Nate's Straight Talk Express: My life with a smartphone may never be the same

Nate Allen
Columnist from Indianola, IA
Published: August 18, 2010

Top secret security

Data security is a good thing, right?  A noble thing.  The right thing.  Data security is something I’ve taken for granted for a long time. I’ve never had to worry about what would happen to the information on my phone if it was ever lost or stolen.  Sure, I always had contingency plans for replacing the hardware by saving my prior phones after upgrades.  I did this to save money by not purchasing the racket that is the phone insurance program offered by my carrier of choice.  Right or wrong, data security was never as big a concern for me as it probably should have been.

I was informed this Spring that my employer would be implementing data security protocols sometime in August and that only “approved” devices would be supported.  Those approved devices were limited to Blackberry devices connected to its enterprise server, devices with Windows Mobile 6.0 and above, and iOS4 devices.  We were informed that Android devices may or may not be supported due to their sketchy support for Exchange ActiveSync (or EAS) policies.  Essentially, at the time, vanilla Android 2.1 and lower devices had no EAS policy support and some devices with custom manufacturer skins like HTC’s SenseUI did support a few EAS policies.  There would have to be some testing done to determine which Android devices, if any, would be supported.  Needless to say, I scrambled to figure out where my device, the HTC Droid Eris, would fit into the mix.  A few weeks later, my device was tested and I was informed that it would work just fine, as the HTC’s email app would support the vital EAS policies like remote wipe and password lock.

The security policies weren’t implemented at that time and I went about life as usual. I had rooted my Eris by that time and was in the thick of testing out different ROMs to find my ideal configuration.  Through this ROM-swapping, I determined that I had a love for stock, vanilla Android over HTC’s SenseUI skinned version so I enjoyed most of the summer with one configuration or another of vanilla Android 2.1 and more recently, a pretty stable 2.2 Froyo ROM.  Honestly, the ability to tinker with my device became more fun for me than actually using many of the features of the ultimate ROM.  I had read that Froyo would support several EAS policies so I wasn’t too worried about the upcoming security stuff.

Then one day last week, my world was turned upside down when an email was distributed letting employees know that the security protocols would be implemented the following day.   I knew the 2.1 ROM I was using would not support the EAS policies, so I scrambled to find and activate my Blackberry Tour 9630 and get it configured properly to sort of temporarily ‘skirt’ the security stuff through a method I’d previously tested.  I then used the Blackberry for the latter half of last week, through the weekend, and again the first part of this week while I contemplated what to do about my Eris.  I found a Froyo ROM that seemed pretty stable and got it loaded up, but unfortunately, I was unable to successfully load my corporate email account as apparently Froyo doesn’t support enough of those pesky EAS policies.  My plan was in shambles.

Ultimately, I decided to load a semi-stock SenseUI-based ROM.  I don’t think I was prepared for the pain in the butt that was to come.  Upon loading the ROM and configuring my corporate email, I was prompted to set up a password, which I did.  No problem, right? Well, there wasn’t a problem until I figured out when I’d be prompted to enter said password…no less than every single time I turned the screen on.  That isn’t the worst part, though…. Some devices, like the iPhone and I believe the Motorola Droid (using the aftermarket Touchdown app), require a numeric password only when EAS policies are imposed.  SenseUI based devices bring up the regular keyboard when prompting to create and later to input a password.  This may not seem like a big difference, but on a device with a screen as small as the Eris, the keys are so small, it has proven extremely difficult to enter the password correctly on the first attempt.   So, not only do I now have to complete an additional step every single time I turn on the screen of the device, but a significant percentage of the time, I have to attempt to input the password more than once to get it right.  What a pain in the keester!

So now I don’t know what to do.  I honestly can’t imagine using the Eris in this way for even the remainder of the year until my annual upgrade eligibility accrues.  The Blackberry should be a bit easier to manage the password with its excellent hard QWERTY keyboard, and enterprise server integration would make corporate data integration a snap.  In addition, you’ve probably heard the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder…well, I experienced that this last week with the Blackberry.  The email capabilities are truly second to none and the Twitter app is pretty decent as well. 

If I do end up switching back to the Blackberry, I definitely won’t stop using my Eris. The really nice thing about Android is that the device is virtually fully functional on wifi for using email and apps.  The bottom line is that right now, I’m still trying to sort things out regarding my future with smartphones.  I’ll absolutely be using one, but I just don’t know what platform I’ll be using.  If there is interest, I’ll keep you all up-to-date on where I eventually end up.  In any event, my life with smartphones may never be as enjoyable as it has been over the last few years.