2. The reviewed button enhancer apps

2.1 PQzII (Keyboard Helper) 0.0.7b 20070725

This is a very-very advanced, free utility, mainly for users of handheld devices with a real keyboard built-in, but, as it also supports traditional application buttons, other Pocket PC users can also make use of it.

There are several versions of it: a generic WM2003 and WM5 (which is tailored for the HTC Universal, but can be run on any other WM5+ Pocket PC (phone)), one for the HTC Wizard and the HTC Hermes. While, currently, there are no specific versions for other / newer devices, once you learn how the configuration files are built up, youíll easily make one.

It allows for redefining / overriding any buttons (even the two phone buttons, the D-pad arrows and the two WM5+ softkeys). Note that, on the Universal, the pretty useless Internet Explorer key (the one in the lower left corner of the keyboard) canít be redefined (see THIS); the same stands for the Messaging shortcut (close to the IE key).

The main discussion thread of PQzII is HERE and the (pretty simple and hard-to understand) official documentation HERE.

What I recommend is that you donít let the very bad set-up interface and the substandard docs of PQzII chase away. Once you learn how it can be configured, youíll love it and find it one of the most powerful utilities, particularly if you also have a built-in keyboard (it supports a lot of, on desktop PCís, well-known keyboard shortcuts like copy/paste, CTRL+LEFT = HOME, CTRL+RIGHT = END, CTRL+UP = PAGE UP, CTRL+DOWN = PAGE DOWN etc. Ė all a god-send for everyone editing / typing a lot of texts on his or her handset). Let me, again, recommend the mini-tutorials in the chart, which will give you immense help in discovering the capabilities.

Note that you can even enter ANY Unicode char with ALT keys; a related post is HERE showing other solutions & consequences.

Note that there is a similar product, AE Keyboard Mapper (also known as AEKMap), which I do not review here for several reasons:
  1. it doesnít support application buttons, unlike PQzII, and, after all, the subject of this Bible is application button redefining, not that of built-in keyboards.
  2. you need to activate (=pay for) it to get, with button enhancers, basic functionality like assigning applications to an alphanumeric key. With PQzII, you get the same functionality for free.
  3. the same developer, Alexander Eltsyn, also offers a product, AEBPlus, solely meant for application button enhancement and is far more powerful in this regard that AEKMap. I will review it in this Bible.
2.2 HButton 1.9.1

This is a revolutionary, outstanding application in that, unlike all the other reviewed tools, it lets you assign any number (!) or applications to a single hardware button. Before you ask what the point in all this is, and whether itís indeed easy to remember that, for example, the particular app you would like to start is at the eighth or the ninth postion, the answer is really reassuring. When you keep the selector (hot) button depressed, it scrolls through the titles of the apps youíve assigned to that particular button. Whenever you see the program you would like to execute, you simply release the button and itís started. (There are variations of this theme. For example, you can solely rely on the very quick and discreet vibrations or beeps; if you keep counting them, youíl know when to release the button to start the particular app.

It has other goodies too. As its ďvirtualĒ buttons need to be manually assigned to the hardware buttons of your handheld in the system-level Buttons applet, there is no in-memory resident code taking up resources / CPU time all the time and/or interfering with some apps having local button assignments (see the discussion of TCPMP and Resco Audio Recorder). However, the need for an additional, manual step to assign these virtual keys certainly make the configuration lengthier and, at first, a bit harder to understand. Nevertheless, once you get a picture how this all work, youíll just love it.

All in all, an excellent application, well worth using, particularly on Pocket PCís with a severely limited number of available, configurable buttons (for example, the HTC Elf / Touch).

2.3 AE Button Plus 2.6

This utility, having come from the same author than the already-mentioned and famous AEKMap, is alos very strong. In addition to its strengths on the Pocket PC platform, it is unique in that itís the one and only tool to support the MS Smartphone (Windows Mobile Standard) support. Note that the well-known SmartToolkit (of which a new beta has just been released) also offers some button reassining capabilities, but only lets for simple press operations, as opposed to AE Button Plus. As it still has some quirks and, no matter how nicely it redefines the start menu, you wonít necessarily want to use it (for example, I uninstalled it after a while because of the speed problems in accessing the Start menu Ė Iíve just found the traditional of selecting my (current) apps way considerably faster), I donít discuss it separately in here. I will do this as soon as it receives better button support and/or a stable, non-beta version is released.

This is without doubt THE most powerful button enhancer application when it comes the built-in goodies like switching on the built-in camera LED to work as a torch (not compatible with current MS Smartphones, unfortunately), connection starting/stopping etc. (See their almost complete list in the ďAdditional utilitiesĒ row of the ďCompared to Settings / ButtonsÖĒ group of the chart). Granted, most of these hacks are invented by XDA-Developers hackers and programmers (for example, well-known vijay555) but you will need to install several additional apps to achieve the same. With AE Button Plus, you get all this built-in, without the need for installing and configuring several tools onto your Windows Mobile device. This itself Ė and the very low price tag Ė also makes this tool really appealing.

This application sits resident in the memory (with the definite disadvantages coming from this fact; for example, it certainly clashes with both TCPMP and Resco Audio Recorder but, fortunately, not so bad as PQzII).

Finally, a BIG request to all software developers and hackers: as with HButton and PQzII, I didnít know of this application before embarking on writing this Bible either. With PQzII and HButton, this is pretty understandable as HButton is a brand new project started late Spring and PQzII was almost only discussed in a single HTC Universal thread (in a device-specific forum). Needless to say, none of the three apps were entered into the Software Encyclopedia of Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine by the developers. This, and the fact that they have been only discussed in not widely known subforums is why I havenít nominated them for this yearís Best Software Awards (they ALL would have deserved the nomination.) Therefore, my humble request to ANY Windows Mobile developer & hacker out there is the following: if you feel youíve written a tool worth mentioning / paying attention to, donít hesitate to contact me via a private message on any Windows Mobile forum. Iím using the nickname ďMenneisyysĒ on all of them and you definitely will find me as Iím a top poster on all Windows Mobile forums. DO send me a message when you have something up your sleeves Ė youíll get a lot of promotion for free and your app may even get nominated for the Awards, generating even more promotion, if I find your app is worthy enough. And itís all free for you, with little effort Ė just a private message, with a link to the thread of your product and a sentence like ďPlease check out my latest tool, you might find it usefulĒ. This particularly applies to hobbyist developers like the one of all these three apps. Itís almost impossible to run into their apps unless you excplicitly read thorugh hundreds of related threads because they donít register their stuff in on-line software directories like the PPCMag Encyclopedia (and, in there, in the Utilities / Button Enhancers category. )
Microsoft MVP - Mobile Devices, 2006, 2007, 2008. Make sure you follow my PPC & SP Mag Expert blog HERE.