June 04, 2004

Gadget Review - iPAQ 1945

I asked about PDA’s back in this post, and got plenty of good advice and ideas in the comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

I wound up getting an iPAQ Pocket PC, model 1945, and so far I love it!!! Originally developed by Compaq, now the iPAQ’s fly under the Hewlett-Packard banner (my parents both retired from HP – Yay!). This is a true PC, shrunk down to pocket size.

The 1900 series of iPAQ’s are the low-end of the line, which doesn’t mean a damn thing when you look at the features built in. The processor is as fast as the two year old PC on my desk, and there’s as much on-board RAM as my PC too. The iPAQ’s run the Windows CE operating system, which was a positive thing in my eyes. They have MSWord and Excel built in, so I don’t have to convert files to and from a proprietary format like I would have had to if I'd have gotten a Palm. It also has Internet Explorer, Outlook and PowerPoint built in. The color screen is small, but clear and bright and sharp. It's also oriented in portrait mode rather than landscape, so some programs rearrange things to make better use of the space.

Besides the PC-style software, there's a very nice Contact List function, which is like a super address book, the ability to build to-do lists - called Task Lists - including setting alarms to remind you before tasks are due. Appointments and calendars are easy to set up and use, and you can check your schedule by the day, week, or month, plus there's a built-in perpetual calendar.

And that's not all. The "notes" function reads your scribbles to jot quick notes or draw a diagram, and a simple one-button voice recorder lets you save verbal messages as .wav files.

Plus - yep, there's more! - the 1945 has built-in bluetooth wireless technology. I'm not entirely up to speed on bluetooth yet, but it's similar to WiFi and allows you to automatically connect to other bluetooth devices, like a cell phone, to access the internet, email or another PC.

A single expansion slot is available for Secure Disk media, and besides memory cards (generally costing a little less than fifty cents per MB), there are many other attachments such as true WiFi cards, digital cameras, GPS modules, etc. Some of the other nifty things available are "real" keyboards and even solar panels that will power your iPAQ if you're working outside.

Input can be done by either tapping out on a little virtual keyboard on the screen (which isn't as horrible as I thought it might be), or there is handwriting recognition software already installed. The best option, especially if you have a lot of input to do, is to type it into your desktop PC and then transfer it to the iPAQ.

The iPAQs are designed to be used with your desktop PC as a team. By hooking up the included USB cable, you can synchronize the two, which will update both PCs with the most recent versions of data from each. Battery life is supposed to be about four hours of actual use, but I haven't come close to that because at home and work I keep it plugged in to the AC converter (included), which also keeps the battery charged.

I picked up a copy of "iPAQ for Dummies", which I highly recommend. It's not all applicable for my situation, and a lot of it is stuff I'd already figured out on my own, but it's full of simple explanations and suggestions for ways to get the most out of the iPAQ.

I've discovered several resources online for downloadable programs. There's an awful lot of freeware and shareware, and even professional titles range from a few bucks up to about thirty dollars. The iPAQ has an active user community on the 'net, with forums where you can post questions and receive help quickly. An example of the freeware available are programs that allow you to turn your iPAQ into a programmable universal remote. Yes, it'll work on TV's and VCR's, but also on slide show projectors and presentation media controllers.

One of the freeware programs I've loaded onto my iPAQ is the eBook Reader from Microsoft. I've never tried eBooks before, but to my surprise I really like the implementation. The text is far more readable than I anticipated, and there are a few really good libraries of free eBooks to download, besides the popular bestsellers and such you can purchase from Amazon (among others). You can add annotations and bookmarks and attach notes, kinda like writing in the margins as you read. It's pretty neat.

So what am I reading? A lot of the free volumes are classic literature, like Shakespeare. I've read some Edgar Allen Poe, am currently enjoying Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and I have Percival Lowell's Mars on deck. In the future there will be some Sherlock Holmes, John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, and others less mysterious and adventerous. I'll find the links (they're on my home PC) and post them in the near future for anyone interested.

Two warnings about these electronic beasties. First, you'll only get out of them what you put into them. If you make it a point to use it consistantly, then it'll be more useful to you when you really need it. Which means you have to remember to have it with you. It'll take some time to get all your information entered and organized the way you want it, but it's worth the effort. This is no different than using a paper-based system like the Geodex or Dayrunner.

Second, buying the iPAQ is only the beginning of the expenses. You'll almost immediately want to buy a case for yours, to protect it. There are thin plastic overlays for the screen, to keep you from scratching it up as you tap (same as a mouse click on a PC) and write on it with the stylus. I haven't needed to yet, but they sell spare stylus in multipacks, so apparently they break or get lost easily. And of course, there are the memory cards. The cards are your 'hard drives', because everything on the iPAQ resides in memory. I expect that I'll eventually get a few memory cards, one for work-related stuff, one for personal stuff (including eBooks and rocketry files, and maybe one dedicated to music files so I can use the iPAQ like an iPod.

I didn't mention games at all, because I'm not a big computer game player. The iPAQ comes with Jawbreaker and Solitaire, and versions of Minesweeper, Tetris, and almost everything else under the sun are available for download. The screen is small but sharp and clear, so I expect game play to be acceptable.

I'm pretty level-headed when it comes to new technology, I really have to be able to justify it to myself before getting a new toy. If you have the need for one of these, I highly recommend it. If you don't have the need, you'd probably find something for it to do, because it's that versitile.

Posted by Ted at June 4, 2004 05:51 AM | TrackBack
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