Katherine Boehret

Kinoma Touches Up Clunky Windows Mobile

Think about a mobile device with a touch screen that’s designed to work with smart software. A single tap on its surface instantly zooms in on images; a flicking gesture moves one photo off the screen and pulls another one on. Menus appear with clever animation, and actions like downloading and emailing photos and videos are intuitively incorporated, rarely more than one step away.

Bet you’re thinking about Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone.

I’m actually describing a Windows Mobile device. In fact, any touch-screen Windows Mobile device made in the past couple of years can perform the aforementioned functions — as long as it’s running a new application called Kinoma Play.

This much-needed shot in the arm for Windows Mobile comes from Kinoma Inc. and for $30 can be downloaded onto a computer or directly onto a device from www.kinoma.com. It works on touch and nontouch screens alike, though touch features do add a lot of pizzazz. After installation, Kinoma Play seems to totally take over the device’s multimedia functions, hiding every trace of Windows Mobile’s clunky, antiquated, menu-driven operating system.

Mossberg image
Kinoma Play in action, clockwise from top left: a media interface, touch-screen navigation, upload to YouTube, picture rotation, search by characters, and photo zoom.

It smoothly opens and displays all types of media, including photos, videos and music. But it’s also a fast search engine for multimedia content on the phone, on the Web or even on your computer via remote search. Kinoma Play works with services including YouTube, Audible, Flickr, iDisk, Live365, Orb and SHOUTcast. And a section called the Kinoma Guide compiles over 100,000 podcast episodes, radio stations, videos, live television and Webcam clips, panoramas and photos into easy-to-browse categories.

After almost a week with this application, I changed the way I thought about on-the-go Web browsing for media. I forgot about typical browser functions like typing a Web site’s name into a URL bar and instead did plenty of things online with my portable device without deliberately thinking about being online.

Kinoma Play is so well-designed that I wish it could entirely replace the dated Windows Mobile user interface, which still lags behind the iPhone’s. But, alas, it’s about media only. It isn’t designed to supplant, and doesn’t change or improve, any of the phone’s more common functions, like overall email and Web browsing, calendar, contacts or productivity programs.

Kinoma is working on Symbian, Linux and even iPhone versions of its application and will release one of those versions by the end of this year.

I ran into a few problems while using Kinoma Play. On three different occasions using two different devices, my touch screen froze when I tried to start the application, and the only way I could fix the problem was by completely rebooting my device. Once in a while, I experienced slow performance, though this could have been attributed to my network connection. And Kinoma Play lacks a one-step shortcut to its home screen; currently, users must press a “Back” soft key on each screen until they reach the home screen.

But the pluses of Kinoma Play outweighed these hassles, especially considering how enjoyable this application was to use. I tested Kinoma on two Palm (PALM) devices running Windows Mobile: the not-yet-released Treo Pro, which will be available here in the fall for an unlocked, unsubsidized price of $549, and the $250 (after discounts and two-year-contract rebates) Treo 800w available from Sprint (S). Both have touch screens that work best with an included stylus, though a fingernail or fingertip worked for me in most cases.

Upon installation, Kinoma Play automatically scans a device’s media and organizes it into categories under a section called My Media Files. I was especially eager to see how photos were handled, so I started out in the Pictures category.

All Kinoma screens have a set of familiar navigational tools that appear as soft keys at the bottom of the screen; they show up when the bottom section of the screen is touched and disappear when touched again. On the bottom left, a “Back” arrow takes users to the previous screen. On the bottom right, a list-like icon represents what Kinoma calls the Menu Pod. When touched, this pulls up three succinct menus — for media, settings and another action related to the program that’s open.

I opened some photos that were stored on the Palm Treo Pro and touched the center of the screen with my finger. A quick tap on the screen zooms in on each photo, and a small inset of the photo with a box representing the magnified area appears on the lower right of the screen. I dragged this tiny box around in the inset image to change where I was zooming. To zoom in on a photo slowly, I simply touched and held my finger on the screen for a longer period of time. A quick tap after either zooming method will quickly snap the image back to normal view.

I moved from one photo to the next as I do on my iPod Touch: by placing a finger on one edge of the photo and flicking left or right across the screen. Rotating was fun and easy to do when I drew a circle on the photo with my fingertip in the direction that I wanted it to rotate. The image followed whatever motion I drew. To rotate the photo 180 degrees, I drew a larger half-circle.

I selected Flickr from Kinoma Play’s list of services and signed into my Flickr account in just a few steps. My photos and those of friends were just as easy to browse as my own photos, thanks to Kinoma Play’s built-in tools. The Menu Pod icon offered a one-step way to play all photos in slide shows; music could be selected to play in the background.

With a touch on the Menu Pod icon, users can add any media to favorites or to an “on-the-go” list. This same tool also sends multimedia to others via email; I used it to send friends photos of a recent trip to California as well as a YouTube link to video footage of Sen. Joe Biden speaking.

Kinoma makes something out of every action. The Menu Pod button seems to jump into the center of the screen when summoned, and each of its three menus spins like a tiny top to get out of the way so another menu can be seen. Other screens seemed to do a mini back flip as they opened or closed. And long lists seemed to bounce when scrolling reached the top or bottom.

In the Services menu, I used Audible to listen to part of an audio book and listened to rock and country songs on Web radio stations from SHOUTcast and Live365.

I particularly liked using the Kinoma Guide, which is constantly updated with material that streams to your devices when you open it. I found a Restaurant Guys podcast in which chef Cat Cora was interviewed, and even saved it for later listening by downloading this seven-megabyte podcast to my device in one clean step. Kinoma wisely adds all downloads to a special section that’s easy to find. The last 100 things you looked at on Kinoma Play can be found in a section called History.

These days in the tech world, much attention is being paid to applications sold on Apple’s App Store for use with the iPhone or iPod Touch. But Kinoma Play is one application that is desperately needed by Windows Mobile users, and it just might remind them that they can better navigate media-related Web services — without having to buy a new mobile device.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg


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