Pocket Express is an application that provides a wide breadth of information via eleven subscription services, and now three free ones, including news, sports and weather.
I’ve been using it for several weeks now and was set to write my review a while back, but it kept getting pushed for whatever reason. Not until I did a hard reset of my Treo 700w late last week did I realize how much I actually used Pocket Express and how much I had come to depend on its simplicity and speedy delivery of content. My renewed appreciation of Pocket Express ensures its slot on my critical applications list.
Pocket Express is nothing new, Handmark released the first version over a year ago. At the time, their method of delivering quality content over the air was quite remarkable. All this time later the remarkable thing is no one else is doing anything quite as robust or with such an intuitive interface.
Installation and Setup
Pocket Express supports a ton of devices, including those running the Palm OS, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. My test device is the Treo 700w, so thank goodness Handmark also offers a square screen client, something more software developers need to get up to speed on.
Installation on a Windows Mobile device also requires installation of the .NET compact framework, something that didn’t want to install for me on the first try. I ended up doing a soft reset to get the application to install properly. In fact, I needed to do this anyway. Pocket Express takes up a lot of memory, something my Treo 700w isn’t particularly overflowing with.
The setup process for version three is worth the upgrade all by itself. For smartphones, all it takes is adding your zip code to start getting local content. The account is tied into your phone number, so no need to keep track of unlock codes and the like. I was completely surprised at how much faster I was up and running with version 3 compared with version 2.
It’s great that the application installs easily, but Pocket Express is a content service, largely a paid one at that. Thankfully, the content is largely fantastic, only bested by a simple interface that works amazingly well with one hand, something that’s becoming more critical by the day.
Launching Pocket Express takes you to PageOne, the main launching area for the program. From PageOne you can see a list of nine core channels, in addition to extras and the button bar which includes: update, share, settings, and exit options. All of these are easily navigable with the D-pad and, on a device like the 700w, the two action buttons.
As noted, the button bar contains quick access to commonly used functions. The items in the bar will vary a little depending on where you are, but the functions are pretty self-explanatory, and useful. On PageOne, you have these options:
Update — This updates all Pocket Express channels defined in the settings option.
Share — This lets you send off an invitation to a friend for them to try Pocket Express.
Settings — Quick access to your account settings. It also allows you to configure which channels get refreshed when pressing the Update button on PageOne, auto-update schedule, location zip code, and more.
Exit — Closes and stops (in Windows mobile) Pocket Express.
The following are the content channels provided by Pocket Express:
News — Pocket Express offers nine categories of news from the AP: Top News, US News, World News, Middle East, Politics, Technology, Strange News, Health & Wellness and Science. For each channel you can select 3, 5, or 10 news stories, along with abstracts or full content. The 700w is so fast over the EVDO network, I take the entire stories, but if you select abstract, you can download the full stories one at a time as you like. The full story loads in one page, so no need to scroll through multiple pages to read the entire thing. There’s also an option to email the story to a friend or see images associated with the story. As you read through stories, the read count will update on the main page showing the total of unread articles. You can mark a single channel as read, or all stories as read, so on the next update it’s easier to tell which content is new.
I find the news content to be extremely broad, while still offering enough depth to feel like you have a nice understanding of the core issues. You can deselect some of the channels if you’re not interested in them. Overall it’s a good experience.
Sports — Sports offers statistics, game updates, and box scores for the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA men’s and women’s basketball, NCAA football, NASCAR, and Formula 1 racing. The channel also offers AP news content, similar to the main news channel. When you first launch the sports channel it will use your zip code to suggest local teams of interest. Of course you can customize which sports and teams are tracked, though.
The sports channel is pretty high level in terms of the data offered. While they do offer box scores and even in-game notes for sports like baseball, it takes a little too long to get to that screen and there’s no team news or other more detailed team coverage. There’s definitely room to improve here, so the channel is average when compared to the others.
Weather — The weather data brings comprehensive 7-day extended forecasts, 2-day detailed forecasts, marine forecasts, ski reports, and weather watches/advisories. On first launch the weather data displayed is for your home zip code. You can add additional cities easily either by zip code or address.
While not the most sexy content, Handmark has done a phenomenal job with weather. This channel highlights what I love about Pocket Express: the ability to access detailed content quickly and easily. Sure, you can browse to several websites to get weather, but can you get a marine forecast in less than 15 seconds? The data is detailed and accurate, a definite gold star for this application.
Stocks — Stocks allows you to track individual stock symbols along with market news, business news and columnist Scott Burns. Stock prices are on a 20 minute delay, but that’s going to be fine for the more casual investor. The portfolio display offers an easy to digest view of stock symbols you’ve added. Each ticker can be selected for more detailed information about the day’s action. It would be pretty cool if Pocket Express were to tie into major brokerages to allow for easy sign in from this screen, should inspiration to buy or sell strike, but it’s not meant to be a trading service, just an overview of the market and your watch list.
Showbiz — This channel brings a wide variety of entertainment news and information to Pocket Express, including the latest news from TV, music, and film, along with the ability to retrieve movie listings and times and the option to buy tickets.
The movies content offers a great deal of depth. It’s easy to get full details, including plot line, rating, and list of actors for each movie, along with a review. I was also able to easily find all the theaters in my area, adding them to the preferred list. The only downer is there’s no easy way to view movies by theater, the default view is a movie listing. I generally select the theater I’m going to visit, then the movie, but I suppose that’s a personal thing.
Info — The information channel is comprised of several tools including: find a person, find a business, find a neighbor, reverse address, and reverse phone. After a search, matches will be returned in a list. You can select an item for more details, including the ability to dial that number, map the location, or add to contacts.
This is another gold star content channel for Pocket Express. The business look-up is the most-used tool by me and the most missed one when I forgot to re-install Pocket Express after my hard reset. I love being able to quickly search for a business, get the number and even a map with driving directions if needed. Again, this is a case where there are online tools that do the same, but Pocket Express is so fast and easy to use, it’s worth the added cost.
Maps — As mentioned in the info channel, Pocket Express offers a nice mapping and directions service. Maps offer nice detail with five levels of zoom and the ability to pan in different directions. Once a map has been presented, you can input another to get directions to or from the address, along with an overview map of the route.
As noted above, I really enjoy the maps tool. It’s one of the best features of Pocket Express, a great tool when you’re out on the road and need some quick help.
Dictionary — The Oxford American dictionary provides more than 250,000 definitions and thousands of other entries. Dictionary results offer a definition, pronunciation as well as Thesaurus results and an index of surrounding words. I didn’t use the dictionary much, but having this on-demand resource could come in handy I’m sure.
Blog — Handmark uses the blog tool to post messages about the product. Currently they have a note about the Porsche contest. I don’t find it terribly helpful, it’s a little more promotional than anything else, but it’s there if you want it.
The Extras tab offers additional channels and shopping opportunities. I’ll run through these quickly:
Dear Abby — In need of advice from a cultural icon? Get the full digest of Abby’s daily column.
Astrology — Get your Zodiac reading for the day and a list of celebrity birthdays.
News of the weird — Odd news from Chuck Shephard.
Get Tools/Games/More — These sections let you browse the Handmark catalog to get more information on their products and make a purchase. They use the last three spots to feature specific products.
As I said at the start of this review, I didn’t know how much I really liked Pocket Express until I didn’t have it for a few days. The entire application was designed with one-handed use in mind; I can accomplish everything with one thumb on the Treo 700w. The interface is easy to use and understand as well.
Most importantly, the content is of superior quality and channels download quickly. With the exception of a few channels, most of them are models of excellence in terms of layout, ease of use, and detail. Handmark has shown a tremendous attention to detail with Pocket Express as they continue to evolve it from version to version.
The big question is of course is whether or not the subscription fee is worthwhile. First off, I give Handmark a lot of credit for the free content. They give enough to be useful, and from their perspective, hopefully enough to whet the appetite for a purchase. The cost is $6.99 per month or $69.99 for the year. On the surface that sounds like a lot, but for me, the time savings is worth it. Further, I usually need Pocket Express in a pinch, you know, the time when you would pay just about anything to have a map, phone number, or whatever. Of course I have a year’s worth for free as a member of the media, but when my year is up, I intend to renew, at my expense.
The bottom line is the free content is worth getting to test out the system. They have a 14-day trial for the full content, so see if you use it enough to pay up and if not, you at least get free news, sports info, and weather.
- Excellent content
- Designed for use with one hand
- Intuitive interface
- Support for Palm OS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry
- Free content is useful
- Expensive subscription service
Download the free trial for each operating system here –