Consolidating Mobile Contacts and Calendar through Google Sync

Most people know about Google's Calendar and Contacts services (contacts is available through the GMail or Google Mail interface). I personally have Google Apps installed for my domain and use Google Mail to consolidate 4 or 5 email accounts. Likewise I use Google Calendar to jot down meetings, events and todo's, and I started using Google Contacts to store everyone's emails, phone numbers, addresses, etc.

This is all well and good when you're in front of your computer, but it'd be even better to have full access to all this information from your mobile phone. Now if you have a modern smartphone like an iPhone or Android, you can just fire up a browser and connect to your Google account via 3G. Even better though, it's possible to sync your native phone contact list and calendar to your Google account for seamless integration via Google Sync.

Google Sync is available for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian. I was surprised that I could get this service running on my old Nokia N73. I spend a Saturday morning going through my Google Contacts and putting in all the phone numbers from my phone. I then signed up for a cheap data-pack, downloaded and installed Mail for Exchange for S60 via Google's instructions, created a profile linking to my Google Apps account and off I went!

The Mail for Exchange program is simply an ActiveSync client for the S60 platform (I hear this can be done on an S40 as well, such as the Nokia 6700 Classic, but haven't personally tested yet). You set up a profile listing the sync schedule (manual or every 15 minutes to every 4 hours) and pick what you want synchronized: contacts, calendar, email, tasks.

At first I tried by having all 4 synchronized, but Mail for Exchange threw an error. I read up on some Google blog that people have been experiencing this problem with tasks. So I edited my profile to remove tasks and email and the contact/calendar sync completed successfully (I don't want email on my N73 for the time being)!

I configured Mail for Exchange to delete all my existing phone contacts and calendar entries and have these replaced with the Google entries and set the schedule to 4 hours. I now have a complete list of contacts that I can manage through any web-browser, and I have all my calendar events appearing on my ancient phone with today's tasks right on the front screen. And best of all, I don't need to worry about backing up contacts from my phone memory to SIM to carrier network.

Another great feature is that Google Contacts allows you to save people's birthdays in the profile and this can be integrated with your Google Calendar (go to Other Calendars/Add/Browse Interesting Calendars/More/Contact's birthdays and events).

All in all this works great and I'm happy with the consolidation. There's only one problem (besides my ancient N73 with tiny screen and T9 keypad that severely limits calendar interaction or anything to do with emailing, etc). Google Contacts works by automatically saving into your All Contact list any email address to which you send an outbound email to. This is pretty annoying as your contact list can get cluttered by nameless emails to all sorts of weird places. It would be great if you could disable this feature, but as described here, you can't :-(

The only solution is to periodically go through your contacts and clean out any junk. The easiest way to do this is if you assign all the real contacts to groups, then do a search for an empty space ' '. This will show you contacts in a My Contacts group and contacts in an Other Contacts group. The latter are all the automatically added contacts so you can delete them all in one go. Far from ideal, but the only workable solution for the time being.

If you'd like to be able to disable the automatic adding of contacts, leave a message here.


UPDATE: Forget what I said above. While it's true that you can't stop Google from automatically storing all outbound email addresses to your contact list, this isn't a problem when synching with a phone. The reason is, automatically added contacts will not appear in My Contacts until you manually add them to a group yourself. And Google Sync will only synchronize contacts from the My Contacts group - perfect!

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