SOTI Pocket Controller 6.02 released! Full phone controller Benchmark Roundup published

Unfortunately for Windows Mobile users, a lot of developers have switched to other platforms (most importantly, iPhone) recently. This is one of the reasons there haven’t been, for example, any decent game releases for Windows Mobile for quite a long time, except for Gameloft’s products only available via mobile phone operators. (Check out PocketGamer.org, the leading Windows Mobile gaming news site for more info. Note that it’s just been gone through a serious facelift, also meaning many of my emulation-related articles have been frontpaged there.)

Unfortunately, almost the same stands for applications and tools. Fortunately, much more established WinMo developers have stuck with the platform than games developers. This also results in the remote device controller applications’ (still) being worked on. These programs let you control your Windows Mobile PDA or handset using the keyboard / mouse of your Windows desktop (or notebook) computer

There has been a lot of changes since I’ve published my last all-in-one roundup of device controller applications. (Note that I’ve also elaborated on these apps, at least as far as capturing screens is concerned, in my all-in-one bible “ALL Secrets of making Pocket PC screenshots – everything you will EVER need to know!“.) Several new applications (My Mobiler, EveryWAN Remote Support Personal Edition and mDesktop) with direct control capabilities have been released in the meantime and the already-existing ones (VirtualCE, SOTI Pocket Controller) have undergone a serious facelift. Now, there are much better and more sophisticated phone controller tools than in 2006, during the writing of the previous roundup; this is why I don’t elaborate on outdated and/or plain not recommended applications like rCE, VNC server-based ones, MS Windows Mobile Developer PowerToys and PDA Controller but only on recent and (with the exception of mDesktop) recommended ones:

VirtualCE 4

My Mobiler

EveryWAN Remote Support Personal Edition

mDesktop

and, last but in no way least, SOTI’s Pocket Controller, which has just been updated to 6.02.

As the last batch of my reviews doesn’t contain a well-documented performance comparison (it was back in 2005 that I published [a Pocket PC Thoughts frontpage] my last performance comparison with real videos), I found it necessary to augment my past reviews with a real performance evaluation.

This also means this roundup doesn’t really compare features and capabilities (just follow the My Mobiler, EveryWAN Remote Support Personal Edition, mDesktop and VirtualCE reviews for a complete overview) but another very important aspect: performance. (Except for a row dedicated to elaborating on the image capturing features of these apps.) When you control your phone with the mouse / keyboard of your desktop (notebook) computer, you’ll want to see as good performance and responsiveness as possible. With QVGA (low-resolution) screens and using standard operating system or utility / application (read: no games), this won’t really be an issue – all the current phone controller apps are able to deliver acceptable to excellent results, performance / responsiveness-wise.

Not so with the CPU usage of the controller app (which does need some handset-side processing – for example, compressing and send the current screen), which should be as little as possible (the more the CPU usage of the controller app, the less responsive the entire phone becomes). There are huge differences between these apps, even in QVGA mode (let alone the far more demanding high-res ones). This is why I paid special attention to measuring the CPU usage of the controllers.

And, there is a question of high-resolution (VGA or WVGA) screens and capturing game screens / videos, which, in cases, put an enormous burden on the phone (CPU usage-wise) and/or don’t result in any kind of usable control.

Test videos; evaluating them

I’ve, in addition to exactly measuring rendition speed with them, I’ve also published the benchmark test videos. They are at http://winmobiletech.com/012009PDAControllers so that anyone can evaluate / review my benchmark results him/herself.

There are several videos there for each of the five apps and the four test cases: two for QVGA, two for VGA and one-one for the GUI rendering speedtest with my benchmark tool elaborated on in my already-linked, 2005 benchmark article and another for the full-screen game animation test with Nanobotz. Note that while I talk about five apps, I offer six sets of videos: with SOTI’s Pocket Controller, for both 6.01 and 6.02 so that you can evaluate the performance differences yourself; note that with the two 6.02 gaming cases, I’ve also published comparative videos of an interim and the final 6.02 build for both QVGA and VGA.

The filename convention of the videos is as follows:

Phone name (either the VGA HTC Universal or the QVGA HTC Wizard) – either Draw (my tool) or Game (Nanobotz) – one of the five (six/seven) apps.avi

That is, Univ-Draw-mDesktop.avi means it
- has been taken on the Universal
- shows the GUI benchmark results (as opposed to the game)
- using the mDesktop remote controller app.

Evaluating interface speed; slowdown of the device

The easiest way to do this is playing back the counter benchmark videos slowed down and checking out how many figures are left out of the rendering. For example, if, in a video, all you see are 1, 5, 9, 13 etc., then, this means every fourth animation phase is displayed on the desktop.

The easiest way of slowing down the video playback is using Videolan VLC. Being playback and, then, right-click the 1.00x label on the bottom right, to the left of the elapsed/remaining time display. Drag down the slider so that the animation becomes far slower so that you won’t miss any number shown. This way, you can be absolutely sure you’ll see all (even the slightest) changes.

There is another issue some controllers (most notably, mDesktop on both QVGA and VGA and MyMobiler on QVGA) suffer from: the phone slows down because of them running. You can easily spot these problems too: just run the counter tests and check how much time it takes for them to get from 0 to 299. Basically, it should be 9 seconds; with the, in this regard, worse apps (most importantly, mDesktop), this can rise to as much as 14-15 seconds. Note that, in parentheses, I’ve also published these results.

Computing gaming fps

It’s pretty easy to compute the exact speed (frames per second, FPS) of rendering games: just divide the number of frame changes by the total time. For example, the VGA video taken with the current build of Pocket Controller 6.02 is 20 seconds long, and it contains 13 frame changes; that is, the net speed is 13/20 = 0.65 fps. Of course, the bigger, the better.

Key differences between SOTI Pocket Controller 6.01 and 6.02

As is pretty much clear from the performance results, (if you have the money,) the most recommended application is SOTI Pocket Controller. Let’s take a brief look at how the old (6.01; released about two years ago) and the brand new, 6.02 versions compare, performance-wise. (Feature / compatibility-wise, take a look at the list HERE) Note that the comparison chart contains numeric data on both versions (so does the video repository) in the second and third columns, respectively; here, I just emphasize the differences.

First, there is a notable CPU usage decrease on both QVGA and VGA devices. This is a definite plus as Pocket Controller used to have quite high CPU usage on particularly VGA devices. Now, this has been heavily decreased – without a (major) impact on the responsiveness and the speed of rendering the phone screen on the desktop. On the three VGA devices I’ve directly compared the CPU usage on (x51v, Universal – both in the chart – and the HP iPAQ 210, where SOTI 6.01 scored 23% [by clicking around, not significantly higher] and 6.02 scored a more than two times better result: 11% [clicking around: about 25%]), there is a definite CPU usage decrease.

Second, while standard operating system (non-gaming) rendering hasn’t really been sped up (see the counter test), the is a HUGE increase in the VGA gaming capture performance: the new version is about five times(!) better and more responsive. Incidentally, at this stage (and also the QVGA one), I’ve also listed (and published) the performance results (and videos – hence the “final” for the two [QVGA / VGA] gaming videos in the video repository; the other 6.02 videos apply to both builds) of an interim, non-public build, b1385, I’ve been using since January. As can clearly be seen, the biggest difference between b1385 and the current 6.02 build, b1426, is the VGA gaming responsiveness. In this regard, the final, public version of Pocket Controller 6.02 blows everything else out of the water.

Note that while the in-game speed and efficiency remained the same with QVGA and radically increased with VGA, I’ve measured a little bit of speed decrease in both VGA and QVGA with my drawing benchmark (counter) tool. Nevertheless, it’s still way faster than any of the alternatives.

The comparison chart

Note that I haven’t listed subjects that all the tested apps are capable of; for example, Windows 7 compatibility.

 

App: SOTI 6.01 b1256 SOTI 6.02 b1426 VirtualCE 4.0.4 MTUX MyMobile 1.23 06152008 EveryWAN 3.0.15760 mDesktop 2.1
Speed: VGA text drawing with my tool Best (every ~third number displayed; 9s) A little bit worse than 6.01 (every ~fourth number displayed; 9s) 2nd (every ~7th number displayed; 9s) 5th (every ~9th number displayed; 9s) 4th (every ~8th number displayed; 9s) 3rd but slows down! (every ~5th number displayed; 14s!!)
VGA game with Nanobotz Acceptable (animation phase every ~7 second) Best (animation phase every ~20/13 second – that is, 0.65 fps – much better than b1385, which produced 0.2 fps only, let alone 6.01!) 2nd (animation very rarely: every ~15 second 3rd (animation very rarely: more than 15 seconds) Not measurable – no animation By far the worst to change screens (slows down the entire device); new animation phase ~every half a minute
QVGA text drawing Best (every ~2.5th frame; 9s) A little bit worse than 6.01 (every ~4th frame; 9s) 2nd (every ~6.5th frame; 9s) 4th with severe slowdown (every ~5.5th frame; 17s!!!) 4th with slight device slowdown (every ~7th frame; 11s!) 3rd with severe device slowdown (every third; 15s!!)
QVGA game Best (1.46 fps) Best (1.46 fps) 2nd (~1 fps) 4th (~0.8 fps) No animation at all 3rd (~0.9 fps)
CPU usage: VGA x51v 42% 28%; while actively clicking or something quickly happens on the screen, about 45%. The same with b1385 11% 28% 3% when idling; about 20% when clicking n/a (incompatible with WM Classic models)
VGA HTC Universal 34% 7%; clicking: 15% (the device crashed after numerous menu invocations; hence the messed-up screen) ~5%; only increasing to 11…16% when actively clicking around 26%; on another occasion, 13% 6%, increasing to 10...30% when clicking (depending on the click speed/ frequency) 60 (when clicking)…79 (when idling)%. Note that the desktop CPU usage is also noticeably higher than with all the other four titles (about 30% on an 1 GHz ULV P-M Banias)
QVGA HTC Wizard 8%; 16% with active clicking 3%; 10% with active clicking 3%; active clicking: max. 7% 7% 1.6%; 15…21% when clicking 51 (when clicking)…58 (when idling)
Image capture Everything, incl. PNG Everything, incl. PNG + series of pictures BMP, GIF, JPG – no PNG! Everything, incl. PNG Everything, incl. PNG No built-in capture at all



Verdict

Basically, you get what you pay for. That is, if you want to control your VGA device and/or want to capture game screens, you’ll want to bite the bullet and purchase a Pocket Controller license. If, on the other hand, you only have a QVGA device and don’t want to take screenshots of apps / games making 100% use of the CPU of the phone, you can consider sticking with the cheaper (or free) solutions.

As a rule of thumb, however, you should avoid using the desktop controller functionality of mDesktop altogether.
 

UPDATE (03/30/2009): Note that, as has already been mentioned in the mDesktop review, mDesktop isn’t just a phone desktop controller: it’s far-far more than that. Actually, directly accessing the desktop of the phone is just a subfunction of the app. This means you should still consider giving it a try if you, for example, want to quickly edit / write SMS messages, , manage files, make/receive calls, install apps, edit your contact list etc. on your desktop as quickly and conveniently as possible. The test results above only emphasize mDesktop’s phone desktop controller functionalities are definitely worse than that of “true” phone controller apps. The latter, however, don’t offer any ways of the other, direct control facilities.

Also note that the current version of mDesktop is 2.1. The version I’ve reviewed (and compared to Jeyo, its main alternative) in my previous review was 1.0. There have been some major improvements to mDesktop in the meantime (between version 1.0 and 2.1), which I couldn’t elaborate on in this roundup, as it’s all about desktop performance and CPU usage assessment and nothing else.

If you do find mDesktop useful (to, say, access your SMS messages etc.), you still may want to stay away from its direct access functionality and use something else for that purpose (only), particularly if you plan to use this often. This is what the results in the current roundup state. Nevertheless, the *other* functionalities of mDesktop are completely unrelated to the pretty bad-working desktop control and are pretty good. All you need to do is comparing it to Jeyo’s app and decide which way to go.
 

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