Worried about putting private data into the cloud? There are lots of other ways of syncing to your phone.
$50Synchronising a smartphone with something or somewhere else is pretty much de rigeur now. Yes, you can still run one standalone, just as some people still use paper diaries, but if your smartphone doesn’t put into your pocket everything that is already in your desktop personal information manager - your contacts, appointments, tasks etc. - then it isn’t actually being very smart.
The problem is that whichever phone you choose, whether it be an iPhone, Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Android, it will have its own preferred ecosystem. Sure, you can usually go outside that, for example to link your Apple or Microsoft Lumia device to Google Calendar, or your Android to Outlook.com, say, but all too often the native equivalent is better supported.
More importantly, all these platforms are now cloud-based and expect you to sync your mobile devices with a data store nebulously located somewhere out on the Internet, governed by who-knows-what privacy regulations. For some of us that is fine, but for others, legal and regulatory compliance concerns will make it a no-no.
Of course, this wasn’t the case in the old days before GMail and the iPhone. Back then, phones came with PC connectivity software such as Nokia PC Sync or Microsoft ActiveSync. This let you back them up and sync them with the diary from your desktop - typically this meant Outlook Express - using a serial or USB cable.
Fortunately, you can still do this, thanks to connectivity software such as CompanionLink. This runs on Windows (version 7 or newer) or Mac and can sync Outlook to a wide variety of targets, including its own free app suite called DejaOffice, which is available for Android, Blackberry 10, iOS and Windows Phone.
The advantage of the DejaOffice/CompanionLink approach is that it works with standalone Outlook, with no Exchange service or online account needed, although it can also sync Exchange public folders if you have them, or sync your Outlook data with a Google account if you prefer. The basic version of CompanionLink is $50 and allows you to sync one mobile device over Wi-Fi or USB; there are also more capable and expensive versions supporting multiple devices, cloud-based sync, and other calendar and address book software such as Lotus Notes, Salesforce, SugarCRM and Groupwise.
As well as the usual suspects - diary, address book, calendar, tasks - DejaOffice includes applets for recording expenses and memos and for journalling calls and meetings. It can also link memos and journal records to contacts, add colour-coded categories, and provide advanced ways to search and prioritise. DejaOffice can either integrate with the built-in address book and calendar on the phone or keep its data separate. It encrypts its own data and also supports password-protected areas.
While you can still use the native apps on the phone to browse entries synced from Outlook, the native apps will not see all the extra fields, CRM (customer relationship management) data, address book links etc. You are better off, therefore, either working within the overall DejaOffice app, or setting home-page shortcuts to the relevant DejaOffice applets.
Whether it be a work project for review, travel documents or a set of family photos, we all have files that we would like to have with us on our tablet or smartphone. Yet while there are plenty of tools to sync photos to the cloud or let us access our cloud-stored documents on the go, few of the cloud apps let you sync to a phone as you would to a PC. That sort of nannying made perfect sense in the days when phones had limited memory, but is pretty short-sighted when you can buy a branded 64GB Micro-SD card for around £20.
Fortunately, if you want reliable mobile access to your files, even when you are off-line or out of coverage, there are tools to sort it out. One of the more interesting is BitTorrent Sync - yes, the same BitTorrent that was demonised for supposedly enabling peer-to-peer file piracy is in reality just a powerful piece of file transfer software that can be used for good as well as evil.
BitTorrent Sync used to be a challenge to set up and get working, but no longer: it is now a great way to set up secure private file sharing without using the public cloud. It is available for almost every major desktop and mobile platform, including Kindle Fire and Linux/Unix, and for several types of NAS (network attached storage) server too, and yes, it is still peer-to-peer. So not only does it not need a master copy hosted in the cloud, but if you sync the same data across several devices, it can improve performance by pulling pieces of the same file from several places at once.
Sync lets you share up to 10 folders for free - or as many as you want if you pay £30 a year for a Pro account - then link devices to them by sharing a web link or by scanning a QR code (2D barcode) with a phone. The receiving device then gets online access but files are only downloaded on demand unless you toggle the Sync All switch in that folder’s properties. So you could easily set up a shared and synced folder into which you copy all those documents that you want downloaded on every device. File updates will then by synced to and fro as the peers contact each other. You can also detach shares and delete the shared files; be careful here, though, that you do not delete more than you wanted.
An alternative route for Android users wanting point-?to-point synchronisation is Filesync. This powerful file transfer app lets you set up sync pairs, for example to sync between your phone and a cloud service or a shared folder on your PC. You can specify permitted Wi-Fi networks, set up sync schedules, determine which directions to sync in, and so on. The caveat is that set-up is a little complex, but it is a good power tool for the user who wants to understand what is going on.
$34.95 (approx £23)
One or two phone manufacturers still supply sync software, but for best results you will probably want to buy a separate application such as AkrutoSync for Windows. This can synchronise versions of Outlook from XP onwards with iPhones, Android devices and Windows Phones, without going through the cloud. You can sync either over the local Wi-Fi network or using an SSL-encrypted mobile data connection; set-up for the latter is more complex, as you must follow instructions to add a fixed Internet address to your PC and port forwarding to your firewall or router, but that is one of the costs of evading the cloud.
The other drawback to local sync is that there is no cloud-?based online backup, as there would be with iTunes, Office365 and so on. Your phone has a copy of all your desktop Outlook contacts, calendar, tasks and notes - syncing Outlook notes via AkrutoSync requires an extra app on the phone, the rest do not - but these are your only copies, so it is as essential as ever to back up your PC.
Once connected, AkrutoSync can sync changes in either direction, with a sync history feature to help reverse accidental deletions, restore older versions, and so on. It covers contacts, calendar, tasks and notes, with no limits on how many of each you can have, and can sync to multiple mobile devices.
It is still limited by the capabilities of the relevant apps, of course. For instance, if your phone’s contacts app does not display categories, your Outlook categories will not show on the phone, although they will still be there on the PC.
Up to Eleven
SMS text messages are a perennial problem, made worse by the way that some devices lock down their messaging app and the message store. So how do you back up, migrate or simply sync your texts to a second phone, or send texts from a different device?
A solution to a large part of this is a service called mySMS, which lets you mirror your messages from an Android phone to an iPhone or another Android device, and send SMS from a PC or an Android, iPad or Windows 8 tablet. You can also send free instant messages to other mySMS users via your data connection.
Essentially it syncs your messages, call records and contacts to its servers - this is so you can send messages or view your call history from a tablet or PC while out and about. They are then synced back to any device running the mySMS mirror app or webpage. The iPhone mirror app also shows when a call comes in on the other phone and offers the option to call back on this phone. The caveat is that your text messages are not actually moved to the SMS store on the second phone, so you need to use the mySMS app to view them.
The free version syncs messages from the last 31 days, which will probably be enough for most users. However, if you want more, a Premium account is just under £7 a year ($9.99) and allows unlimited sync. Premium also adds features such as remote call control - so you can accept or reject an incoming call from your tablet, though you still need to pick up the phone to talk - and the ability to archive texts to the cloud or an email account. A nice touch is that the Premium account is linked to your login identity, not to an appstore, so where other apps will make you pay for each version separately, this is one subscription for all your devices.
There are apps for Android phones and tablets, iPhones, Mac OSX, and for Windows PCs and tablets, but at present you can only mirror texts from an Android phone - mySMS’s Austrian developers say that this is a limitation of the iPhone and Windows Mobile systems.