The biggest handheld-related news lately has been about VGA screens. First there was the announcement that Toshiba’s latest high-end model will include a display with VGA resolution: 640 by 480 pixels. Next came word from Microsoft’s Professional Development Conference that VGA support is being added to Windows Mobile. Based on these two pieces of news, it doesn’t take a modern-day Cassandra to predict that there will be a whole crop of Pocket PCs coming next year with VGA screens.
However, Pocket PCs won’t be the only ones with these higher-resolution screens. I confirmed with PalmSource that Palm OS 5 already supports VGA, but none of the licensees have chosen to develop a handheld that uses it. This will surely change, as I doubt palmOne, Sony, or the other licensees will want to be left behind.
Though I haven’t had a chance to use a Toshiba e805 yet, I have used the Sharp Zaurus C760, which includes a VGA screen and, let me tell you, it is a huge improvement in usability. After you’ve seen how much easier it is to surf the Web and do word processing on a VGA screen, you’ll be amazed that you were ever satisfied with 240 by 320 pixels or, heaven forbid, 160 by 160 pixels.
Don’t be concerned that everything on the screen is going to be too small. As long as PalmSource and Microsoft are smart about the way they have implemented VGA support, you’ll be able to control the font size to where you can either display an immense amount of data, or use a larger font that is easy to read but will still let you see more than you do now.
I was glad to hear that, along with VGA support, Palm OS and Pocket PC will support both portrait and landscape modes, which means we’ll have the option of looking at documents and web pages in whatever way best suits our needs.
However, as significant an improvement as higher resolution screens will be, there are going to be some drawbacks.
First off, you won’t be picking up a $200 VGA handheld any time soon. The first generation of these are going to be high-end devices, though VGA screens will eventually work their way down to less expensive models, in the same way that color screens did.
Second, handhelds with VGA screens aren’t going to be super small. Though Sharp recently demonstrated a prototype of a 2.6-inch VGA screen, that’s really much too small. I found the 3.2-inch screen on Sony’s Clie UX50 to be too small, and that has only half VGA. No, to be readable, the screen needs to be at least 3.8 inches, and 4.0 inches would be better.
And finally, these large screens are going to take a lot of power. The devices are either going to have to include bulky batteries or have pitifully short battery lives.
Despite these drawbacks, the move to higher-resolution screens is going to result in many new people buying handhelds. There are plenty of people who have considered buying a handheld but changed their minds when they found out how difficult it is to work with, for example, a large spreadsheet on a low-resolution screen. Many of these individuals will reconsider once they can get a device that fits in their pocket but has the same resolution as a laptop from just a few years ago.