If you thought palmOne owned the entry-level PDA market with their Zire line watch out for this latest effort from Playskool. While not the most functional PDA on the market, it’s hard to argue with price. Playskool is working for volume with their Magic Screen PDA. At a price of only $12, they could quickly surpass the 3 million Zires sold by palmOne.
Magic Screen in it's box
There’s a PDA for everyone, but to this point the bottom end of the price scale was roughly $100. Playskool has shattered this glass barrier; watch out palmOne, they mean business. The Magic Screen is not only cheap; it focuses on simplicity and ease of use.
The Magic Screen is packaged in a minimalist box. This presents the unit for easy user testing, as the package even calls out “Try Me!” on the front. While the unit is tied to the box, potential buyers are able to walk around with it to test the screen indifferent lighting conditions. If only big box retailers like Best Buy would take note.
Documentation is a little thin, only three pages.
Clearly marked buttons are easy to depress.
To keep costs down, Playskool has opted to go with a plastic case. In this case, who can argue? Of course they could have gone with something like a brushed aluminum shell, but that would drive costs too high. The front of the PDA contains two hardware input buttons and the speaker. Each hardware button is clearly marked with an “ABC” and “123.” No more confusing looking mail icons or spinning globe looking thingies.
Stylus silo offers a snug fit
Playskool has really innovated with the stylus. To prevent the pesky problem of losing tiny styli, they’ve made this one not only huge, but have tethered it to the PDA. Of course buyers may use a tether removal system (something like scissors would work) to separate the stylus, but why risk it? Browsing the Playskool site yields little in the way of replacement parts, so we’ll likely have to wait for third parties to help the situation. I’ve heard rumors that Cross will be producing an integrated pen/stylus for this unit, but they’ve yet to make an official statement. The stylus is easy to use and fits in the hand well. This is a major benefit when compared to the tiny toothpicks deployed by Sony.
Users must remove a screw to access the batteries.
The back of the unit houses the battery compartment and a reset hole. Sadly the stylus tip is not narrow enough to hit the reset pin, nor does it have a removable cap to meet the need. Playskool has wisely decided to use three double A batteries in the unit. With the low power screen, the Magic Screen will run for weeks. That’s huge for business users who don’t want to deal with the hassle of cables on the desktop; even better for traveling sales folks.
No reset with the stylus, get the paperclips ready.
Playskool is new to the PDA business, so they wisely contracted with a third party for their screens. It’s not known if they’re dual sourced, but all the units I tested in the store, looked very similar. The Touchscreen is responsive; though I’m not sure the digitizer is configured properly. I often felt that it didn’t matter where I clicked on the screen; each tap seemed to have the same function.
If you were expecting high resolution at this price point, forget about it. The Magic Screen has a 12x12 pixel screen. While not quite up to industry standards, even for the entry-level, it gets the job done. Displaying letters and numbers was no problem, though the unit struggled to show more than one of each at a time. This will likely not be a problem though as long as you have time for the data to scroll by.
The letter A
The number 2
In direct sun the display does get washed out a bit, but no worse than other PDAs in its class. There is a problem in low light conditions though. The pixels have a severe amount of ghosting, making the display difficult to read. It’s certainly not good enough for watching video, which is disappointing.
The speaker on this PDA is absolutely amazing. It’s the loudest speaker I’ve ever seen on a PDA. This is however a mixed blessing. In their efforts to cut costs, Playskool removed any way to manually adjust the volume, So, you’re stuck with one setting which can be problematic, especially when use in quiet environments like business meetings and the like. There’s also no headphone jack, meaning audio privacy is not going to happen. As one might expect, a voice recorder is not available in this unit either.
The software package with this unit is a little perplexing. First off, Playskool has gone with a proprietary operating system; presumably because the Palm OS and Windows Mobile licenses are simply too costly. While the user interface is great and easy to understand, the additional bundled software is atrocious. Rather than the standard PIM software that you would expect to find in a PDA, they’ve opted to go only with only number counting and alphabet applications. While it’s critical for one to remember their 123’s and ABC’s, it’s my view that the basic software package should bring more to the table. I did talk with representatives at Dataviz who plan on adapting their popular Documents To Go software for the Magic Screen, so that could be a big win for the system.
"Smiley" the help agent
One terrific application though is a very helpful guide. Not since Clippy for Microsoft Office have I seen a help agent so masterfully executed. While I couldn’t find an official name for the agent, the smiley face is not only helpful, but very polite as well. After the system is not in use for a few minutes, it goes to sleep with a very nice “Goodbye” message to the user. Other PDA manufactures should notice what’s happened here. Help programs can not only be useful, but a friend as well.
If you’re new to PDAs and don’t want to risk a huge investment, then this unit from Playskool may be a good fit for you. It’s easy to understand and won’t break the bank. More demanding users will want to look elsewhere. For $12 this unit is best used as a gift for the kids.
More info at the Playskool site:
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