Review: AstraSync 4.0
It’s been nearly 6 months since we reviewed AstraSync. People at MailSite Software Inc. have been busy. Some of the new features added are:
* HTML Email viewer
* Hotlinks in messages
* Meeting requests
* Message flags
* Message list multi-select
* Attachment improvements
* Performance improvements
* New look and feel
* User selectable message alert tone
These are all welcomed changes improving a great application.
In case you have not read the 3.0 review, AstraSync is a Microsoft ActiveSync based application, allowing you to synchronize your ActiveSync enabled account’s email, calendar and contacts with your Blackberry. There are many email servers in the market that supports ActiveSync, from Microsoft Exchange to Kerio, MailSite Fusion to Zimbra. The beauty of this solution is you don’t need a BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) installed on your mail server or you don’t need BES enabled on your Blackberry account at your carrier. After a few setup steps, it starts synchronizing your emails, calendar and contacts smoothly.
Notes and Tasks synchronization, similar to BES, is planned for version 5.0. One word of advise, if you choose to sync calendar or contacts, since it uses the native calendar and contacts databases, it will first clear them out.
The interface is very clean and easy to use. I scheduled my emails for “Direct Push”, in other words sync as they arrive, during business hours and 15 minute check intervals after that. This helps to save battery life, though I have to admit the battery usage is not affected that badly even if I enable direct push at all times.
Here is a brief list of the AstraSync’s features:
* Synchronizes Email Calendar and Contacts over-the-air
* Requires simple one time configuration
* Connect via BIS, BES, WAP, TCP or WiFi
* Supports SSL secured HTTPS connections
* Uses the native BlackBerry calendar and contacts apps
* Full native look and feel email client
* Full folder support – Sync multiple folders, move & copy messages
* Full attachment support – send, receive and smart reply
* HTML email viewer
* Accept and decline meeting requests
* Client side search
* Multi and group message select
* Global Address List support
* Local and Global contact lookup and auto complete
* Message flag support
* Synchronization schedule
* Audio and vibration new message alert
* Configurable Synchronization window (period)
* Exchange Policy Support
* Inactivity security lock
* Doesn’t rely on or need BIS or BES
* Dramatically lower costs and more reliable than BES
While I love AstraSync and use it daily, it has still a great ways to go. For example, AstraSync runs as a J2ME application, not a native Blackberry application. When you start the application you get 2 warnings, one for calendar and one for contacts:
This also prevents the application automatically starting after a reboot. According to MailSite, they have applied for the RIM’s developer program but they were yet to be accepted. And this was like 10 months ago. I don’t know what’s really going on there.
Also, by default HTML email viewer is not enabled, so you may see HTML emails like below, only with few words of text, rest is empty:
You have to go under Email Settings and enable “HTML Support”. This clears out the email database (AstraSync uses its own, doesn’t use native email database) and repopulates your email account to your device.
However, even after enabling it, the HTML emails are not fully viewable. The images are missing. See the handheld and desktop versions of the same email below:
While MailSite was quick to claim that they were “first BlackBerry ActiveSync application to support HTML” in their press release, from my perspective, it still needs work. Also, I have to add, if you enable HTML support, opening any HTML email takes considerably longer time. Of course this is better than not being able to see its content.
There is a good amount of screenshots if you want to take a peek at AstraSync web site. Overall, it is a great application, getting better with every update. I highly recommend it.
* Clean interface
* Easy to use
* Allows you to sync your Exchange or any ActiveSync capable mail server’s emails, calendar and contacts without need for a BES server.
* It is not a native Blackberry application
* Emails are not integrated into native Blackberry email client.
* HTML emails do not display images