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(Multiplatform) REVIEW: TiVi - a multiplatform video (!) phone application

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Because of the huge prices of traditional (non-Internet-based) video phoning services, several Symbian users have been praising TiVi, a VoIP app / service with video phoning and, at least on Symbian, front camera support capabilities. As it also has a Windows Mobile version, I gave it a very thorough, three-platform (desktop Windows, Symbian and Windows Mobile) ride to find out what it's really capable of.

1.1 Registration, Web page

Fortunately, using the service for TiVi - TiVi connections is absolutely free (as opposed to what some people state in some Symbian forums) and works over fully (on both sides) firewalled connections. To being able to reach your buddies, you'll need to register a nickname on the central server. This is pretty easy and can be done HERE.

You'll also need to download the client software; it's available for the desktop HERE and for mobile platforms HERE. Install it; after starting it, press the left softkeys on both mobile platforms and go to Config. There, fill in your login name / password. After this, you'll become available for the others; using your nick instead of a "traditional" number will work when calling you. Note that it also has a built-in Contacts list and also has access to the system-level contacts, offering (of course, non-free - as opposed to in-network calls) dial-out capabilities for them.

Note that the page and the service themselves are pretty far away from being professional. Latvian is used on some both the Web pages (even when using English) and, which is even worse, in the answering machine. This, of course, isn't that problematic, particularly if you speak some Slavonic language because, then, you'll understand at least the last two words of the answering machine message and can deduce what takes place. And, it's only in the first occasion that this can cause any kind of confusion.

1.2 Screenshots


(a Symbian shot showing the output of the HTC Universal - that is, the Nokia itself, me trying very hard to make a screenshot on it. In the upper left corner, you can also see Nokia's own camera image (of the Universal, with 180 degrees rotated screen, in front of it). Note that the Symbian version, in addition to stopping / restarting video, also supports switching between the front/back cameras if you press 0. By default, the front camera is used, of course.)


(a Windows Mobile HTC Universal screenshot showing the image received from the Nokia N95 and its own picture in the upper left corner. As you can see, the client doesn't even display a button shortcut to switch between the front and the back cameras)

1.3 Operating system compliance; issues

Under desktop Windows operating systems, the client is not really polished but, at least, works. Its usage is pretty tricky and not really intuitive (requires a lot of getting used to): for example, you need to click a given button twice to initiate an audio-only / video call. Nevertheless, it has no problems using my Creative Live! Cam Vista IM webcamera.

Let me know if you just can't find out how the client needs to be operated and I publish a mini-tutorial on it. Again, it's not really intuitive; it took me at least an hour to find out how the three clients work, how they differ and how calls should be initiated.

On Symbian (thoroughly tested this on the Nokia N95 with both Wi-Fi and GPRS / 3G connections (the latter being firewalled and NAT'ed), it worked pretty well: it's able to use both cameras and any kind of connection type. The only problem is the lack of the speakerphone support (despite the title of the left softkey). This means you must use some kind of a headset when using the app.

On Windows Mobile, the situation is a bit worse (tested this with the latest version with CAB internal filedates of 03/2008): as I've guessed, it doesn't support front cameras at all - as is, unfortunately, the case with MS Portrait 3.1 (see review and report HERE). Second, very few models (currently, from HTC, only the HTC Tornado and s620 MS Smartphones and HTC Universal / Wizard Pocket PC's; from HP, the hw6515, and, from Asus, the A716) are supported. Note that at least the two Pocket PC versions (that of the Wizard and the Universal) are exactly the same. Also note that the names are pretty much messed up; for example, under HTC, the Qtek names are listed.

Incidentally, upon installing it on a pretty much crowded HTC Universal on a card, it only seemed to support cellular connections; it just coulnd't make use of Wi-Fi connections. Furthermore, after the first (or second?) restart, it wouldn't connect to the server any more (not even thorugh, of course, a cellular connection) - it just displayed the "Cannot register. Reason: Connection timed out" message. Needless to say that under exactly the same circumstances the Symbian and the desktop Windows versions worked just OK. After a hard reset and reinstalling the client on a clean machine, everything started to work just fine.

The lack of the front camera support can only be fixed in some special cases; for example, the rotatable Universal where you can use the back camera while still seeing the screen; in no other cases. But, then, it's somewhat better to go straight for the way better and reliable MS Portrait instead because it's just more thoroughly optimized and bugfixed. Unless, of course, you need to talk to other TiVi users.

1.4 Speed, data usage

Video phoning is astonishingly good even over slow-speed GPRS. In these cases, you'll want to avoid using uplink video so that uplink audio get all the uplink bandwidth (which, in most cases, will only be sufficient for a stream with moderate pauses) - as has already been explained in my past VoIP articles. Otherwise, should you have at least an EDGE connection, you won't encounter any problems.

As it doesn't really require 3G speeds (unlike the audio-only Skype), if you do have EDGE (and not just GPRS), you can safely switch to 2G mode to avoid excess data usage - and, of course, power consumption, particularly if you always let the client run in the background, waiting for incoming calls. I've explained how this needs to be done on both Windows Mobile and Symbian in THIS article.

2. Verdict

On Windows Mobile, the only usage area I recommend it (if you run it on a rotatable model like the Universal) is connecting to a Symbian phone. Symbian having no other video phoning-capable software (Palringo - see the multiplatform review HERE - is only capable of sending static shots), Symbian users will need to use this client. For talking to other Windows Mobile phones (preferably, HTC Universals with their 180% rotatable screens), you may want to prefer MS Portrait instead - and, again, for talking to desktop Windows clients too.

On Symbian, this is a highly recommended solution, should you want to talk to other Symbian folks with a front camera and/or desktop folks and/or Windows Mobile folks with HTC Universals.

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