Google Sync and Nokia: A broken affair?

Posted on 12/09/2010


I currently have three email accounts, an exchange account for work, Ovi mail as a services account, and Gmail for my personal email needs. Of those three Gmail is the most important. Not only is Gmail easily the best email solution out there, Google’s other services are also incredibly useful and have made organising my life a lot easier. I was late coming to the cloud party, but having access to email, calendar, documents and contacts through one username makes Google the ultimate cloud computing tool. To this end, I keep all of my contacts synced and up to date, via My Conacts in Gmail, and make use of the excellent Google Calendar for time management. The tricky part comes with getting it all to my phone. Nokia Messaging makes the email part of it very easy. Luckily for me the 6710 Navigator was along with some of the new E-series devices like the E75, E72 and the N86, one of the first set of Nokia’s phones to have Nokia Messaging with Mail for Exchange bundled in. On other Nokia’s floating around between friends and family like the 5800 Xpress Music, E71, E63, N79 and N95 Nokia Messaging was a separate download, and even Mail for Exchange had to be downloaded separately. The new wave of Nokia’s Symbian^3 phones take the former approach.

Now I actually like the Nokia Messaging client. Just type in the email address and your username and it does the rest. No need to fiddle with complex settings, outgoing and incoming servers and that sort of thing. Mail for Exchange is a little trickier but a good IT department should have these settings readily available. Until I had issues with email sync during my two weeks reviewing the N8 Nokia Messaging had been quite reliable on my handset, though not so much for the downloadable clients. The problem I had was that Nokia phones understandably did not have any obvious support for syncing deeper with Google. So I had to resort to using the onbaord SyncML client to import my contacts and keep them in sync. Calendar was tricky, there are many paid services like GooSync and GoogaSync, but these are in my opinion a bit too expensive for the service they are offering. Thankfully I found a third party solution called syncme that also uses SyncML. These served me well for a good couple of months, except it was awfully laborious. A three step solution to pulling data from one source just didn’t seem right. Worst of all there is no way to automate syncing with the SyncML client.

Of course I could have made things easier for myself by just using Outlook. What I like about using the cloud, especially a service like Google that in some way supports most major platforms though is that it allows me to remain device agnostic, both at PC and mobile level. I don’t want my data locked to a single computer as would be the case with Outlook. Other solutions like Nokia’s Ovi Sync mean that I’m stuck using Nokia phones, and while these are the best option for me now, using Ovi Sync ties me to this platform, and I prefer to know that I have change brands without having to go through a process to get all my data. While many phones support SyncML, at this rate this was such a bloated exercise I was almost willing to give up on Google’s services to simplify things a little bit for me.

Thankfully Google introduced support for ActiveSync on Nokia devices through their Google Sync service earlier this year meaning that I could use Nokia’s Mail for Exchange client. Great…or not. First I had to make a choice, forced by Nokia’s Mail for Exchange only supporting a single exchange account, and with due respetc to my employers, I chose to swap my work account with Google. In any case any calendar events that are on my PC can be readily synced to Google Calendar via Google’s Calendar sync plugin for outlook, and I can access the simple Outlook Web Access site through Opera Mini if I was out of the office. Once setup though then the BIG problems started. I had been happily using Mail for Exchange with my work email for months on end. I helped a colleague set up his E72 and he syncs email, calendar, contacts and tasks. My father also has the E72 and Mail for Exchange works like a dream with his work email account. Google Sync however is severely broken. Every time it syncs it returns the error “Sync Failed: Contact system administrator if problem persists“. Calendar entries sync fine but contacts and email are a no go area. Trawling through Google’s support pages, one finds many an unhappy Mail for Exchange user. The only solution seems to be to turn email sync off, then contacts and calendar sync. From my experience though, only calendar syncs with 100% fidelity. If contacts are updated in Google, you need two sometimes three syncs to get the data updated on device. Changes made on device sync however go through first time.

Staying organised on the move with Google: Part 1

So who is to blame for this mess? My sample size is small but syncing with corporate accounts is not a problem using Nokia’s Mail for Exchange client. To sync with Google then  is still a two step process, Gmail through Nokia Messaging and contacts/calendar through Mail for Exchange, better than what I had before.

This was to be the case until I was doing one of my biweekly explorations through Ovi Store and Dataviz’s RoadSync was one of the featured apps at just R40, 90% off apparently; it is $49.99, ~R350 direct from Dataviz. Dataviz supports push synchronisation via Microsoft’s ActiveSync protocol, much like the built in Mail for Exchange client. What drew me to the app in partucular was the both in Ovi Store and on the Dataviz site, there was specific mention of support for Google Sync for Gmail, Calendar, contacts and full attachment support, as well as little touches like HTML support. While this is not a review as such I will give my thoughts. RoadSync actually works. Having gone through such hell with Google and Mail for Exchange (you can’t even send an email on the N8), using RoadSync has been such a breath of fresh air. My emails sync on time and I can view them in HTML. Calendar sync is flawless and most importantly, syncing contacts is also a one sync process, no need to sync two or three times just to make sure all updates have been synced correctly. I also tested RoadSync with my work account and again flawless performance.

Staying organised on the move with Google: Part 2

Which leads me to wonder what is up with Nokia and Google. Initially I thought there was something inherently wrong with Google Sync and Nokia devices in general, especially considering that Mail for Exchange works just fine with corporate accounts. What I fail to understand is how two email clients, both using the same protocol, can behave so differently when communicating with the same server. The situation is pretty dire on older Nokia’s but Google Sync through Mail for Exchange on the newer handsets like the N8 is even worse. Is it Google’s fault? Is Nokia to blame? The support pages for both parties provide no immediate answers, with users blaming one or both companies. Google apparently hasn’t implemented ActiveSync properly. Nokia doesn’t officially support Google Sync. It’s all conjecture and answers from the companies are rather conspicuous by their absence. All I know is that it’s an absolute pain for the end user and if Dataviz can get it working, why can’t these two giant companies get it right?

Posted in: Apps, Mobile, Nokia, Symbian, Tips