Gifts for the palm-top generation

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Gifts for the palm-top generation
By Geof Wheelwright, posted Nov 13, 2001

At last you’ve got a handheld computer. It’s small enough to fit in the pocket of your coat, lets you check your appointments, play some games and even synchronizes with the email and address book you have on your desktop computer. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

Well, actually you could. And Christmas is not too far off, so it’s a good time to be doing the asking. After the first few weeks of working with your handheld, you probably realized there are lots of little extras that would be really nice to have.

These goodies can include everything from a stylish leather case (usually capable of doubling as a wallet, too) to a wireless communications add-on that provides you with instant, go-anywhere email and Web browsing. Here are a few eye-catching nominees for your handheld computer Christmas wish list:

If you had previously been using a handheld computer that had a built-in keyboard (as this writer does), you may find yourself a little adrift using a Palm or Pocket PC-based handheld that only allows you to enter information and commands with a stylus.

20-PocketPC-Stowaway All of that changed recently, however, when Think Outside, Go-Type, Fellowes, Targus. and others began offering folding keyboards for use with palm-sized computers. These devices, which usually cost around $150, actually go quite a long way to changing the experience of using a palm-sized computer.

They ensure that when you really need a keyboard (for taking extensive notes at a meeting, for example), you have that option. And, when folded up, these keyboards are usually as small size as the palm-sized computer itself!

With handheld computers now being capable of playing video clips, MP3 music files, as well as storing e-books, PowerPoint presentations, and large email archives, there is more reason than ever for extra storage.

20-Mob-CF-cards-4 Until the release of its latest devices, Palm offered no removable media Storage options in its handheld lineup. The new models–M125, M500, and M505–support Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia Card (MMC) format cards. Pocket PC devices typically use Type I or Type II CompactFlash (CF) cards, though earlier Window CE-based devices were equipped with PC Card slots. Handspring’s Palm OS-based Visor line, with its versatile SpringBoard expansion port, will accept different memory card formats depending on the adapter.

You’ll also need to consider what you will be using the memory for. There would be little point, for example, in buying a CF card that stores four hours of MP3 music if your handheld’s battery can only run the MP3 software for a half hour. Solid state memory is still quite expensive, running at $1 to $1.40 per megabyte depending on the capacity of the card.

20-HH-minijam If you are keen to make your handheld the only mobile digital device you carry, you may want to add a device that will allow it to play MP3 music. Many newer handhelds (most Pocket PC-based devices) include this function “out of the box,” so won’t need an add-on. But there are plenty of Handspring Visor users who will, and they will typically pay $300 to $400 for this extra. MP3 player add-ons include the Good Technologies SoundsGood Audioplayer (which stores about 64 MB of audio, around 20 songs) or the InnoGear MiniJam MP3 Player (which has room for up to 128 MB of music).


Targus Voice Recorder add-on

Likewise, you may wish to add digital audio recording capabilities to your handheld. Though this function does come standard with Psion’s Series 5mx and many Pocket PC devices, once again, Handspring Visor and Palm users will need to buy a separate module to get this capability. It will come in the form of a digital voice recorder module from companies–such as LandWare, Syscom, and Targus–and it will cost around $100.

Global Positioning System device 20-HH-GPS
A potentially useful extra gives your handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities. By adding a GPS module, you can figure out exactly where you are on the planet at any given moment. Products such as the Geodiscovery Geode or Nexian Handy GPS (both for the Handspring Visor), or the Magellan GPS Companion or Rand McNally Streetfinder GPS (both for the Palm V) will not only provide you with precise co-ordinates, that information can be viewed on a map. These devices typically cost around $300. One caution though: make sure the package you select includes base maps for Canada.

Communications: data and voice
GlobalAccess Springport 56Kbps modem module

20-HH-KyoceraSmartphone With the right add-on you can do everything, from using your handheld to make and receive voice phone calls to wirelessly browsing the Web. Wireless modems, wireline modems, and mobile phone attachments make all kinds of things possible for the well-equipped handheld. And these add-ons are now starting to appear for Pocket PC, Palm and Handspring systems.

In addition, Microsoft is scheduled to unveil its “Stinger” smartphone in the near future, while Kyocera and Qualcomm already offer smartphones that incorporate the Palm operating system.

But back to the add-ons, starting with the very cool HandSpring VisorPhone. It will cost you just under $500, but turns your Visor into a full-blown GSM phone, complete with caller ID, call waiting, three-way calling, speed dial, call history, voicemail, SMS text messaging, and vibrating alerts. You can also plug in a headset and use it as a modem for wireless email, Web browsing, and remote synchronization.

20-VisorPhone However, make sure there is a GSM carrier in your area that supports this add-on, because you won’t be able to use it without a cell phone account.

For Palm III and V users with Wireless Data services (both email and Web browsing), meanwhile, Novatel offers the Minstrel S modem module for a similar price. You’ll have to make sure you have access to the CDPD data network, however, before you can use this modem. And that network doesn’t cover all parts of Canada, missing out certain backwaters such as Toronto.

If you already have a PCS phone, there’s a chance you can buy a wireless modem kit for it, which allows you to connect your phone and handheld using the handheld’s serial port synchonization cable. We’ve only tested the kit from Rogers AT&T, but Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility have similar products.

And more
There are many dozens more gadgets that you can get for your handheld–everything from padded carrying cases to stylish pens that double as styluses.

By Geof Wheelwright,1017,7613,00.html?tag=81&sb=122



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