Handheld starter course

Doesn't it seem like everyone around you has one of those nifty little handheld devices? You'd like to get one but don't know where to start. During this Guild Meeting, Trent Cook took a look at what you need to consider before you buy a handheld.

Doesn't it seem like everyone around you has one of those nifty little handheld devices? You'd like to get one but don't know where to start. On August 3rd Trent Cook took a look at what you need to consider before you buy a handheld. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Note TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.


Doesn't it seem like everyone around you has one of those nifty little handheld devices? You'd like to get one but don't know where to start. On August 3rd Trent Cook took a look at what you need to consider before you buy a handheld. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Note TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Introducing tonight’s speaker
MODERATOR: Good evening everyone. Welcome to TechProGuild's Guild Meeting. This evening we have Trent Cook, who will tell us all about those remarkable devices known as handheld computers, or PDAs. Everyone say hi to Trent.

TRENT COOK: Hi all, how is everyone tonight?

MODERATOR: And now, here's Trent.

What exactly is a PDA?
TRENT COOK: Tonight, I am going to discuss Palm Pilots with you all. How many of you have a PDA already?

EARMSBY: Not me.

SHARI: I just got one about a month ago.

MODERATOR: I've got a Palm Pilot Pro and TRG Pro.

TRENT COOK: I guess first thing should be, who knows what PDA stands for? PDA stands for personal digital assistant...a tidbit for you to remember.

KEVINOSAR: Palm Pilot for short?

TRENT COOK: Well as a computer geek by trade and recreation, I found myself swamped with passwords, dates, meetings, etc. I found it hard to keep myself organized. Anyone else feel that way ever?

EARMSBY: Definitely!

ACG: So sticky notes all over my desk are passé?

SHARI: I was organized, but my notes were in three different places.

TRENT COOK: I purchased a Palm V, and instead of mountains of paper with notes and appointments, I now have everything in a nice little Palm Pilot.

KEVINOSAR: So a Palm Pilot is just a mini notebook?

Fixing and backing up your Palm
EARMSBY: What do you do if the Palm Pilot stops working?

MAVERIK: Good question.

ACG: Call the help desk. At least that is what my users do.

TRENT COOK: If you get a fatal exception error or any other error message, 99 percent of the time you will have to reset the Palm, Earmsby. To do that you must look on the back and you will see a small hole with the word reset by it. You will have to press that in and hold it until your Palm resets.

EARMSBY: Can you back it up to a PC somewhere?

TRENT COOK: Excellent question, Earmsby. You sure can, and you must if you don’t want to risk losing your data. A Palm comes with a hot synch cradle. What this does is plug in to your serial port in the back of your PC. You then just install the software that comes with your Palm Pilot, set your PDA in the cradle, and hit the button (there is only one), and BOOM instant backup.

HAROLD966: Do all PDAs exchange info with PCs?

TRENT COOK: All the upper-level PDAs allow back up to the PC; Palms are great for this because they can also synch info from your PC to the Palm as well as from the Palm to the PC.

EARMSBY: All the info is saved to the PC?

TRENT COOK: Earmsby, yes, your info is saved to the PC. This is critical, and I will tell you why. When you have a Palm that uses batteries (AAA), such as the Palm III, you have about 30 seconds to replace them or else all your data will be lost. Don’t fret though, all data will be stored to your PC, so just set it in the cradle and hit the hot synch button, and all your data will be placed back on the Palm.

EARMSBY: Ah, I see. So I could synchronize my office Outlook with my home Outlook fairly easily, then?

Purchasing considerations
TRENT COOK: Now, what to look for before you buy. The first thing is weight and size. If the Palm is not portable enough for you to be bothered to carry around, you won’t use it. That is not a good thing. Just to note, the Palm V is the smaller version. Although the Palm IIIc is larger, it has a color display, which is nice.

SHARI: Palm V is great. I just throw it in my purse.

TRENT COOK: Shari, a purse would be great, but I would get some strange looks around the office.

KEVINOSAR: Does it fit in a shirt pocket?

TRENT COOK: Kevinosar, the Palm V could easily fit in a shirt pocket, but I don’t recommend carrying it there though, because if you forget it’s there and you bend over, it could prove to be an expensive crash on the floor.

The second thing to consider when you’re buying a Palm Pilot is battery life/type. I personally prefer a rechargeable Palm, such as the Palm V or IIIc because I don’t like to be bothered with batteries.

KEVINOSAR: OK, you mentioned earlier that some Palm Pilots use AAA batteries. Is there anything else battery wise?

TRENT COOK: Yes Kevinosar, the Palm V and IIIc as I mentioned are rechargeable lithium batteries and can last a few weeks easily.

EARMSBY: Did you say that you recommended rechargeable over AAA?

TRENT COOK: Earmsby, I personally prefer the rechargeable lithium because there is a meter at the top of my Palm that tells me the battery’s life. I can then just drop my Palm in the cradle and let it charge for a couple hours.

Downloading with a Palm
KEVINOSAR: I have a question about downloading information. One product I've been told that my firm is supposed to bring out is the ability to send trade orders through a Palm Pilot to the exchange floor.

TRENT COOK: A couple of great sites to download software from are http://www.tucows.com/ and http://www.palmgear.com/.

KEVINOSAR: If that were true then the Palm Pilot would have to be connected to a PC in order for that to work, correct?

EARMSBY: This is shareware?

TRENT COOK: Wireless communication is taking off, and the short answer is no, Kevinosar. I have set up wireless modems to Palm Pilots as well as laptops, and it is very cool to walk around without a cord and surf the Net. My previous company was actually developing WML, which is a markup language for wireless PDAs and cellular phones. It’s pretty neat actually.

Software/OS issues
HAROLD966: Can you install software in PDA like in a PC?

TRENT COOK: Harold966, you sure can. You can even upgrade the PDA’s OS.

HAROLD966: What software do you use? Is it some kind of Windows for PDA?

TRENT COOK: What you do, Harold, is go to a site, such as http://www.palmgear.com/ and download the software you like. Then open up your Palm software and install manager. In an Explorer window, browse to the software you just downloaded. Click on the Synch button and voilà you’ve installed your software. You will have to unzip the software before you can use it.

EARMSBY: I assume the Palm PDAs have a proprietary OS. Does it "play nice" with other systems?

KEVINOSAR: Does it run any particular OS?

TRENT COOK: If you have a Palm Pilot, you will use their OS. It’s actually a great OS and add-ons can be downloaded to make it look just like Windows with the Start button, if that is your preference.

EMOORE: Do PDAs come with any standard software or just an OS?

TRENT COOK: Emoore, PDAs come with the OS, a few games, an address book, notepad, calendar/reminder, to-do list, calculator, etc.

KEVINOSAR: How much memory does it hold?

TRENT COOK: Palms come with 2-8 megs of RAM.

EMOORE: Can you upgrade the amount of memory?

TRENT COOK: Emoore, no you can’t upgrade a Palm’s memory. My Palm V has 2 megs, and I have not used half of it yet. I even have a few nifty games installed to pass the time. Average size of the apps on my Palm run from 1K to 30K.

MAVERIK: Trent, are you sure? I think Palm does sell memory upgrades. I believe a company called TRGpro does as well.

TRENT COOK: Really, Maverik, I actually inquired to 3COM the maker of the Palm because I had heard there were upgrades available and the support said only the OS is upgradeable. Speaking of which, at http://www.palm.com/ they have an online chat support, which is actually pretty decent, unless the info they told me about they memory upgrades was false.

Inputting information into the Palm
TRENT COOK: The Palm IIIe is a very affordable Palm system, although don’t be too hasty in buying one. Remember that it does not have the ability to upgrade the OS.

EMOORE: How long did it take you, Trent, to feel like you were productive using your Palm Pilot? Was there much of a learning curve?

TRENT COOK: Emoore, the learning curve although it isn’t steep, is tricky. Here is what I mean: You will not have a hard time finding your way around the OS at all, but you have to input all your names, phone numbers, etc. To do this, you can use the program in the Palm OS called Graffiti. Basically Graffiti is the alphabet. You use the stylus (pen) to write on the screen, and the numbers/letters/symbols are typed into your Palm for you. Graffiti is very, very close to standard letters, and the Palm comes with little trainers and cards to show you how to do it.

EMOORE: So it forces you to write legibly? How do doctors manage?

TRENT COOK: Exactly, Emoore, you basically just have to be legible. There is another alternative built in to the Palm as well. Down in the corner of the writing tab, you can tap on the letters and bring up a virtual keyboard, which you just tap with the end of your pen to input characters. This is great to use while you’re learning Graffiti.

EMOORE: Which is quicker—writing or tapping?

TRENT COOK: Writing is definitely faster when you have the hang of it, but at first the tapping is pretty fast as well.

EMOORE: Do you write each letter in the same space? I can't quite picture it. TRENT COOK: Emoore, yes, you do. It’s more like printing if that is how you want to think of it. You just print a letter, then another over that one.

Enhancing the Palm’s life
TRENT COOK: I have a few very cost-effective tips and tricks to maintain the life of your Palm. Palms can run from $149-$449, which is quite an investment, so you will want to take care of it. The easy thing to do, of course, is buy a leather case. Even though this will add to your cost, which is something you want to minimize, I am recommending it anyway.

Now, for the cheap tips: You can put a lot of wear and tear on your writing area, so cut a post-it note to the same size (36mm) and stick it to one side and tuck the other under the casing. This gives you protection, but also a little rougher surface for writing, which is nice, although the color isn’t the best. Instead of a post-it note you can use a thick piece of clear tape. If you have to make a support call, you will want your serial number on the back. I recommend placing a piece of tape over it as well. For $1.50 you can purchase anti-skid rubber tabs, which are great on the back of your Palm. This can prevent a bump of a table sending your $450 Palm to the floor.

I also recommend cleaning your PDA’s screen with a CD cloth or a shoeshine cloth. That way, you won’t scratch your screen. The key is to keep it looking as new as possible.

Replacing a broken Palm Pilot
MAVERIK: How is support on these devices if something breaks?

TRENT COOK: Maverik, do you mean tech support (software) or actually fixing a broken part (hardware)?

MAVERIK: I mean hardware.

TRENT COOK: Hardware support is actually pretty poor. If you break it after your store warranty is up...well, you know how it goes...time for an upgrade.

Alternatives to Palm Pilots
EARMSBY: You've talked about Palm Pilots mostly. Are there any other PDAs to look at?

TRENT COOK: Earnsby, I have talked about the Palms as they are the PDA I personally prefer and recommend. That, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t other great PDAs out there.

JPNERD: When you’re on long trip, can you recharge your Palm Pilot from the car?

TRENT COOK: Jpnerd, I’m not sure about using a car recharger, but I know there are kits for recharging in different countries with different wall voltages.

Hooking up with a PC
EMOORE: Do they come with cables to connect to your PC or is that a peripheral item?

TRENT COOK: Emoore, a cable to the cradle plugs in to your serial port, and then you set your PDA into the cradle and it’s fully connected.

EMOORE: What about efficiency and user-friendliness from model to model?

TRENT COOK: As far as the Palm goes, each model has the same synching mechanism, and they are incredibly easy to use. Literally one button synchs your device.

Thanks for coming
MODERATOR: I want to thank Trent Cook for speaking tonight.

TRENT COOK: It was my pleasure; I had a great group tonight.

EMOORE: Very helpful topic! Thanks!

TRENT COOK: My pleasure.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

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