Hardware

Mobile memory and PDA power: Don't leave home without them

Consultants who depend on their PDAs shouldn't walk out the door without auxiliary memory or a backup power supply. We'll help you prepare your Palm or your Pocket PC for life on the road.


With the advent of Pocket PC (PPC) and Palm devices, all of your important business information can now fit neatly in your pocket—eliminating the need to lug a laptop or sometimes even a briefcase. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't some other essential business travel items that you shouldn't leave home without. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) do require some maintenance, and woe to those travelers who are caught unprepared. We'll talk about two peripheral PDA products—auxiliary memory and power adapters—that people on the road should keep at the ready.

Memory
The freedom to pack a lightweight, handheld device as opposed to a laptop is not without its consequences. With a laptop, all of your information (applications and data) is saved on the unit's hard drive. Short of a drive crash, your information is safe.

On a handheld device, however, your information is stored in both volatile and non-volatile memory. Since handheld devices depend on battery power, any information stored in volatile memory can be lost if your battery becomes completely drained. All but your core applications and any personal data will be toast.

While the loss of this memory can be catastrophic for both Palm and Pocket PC devices, Pocket PCs are—in my opinion—more likely to suffer a complete battery drain due to their relatively short battery life. My Pocket PC, for example, starts warning me about battery depletion after only two hours of constant use. The warning time varies depending on the applications loaded, screen brightness, and enabled sound effects. At best, you can expect about three hours of life from your Pocket PC battery. A Palm, on the other hand, can operate quite comfortably through hours of continual use.

Your backup memory options differ depending on your choice of PDA device. I'll examine options for both devices below.

CompactFlash (Pocket PC)
This little addition can be an absolute lifesaver for your Pocket PC. With a CompactFlash (CF) module, you can completely back up your Pocket PC applications and data. Once you have reestablished power to the unit, you can then simply restore everything from the CF module.

Both the backup and restore functions are performed using the Backup application in your Programs folder. Besides being valuable for system restoration resulting from battery depletion, I've also found the CF backup/restore very useful when my Pocket PC device became corrupted due to some beta software application.

Much like I would restore a desktop or server, I found I could use my backup image to perform a complete restore on my Pocket PC.

A variety of manufacturers produce CF modules, and they come with a vast array of capacity options. I can back up everything from my very full 64-MB iPAQ to my 128-MB CF module, and the entire backup image requires only 25 MB of space. A 32-MB CF module is probably more than sufficient, however, for the majority of users.

Remember that CF is not compatible in a PC Card (PCMCIA) jacket unless you have the PC Card/CF adaptor. Without the adaptor or a CF jacket, buying the CF module does you no good.

Advantages
  • Compact and easy to transport
  • Very effective for full backup and restore
  • Can restore Pocket PC device in the event of system corruption
  • Larger memory modules can also store additional business data, such as your favorite MP3 files.

Disadvantages
  • Selective backup or restore not available. Take care not to overwrite unsaved data while performing a restore.
  • Only one backup image per CF module
  • No auto-backup schedule available
  • CF slot or additional CF/PC Card adaptor required

Availability
The CompactFlash modules come in numerous configuration sizes and from many manufacturers. Prices start around $40, and the modules can be found at popular IT retail sites, including CNET, PalmGear, and MobilePlanet, as well as at traditional computer retail outlets.

Backup expansion card (Palm)
Complete battery loss can be just as problematic for your Palm device, so any backup card device is equally as indispensable. Palm offers a memory device called a backup expansion card (BEC), and Handspring has a similar product in its Springboard Backup Module.

Advantages
  • The Palm BEC is ultrasmall and easy to transport.
  • Handspring's "combo" modules can also serve as general storage devices.

Disadvantages
  • The Palm BEC is a single-purpose device; it cannot be used for general data storage.
  • BEC supports only one backup image per card.

Availability
Like the modules for the Pocket PC, prices for the Palm backup memory modules start at around $40 and can be found at all the popular sites mentioned above, as well as at traditional computer retail outlets.

Power adapters
While it may be easy to see why business travelers would need a power adapter, it's amazing how often people forget to pack these accessories. If you're traveling for only one or two days, your Palm's battery will likely survive the trip, but this is not the case with the Pocket PC, as I noted above. I strongly advise purchasing an additional travel AC adaptor for your PDA, so that you can plug it in and recharge it in when it's not in use. I like to keep my spare adaptors at home so I can have them handy when I'm packing.

You should also consider purchasing an automobile adapter for the car and/or an air adapter for long flights, so that you can recharge your PDA even when you don't have access to AC power.

A quick search found two portable combination AC chargers that work for both PDAs and mobile phones. ECost.com, for example, features one for $32.83, and PC Mall has a similar product for $58. Compaq’s Web site also features both AC and auto adapters for your Pocket PC. CDW lists many combination auto/air adapters, including models that work with a variety of PDAs. Lind, for example, makes one that is compatible with HP’s Jornada 620, 680 and 690LX series for $61.20. And laptopproducts.com has adapters for 3Com, Canon, Palm, NEC, and other PDA brands.

What do you carry?
What essentials do you bring for your PDA when you're on the road? Tell us what goes into your briefcase: Post a comment or send us an e-mail.

 

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