Available in beta form since May 19th, Microsoft's free My Phone web service allows users of Windows Mobile 6.0+ phones to upload and synchronize phone contacts, calendars, photos, and text messages into a 200MB (per user) online storage space. (Click to access the Microsoft MyPhone Installation page.)

I've been using the My Phone beta on a Samsung Blackjack II running Windows Mobile 6.1 for the last few weeks, and I've found it to be useful service, primarily for personal use. The My Phone service is still in development--so features could change without notice--but here are three of my favorites:

Information Backup: The My Phone service lets you synchronize and backup a variety of information on your phone to the cloud, including text messages, contacts, calendar appointments, photos, videos, music, documents, and other information.

There are some caveats here: Microsoft is positioning My Phone as a consumer service, so synchronization of calendars, contacts, and tasks won't happen if you've configured your phone to receive email via Microsoft Exchange. My Phone will synchronize with Windows Live if you use that service. A few minor quibbles: My Phone's support for contacts stored on SIM cards or external memory cards is a bit kludgy, and better support for documents that live outside the My Documents folder would have been a nice feature. The online storage is currently limited to only 200MB, which seems paltry in comparison to Windows SkyDrive, which offers a whopping 25GB of free online storage space. I'm hoping Microsoft updates the storage amount when the service officially goes live.

Data Protection: I've never lost a mobile phone, but the fear of losing a device that contains all of my contacts, email, photos, and other important information gives me a case of indigestion. Thankfully, all that information can be backed up to the My Phone web service, which also makes it a snap to restore all of that information to a new Windows Mobile phone if I ever lost my current one. You can configure when the service backs up your information to the cloud, or you can accept the default settings and have it update automatically. This is my favorite My Phone feature, and I'm sure a lot of mobile phone users would agree with me.

Online Synchronization and File Sharing: In addition to serving as an online repository for phone files, the My Phone service allows you to add, edit, and delete contacts and calendar appointments online by using the My Phone web tool: Changes made here can then be synced back to your phone, making it easy to keep both sets of data synchronized and consistent. Tighter integration with Windows Live (and Windows SkyDrive) would also be useful here.

Microsoft My Phone web portal page

I also wanted to hear what some Windows IT Pro readers had to say about MyPhone, so I got some expert input from Richard Gibbons, a Software Manager for Bechtle UK. Gibbons told me he's been using the My Phone beta for several months, and has been using Windows Mobile devices for years. He's currently running an HTTC Diamond with Windows Mobile 6.1.

"\[The biggest My Phone feature for me\] was the backing up of text messages. Over the years I've sent and received quite a few text messages that I would've liked to preserve for posterity's sake--such as those around the birth of my son--but have never been able to," Gibbons said. "Despite my best efforts, after changing phones 3 or 4 times (at least) these have been lost. Now all my text messages are safe in the My Phone portal."

Gibbons also liked My Phone's ability to copy files from his phone to the web, which makes managing photos much easier. "I needed to get some pictures from my phone onto my PC and didn't have any way of connecting them. \[I didn't have\] bluetooth on the PC, didn't have acess to a USB cable...I backed up the changes to the web via My Phone and then downloaded them to the PC via the portal. Problem solved." The meager amount of available My Phone online storage space also prevented Gibbons from backing up all of the music on his phone: "I don't back up any music using the service as it's 200MB limit renders that almost useless. I hope that the storage space will increase as the beta moves forward...the most logical thing would be to allow MyPhone to use SkyDrive as a storage location, instantly giving you 25GB of storage."

My Phone still is in beta, so Gibbons had a few suggestions for areas where Microsoft could improve the service. "The inability to perform actions on multiple items \[using the web tool\] ...even if I select two or more files, the action (delete, archive, etc.) is only performed on the first file I clicked on," Gibbons said. "Highlighting an item also overrides ticking it's selection box."

Gibbons has been pleased with his MyPhone experience, and hopes that Microsoft will continue to add new features over time. "Overall I think it's a great product and I hope that Microsoft will keep improving it to make it even better." Given how far Microsoft is behind Apple and RIM in the mobile OS user experience and phone application store departments, My Phone may find itself becoming a vital component of Microsoft's future mobile product strategy.