]

Mail for Exchange presents information on the sync mode in use, status, last sync and what is being synced. Roadsync just displays the last sync time (the other information is available from the ‘Options’ menu).

Winner: Mail for Exchange

Settings and configuration options

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[L: Roadsync, R: Mail For Exchange]

Connection settings for the two applications are virtually indistinguishable.

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[L: Roadsync, R: Mail For Exchange]

Synchronisation control is also identical, allowing separate peak and off-peak settings.

Winner: Neither – near identical controls

Mail reading and writing

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[Top Left: Mail For Exchange, Others: Roadsync]

Roadsync offers three viewing sizes and compresses message details into less screen space than Mail for Exchange which only offers one text size. As can be seen the smallest Roadsync font is still easily readable but requires much less scrolling.

Winner: Roadsync

Pricing

Roadsync is US$50 (around £25 at the time of writing) per device. Mail for Exchange is free.

Winner: Mail for Exchange

Stability and reliability

Roadsync is rock solid – over more than 6 months of use I never experienced a crash or an error. Mail for Exchange crashed several times over 3 months use and occasionally refused to send messages giving a ‘try later’ message that required a phone restart to work. It also interfered with Three’s Mobile Mail application causing the read/unread status of messages not to be updated correctly if they were changed remotely.

Winner: Roadsync

Overall

It’s a close call, but my choice is Roadsync – it’s a more reliable product that is marginally more functional in a few key areas that make a big difference to the user experience and speed of use. The cost is reasonable for a mature product that receives free updates regularly and new features, in the majority, are added before Mail for Exchange…. You get what you pay for.

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Screenshot iconMuch kudos to Anthony Pranata who’s free Screenshot application made this (and many more) reviews possible. This would be my recommendation for an ‘application of the week’ to the committee!

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17 Responses to Group Review: Nokia’s Mail for Exchange v Dataviz’s Roadsync

  1. Jeb February 4, 2008 at 5:21 am #

    Ben, funny you published this the same week that I just tried Mail for Exchange. I removed it within 48 hours but at least I tried it.

  2. Ben Smith February 4, 2008 at 9:01 am #

    @Jeb: What were the problems you found?

  3. Benni February 4, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Nice review – but I have different opinions on this. I too have used RS for 9 months before M4E version 2 came onboard (and then I jumped ship so quickly)..

    Memory usage:

    Roadsync is a sucker for memory in comparison to M4E. I did some tests with the older firmware and its like 4 MB for RS and 2 MB for M4E.
    Every MB counts so that you dont get the “out of memory errors”. This means that with RS, you are only limited to running Opera Mini and cannot use the built in Web browser without causing issues. This also means daily reboots to get your memory back before you can run apps such as Video or Camera.

    Stability issues:

    Roadsync runs as a foreground application that is constantly getting refreshed into memory even if you close it. It comes back on every 2 minutes or so. The problem with foreground apps is that it has the lowest priority (for memory usage) and will close when the phone runs out of memory. Try opening some JScript intensive Webpages and you will see that it will try and close Roadsync. Since it constantly tries to reload, it will crash and cause MASSIVE page faults.

    Database Errors:

    In my 9 months of RS usage (with the latest versions), one of the biggest issues is database corruptions. This happens when there are problems with the memory and corrupts the database. The Roadsync icon in messages turn into a question mark and will not run at all. In this case, I had to uninstall the product, reinstall and resync everything. This has happened to me 4 times in 9 months I have used it.

    Connection errors:

    RS will once in a while stop connecting to our E2k3 server. In this instance, I have had to delete the account and start from scratch.

    As far as I can see, the only advantage of RS versus M4E is the ability to sync sub folders other than the main one (handy for those people who put server based sorting rules. The old advantages such as GAL lookups, Task synchronisations etc are now included from V2 onwards. RS also does not support the new enhanced features of E2K7 including the security features of Remote Wipe (whereas M4E 2.x onwards does).

    Yes, the earlier versions of M4E (1.x) absolutely sucked.. and lacked so many features.. but 2.x just blew everything away hands down.

    There are plenty more to say.. but these are the main points that I have tested

    (BTW. I manage a fleet of 300+ mobiles in our very large corporate network of roughly 50-50 split between WM05 and S60-3ed so these are the experiences we have come across when we implemented this 2 years ago).

  4. Paddy February 4, 2008 at 1:02 pm #

    Ben, I believe OTA data usage is another big difference but unfortunately have no figures – I don’t suppose you observed any difference in the amount of data used by each app when maintaining connections?

  5. JS February 4, 2008 at 1:03 pm #

    Hey Ben, Do you know whether roadsync lets you use access point groups or not? I big feature missing from MFE in my opinion…

  6. Antoine of MMM February 4, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    You might want to have also added Emoze to this compairson; it offers a featureset right in the middle of M4E adn RoadSync, and is free as well. I’ve been using this on my N75 and have been happy with it (though if the latest M4E was supported on the N75, I would have used it instead).

  7. Jason February 4, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    “Roadsync is US$50…”

    Actually RoadSync is on sale until the end of Feb. for US$29.99!

  8. Stanley February 4, 2008 at 5:36 pm #

    Ben, what about Openhand (www.openhand-mobile.com). Have you tried that? Could you do another comparison?

  9. Jeb February 4, 2008 at 7:29 pm #

    Ben, I found my 2 biggest problems were
    1. Lack of the ability to mark “all read” at once. I don’t need to read email from some places.
    2. Lack of access point groups use like JS mentioned. I hate using data while I’m at the office where wifi is available. It also stops checking email when a call comes in.

    I think I need to use M4E with my regular email not the free Mail2Web exchange but just testing it for the short time I did I really didn’t like those 2 things.

  10. Ben Smith February 4, 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    What a bad afternoon to step away from a keyboard!

    @Jason: So it is – I hadn’t noticed! Even better value!

    @Stanley: No, to be honest I’d never heard of Openhand, but it appears to require it’s own server. The aim of peice was to review the native Activesync clients, although perhaps a wider look at this should be next!

    @JS: Yes, connection groups work well with Roadsync.

    @Antoine: I’ll certainly take a look in future, but I did discounted it for this purpose as, although it doesn’t need a dedicated server, it does need to run on a desktop computer continuously.

    @Paddy: Roadsync did feel hungrier for data so this may be a consideration, but it doesn’t seem like a fair comparison as it is syncing so many more folders. To be honest it will vary on usage (stating the obvious!!!) so I’ve always opted for an unlimited tariff to avoid the headache. I’m not sure you’ll be able to buy much else soon…

    @Benni: Thanks for the comments – really useful stuff, but I’m surprised your experience differs so much. It’s not a precise science, I’ll admit, but on running or removing Roadsync I never see a difference of more than about 1.5Mb to 2 Mb phone memory, but the E61 is fairly well blessed in that department so the impact for others may be greater. Per the article I do get the odd ‘out of memory’ issue from time to time, but very rarely and I’ve never had cause to attribute it to any one app. As it sits on my desk now, my phone’s been on and happy for at least 5 days running Roadsync and it still has half the memory free. Reliability-wise, I’ve never had a data corruption on either although MFE gave up first when I ran another client alongside. At least the S60 crowd has a choice… I do feel sorry for all those people stuck on WinMob 🙂 *ducks*

  11. David Travers February 5, 2008 at 12:28 am #

    Mail for Exchange also works with Kerio Email Server which our company uses.

    It works well on my N95 8GB

    I tried Roadsync but found it crashed a bit too often for my liking.

  12. Oystein February 12, 2008 at 4:41 pm #

    My purpose of testing is to get users away from Blackberry, getting away from middle server for email sync. Therefore no point testing the other Nokia mail options requiring a server between Exchange and phone.

    Nokia has a good name when comes to phones as all users do have Nokia as the phone device and Blackberry as mail device, so would be an easy transaction to interface of Nokia.

    Some users are on WM5, but so far the battery life has been biggest issue on these devices.

    After testing Nokia’s two Exchange ActiveSync applications, RoadSync and M4E, I do believe they have a long way to go before useful for corporate users compared WM5 Exchange integration.

    One thing is testing on Nokia N95 8GB, which does not support AP Groups.
    To cut telecharges, you would use your home WiFi, and when in the office, most likely a corporate access point. To make this work, you have to adjust the setting in MFE, or even have to reset the setting in RoadSync everytime you want to sync after changing location, which is not at all practical.
    Problem is if you don’t change the AP, the application logs does not indicate why it fails.
    Endusers would call you every night for support…

    Setting up a POP3 or iMap mail on the phone will at least give you the option to choose network everytime you manually choose to sync. Why isnt’t this an option when using M4E or RoadSync?

    WM5 is able to change the access point, and if not available us the mobile network.
    Without testing, I assume this is supported in Nokia e-series with Access Point Groups.

    Further working with subfolders is hopeless in these applications. M4E does not sync subfolders as all.
    RoadSync will sync the subfolders, but after sync is done, it does not indicate which folder actually received new mail, forcing you to open each subfolder to look for potensial new mails. Not good.

    WM5 shows what folder received new mails, and how many unread mails in subfolder.

    M4E can bring up a popup if new mails,
    RoadSYnc not. Again after sync you have to guess if new mails or not.
    WM5 is half the way here, as only popup if new mail in Inbox.

    Browsing mails is also incredible slow in M4E and RoadSync compared to WM5.
    Assume this has to be Nokia as the same for all mail clients. When opening one mail and selecting to go to next mail, it shows you it closes the mail first, the mail list appears, then the next mails appears

    WM5 goes directly to new mail with no delay.

    So awaiting new generation of M4E and RoadSync before any users will get this as their roaming mail device.

  13. Avatar April 7, 2008 at 6:56 am #

    Well we run 5 E61i devices using Roadsync and we do occasionally get out of memory errors on one of the phones.

    We tried M4E and it wouldn’t work when coming in through our internet, it worked fine when using a wireless access point on the corporate LAN but as soon as it goes through our internet gateway to access it it won’t connect (may be something to do with our mail server being through a Network Address Translation). I was hoping to use M4E originally but when Roadsync did it with no problems I gave up on it.

    I have had one person get an error where it wouldn’t sync (Roadsync said syncfailed), this issue was sorted by getting the user to remove their credentials and placing any rubbish in the username and password, (roadsync resets itself) and then re-enter their correct credentials, I’ve never had to delete someone’s account that sounds insane. Also I’ve never had any messages become corrupted with questions marks for icons as detailed above, though I suspect this issue would be fixed by a simple clearing of credentials also.
    I suspect this issue is caused by the phone being hard powered off (ie removing the battery) whilst in the middle of a sync.

    We also get the occasional message phone startup failed contact retailer which I’m told relates to the sim card (problem ceases after sim card is replaced), problem usually returns after X number of months though, I suspect the E61i phone may damage the simcard.

    The comments above regarding the phone not locking down fully I think are perhaps a little over the top, the phone can be locked down simply via a two step process 1. send the kill command which will erase the phone’s mail contents. 2. send the predefined kill command via an sms to the handset. That being said I’d be getting the telecomms provider to block the simcard before I went trying to kill the phone myself. The handset cost is nothing compared with the bill someone could rack up using a stolen simcard.

  14. Net Framework Development September 8, 2008 at 6:55 am #

    Very nice explanation… thanks for sharing…

  15. tom houghton February 22, 2009 at 11:25 am #

    i think it is a real shame that nokia lets itself down in providing an application such as mail for exchange in its flagship business devices that is quite simply not up to it. Blackberry, or Windows based devices all have significantly better reliability and functionality. Unfortunately Roadsync doesn't completely get them off the hook either, firstly as it costs, but secondly as it still doesnt deliver. Come on Nokia – get working on improvements beyond 2.7.22 and sort out your myriad 'known issues'. PLEASE!!!

  16. hr March 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm #

    any new reviews of these 2 softwares ? Thanks

  17. hr March 2, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    any new reviews of these 2 softwares ? Thanks

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