Looking for a way to make professional presentations without lugging around your laptop computer? Well, I’ve recently evaluated three products that, when teamed with a Palm handheld or Pocket PC, can do just that. While all three can certainly do the job, you’ll need to find the one that best meets your presentation needs.
Margi Systems Presenter-to-Go SD card
Weight: 0.36 lbs.
Presenter-to-Go SD from Margi Systems is an SDIO (Secure Digital Input/Output) device that enables users of Palm devices to show Microsoft PowerPoint presentations on standard VGA monitors and LCD projectors. It actually does much more than this, including showing the Palm handheld’s screen on the projector and managing PowerPoint presentations on the handheld device.
The package consists of the Presenter-to-Go device itself, a plug-in power adapter, a VGA cable, and a credit-card-sized IR remote. The device is a small box about 1.5 x 2 inches with a VGA connector on one end, a cable with SDIO card on the other end, and two IR ports on either side. There’s also a small power connector for external DC power. While the external power adapter is not required, it will extend the amount of time you can present from about 90 minutes (with no external power) to three hours (with external power). The DC power adapter does not connect to the handheld, so no handheld charging is done. Also in the box is a CD-ROM containing the software and a few slips of paper with quick-start instructions.
Let me start by saying that this little gem does exactly what Margi claims it will do, and does so flawlessly, as far as I can tell. It even has a few features that make you realize that the designers actually thought this stuff through fairly carefully. Never once has this product crashed my Palm or done anything ‘weird’.
The software consists of a PowerPoint plug-in that will convert any presentation to a .pdb file for loading onto the handheld device. The plug-in does some compression that works best if there are not too many pictures or complex slide backgrounds. However, in all of the presentations I used, the resultant .pdb file was LARGER than the original .ppt. And don’t bother with fancy slide transitions or animations – they’re not supported by this system.
Also installed is a printer driver that allows any Windows program to create additional output data from any program that can print. Note that any program you try this with must generate output in landscape mode, not portrait. For all programs I’ve tried, this is not an issue since all modern programs support landscape printing. There is also the Presenter-to-Go Desktop program that allows the user to manage which presentations have been generated and loaded into the handheld device.
On the handheld side, there are a few programs that get loaded: an SDIO card slot driver, the Presenter program, and the Mirror program. All told, these take up about 332K of space. There is also a tutorial presentation (see screenshot at right) that gets loaded by default, but it’s huge (over 900K) and can be safely deleted after (or before) installation. Mirror is the program that lets you display your handheld device’s screen on the projector, so if you don’t plan on using this feature, you could save yourself about 80 K.
Once you’ve created a presentation in PowerPoint and have HotSynced the resulting .pdb file to your device (all handled very seamlessly by the desktop software), you may start your presentation. After attaching the various cables, you run the Presenter program. The program finds any presentations on the handheld device and displays an outline view of one of them. You can easily switch to another presentation with a drop-down menu.
The outline view shows the title of each slide, along with a checkbox and note icon for each. You can ‘un-check’ any slide to have it skipped (not shown on the projector) during the presentation, and you can tap the note icon to see the slide text and notes on the handheld device while the slide graphics are shown on the projector. This is very handy for reading your notes while the audience views the slides. Pressing the scroll-down button on the handheld (or the ‘Next’ button on the remote) will cause the next slide to be presented. If you are viewing the slide notes on the device, the next slide’s notes are shown.
There is a thumbnail mode on the handheld where you can see a highly-compressed view of the slide on the Palm’s screen. In this view, you can also draw on the Palm’s screen with your stylus and the resulting lines appear on the projector as well. This is very useful for drawing attention to details on the slide. An eraser icon instantly deletes any drawing you have done.
Now a note about speed. This system is pretty fast, but not as fast as a laptop or desktop computer; it takes time to render each slide. The Margi hardware makes this almost transparent to the audience because it can hold two rendered slides at a time. So, while you’re showing slide 5, the software is rendering slide 6 and loading it to the Margi module. A little clock icon indicates when the next slide is ready. When you actually switch to slide 6, it appears instantly, and then the systems begins to render slide 7. It takes about 3 to 5 seconds to render a slide, so, unless you’re a very fast talker, the next slide will always be ready when you are. However, I wish Margi had built in support for three slides into their little box, because going backward one slide takes the full 3 to 5 seconds. If you’ve done presentations, you know that you often have to go back a slide because someone asks a question just after you switch slides. It’s not a big problem, but it would have been a nice feature.
When I first ordered the Margi Presenter-to-Go SD card, I was concerned about the size of presentations and the fact that the SD card slot is occupied by the presenter card. Margi has done a nice job of mitigating this problem and making it as convenient as possible. There’s no denying that any presentation you plan to give must fit in the handheld device’s RAM. Obviously, Presenter-to-Go can’t show a presentation directly from an SD Storage card. But, the program makes it easy by copying the selected presentation from the card. You then just pop out your SD storage card and pop in the SDIO card, and off you go. You can then delete the presentation from RAM when you’re done, all copying is accomplished within the Presenter program. About as easy as it could be, and more convenient than having to use a third-party utility to copy the file from SD Storage manually.
What can I say about Mirror? You run the program, enable the output, and from then on everything that appears on your handheld screen also appears on the projector. There are settings that allow you to adjust the update speed–the faster the updates, the more CPU time is taken up–so you have to decide on the trade-offs for yourself. You can also change the size of the projected screen from 160×160 up to 640×640. This just adjusts the displayed size; the program does pixel doubling to keep the aspect ratio consistent.
The Margi Presenter-to-Go SD card works as advertised and makes presentations a breeze and very professional-looking without the need of lugging around a laptop.
Margi Presenter-to-Go CF card
Weight: 0.36 lb.
Most of the above review of the Margi SD card also applies to the Compact Flash version of the Margi system. The differences are:
– The CF version supports Pocket PC only
– The CF version does not support drawing on the screen in preview mode
– The CF version does not support reading presentations from Compact Flash cards. The presentations must already be resident in the handheld device’s RAM.
– The CF version does not have built-in IR ports on the device. The IR remote must be pointed at the IR port of the handheld device. This means that the handheld must have its top pointing at you while you’re holding the IR remote. This may be a bit cumbersome, especially if you want to sneak a peek at the slide notes as you present.
– The CF version is much faster, so paging forward and backward are equally fast. No pre-rendering seems to take place, and the little clock icon that tells you that the next slide is being rendered does not appear. This is undoubtedly a result of the faster CPU in PocketPCs, as well as the extra memory most PocketPCs have built-in.
– The CF version comes with a small, spring-closure bag. Unfortunately, though this bag is very nice, there’s only room for the IR remote and the CF card. The short cable with the VGA and power ports does not fit in this little bag.
It’s worth noting that Margi Systems also produces a Presenter-to-Go device for Handspring’s SpingBoard interface.
The Margi Presenter-to-Go CF card works as advertised and makes presentations a breeze and very professional-looking without the need of lugging around a laptop.
The Colorgraphic Voyager CF card
Weight: 0.24 lb.
Colorgraphic Communications Corporation makes a CompactFlash VGA adapter for Pocket PCs (see Brighthand editor Steve Bush’s article about his trip to Colorgraphic last August). In contrast to Margi Systems’ offering, this is purely a VGA adapter. However, third-party presentation software (ClearVue Suite from Westtek) is bundled in the package.
The package includes the CF card, a cable, and software CD. The adapter itself works as advertised, though expect significant slowing on an older Pocket PC, such as the HP Jornada 540. Various output resolutions are available, all the way up to 1024×768. This adapter does not support any type of external power supply like the Margi devices.
This adapter differs from the Margi offering in several important ways:
– The adapter has no IR capabilities or remote.
– It has several useful choices for output, including VGA, Composite, and Television (both NTSC and PAL). All of these connectors (15 pin D, S-Video, and RCA) are all available on the single, 3-inch-wide connector at the end of the 3-foot cable from the CF card.
– The bundled ClearVue Suite software is unique in that it presents normal PowerPoint files; there’s no conversion step required. Just load your *.ppt files into the handheld device and away you go. It’s easy to see that you could load several presentations onto a CF card from the PC (using a CF card reader/writer). You can then copy one into the handheld device’s RAM and start your presentation. Obviously, since the Colorgraphic adapter occupies the CF slot, you’d have to copy the files before inserting the adapter. ClearVue also preserves and displays your animations and transitions. It’s interesting to note that the ClearVue Suite also supports the Margi CF card as an output device.
The Colorgraphic Voyager package comes with a small nylon bag to make carrying convenient.
The Colorgraphic Voyager CF card works as advertised and makes presentations a breeze and very professional-looking without the need of lugging around a laptop.
Who’s the winner? You are. These are all excellent, reasonably priced systems that make it easy to make professional presentations without lugging around a laptop computer.
In the Palm world, Margi is really the only game in town right now. But look for alternative offerings from Portsmith that use the Universal Connector instead of the SD slot (see picture at right) and have its own processor and memory. It will require external power, but will also charge your Palm handheld while in use.
For Pocket PC, you have a choice between Margi and Colorgraphic. While you really can’t go wrong with either system, you should base your choice on your own presentation habits and what’s important to you, including reading native .ppt files, battery life, a variety of output formats, and whether you’d like an IR remote.
About the author
Chris Scullion is President of Intrepidsoft, a company specializing in custom mobile computing software for both Palm and Pocket PC.