Developer

One-handed PDA gets high five

With a longer battery life and the ability to be operated with one hand, the HandEra 330 PDA could be a good choice for IT consultants. Here's a review that covers its features and compares the product with its competitors.


You’re driving to meet a potential client, and you need to call ahead because you’re stuck in traffic and you’ll probably be late. Steering one-handed, you grab your Palm to retrieve the client’s telephone number. Alas, it’s out of power.

Or perhaps, while juggling your cell phone and your Visor, you drop the PDA somewhere in the black hole beneath your car seat and it lands among old honey-roasted peanuts and dried coffee and Coke spills.

If this scenario sounds familiar, then the HandEra 330 has two features that you will appreciate: extra battery time and one-handed operation.

Based on the Palm III form factor, the HandEra 330 boasts features that will make it as important to you as your cell phone. I consider it to be the best in its class when compared to similar models like Palm’s m125, m500, m505, and Handspring’s Visor Pro.

HandEra 330 at a glance
Price: $299
CPU: 33-MHz Motorola DragonBall-VZ
Memory: 8 MB RAM, 2 MB Flash ROM
OS: Palm 3.5.2 with extensions for CompactFlash, Secure Digital (SD), and MultiMedia Cards (MMC)
Ports/Slots: Serial, Infrared, CompactFlash Type I/II, Secure Digital, and MMC bay
Screen: 16 gray-scale QVGA screen with double the Palm III resolution at 240 x 320 pixels
Power: Four AAA batteries, optional A/C adaptor, optional Lithium Ion battery that fits in battery compartment
Thoughtful features: Jog Button, quality speaker, virtual (collapsible) Graffiti area, microphone, screen-based contrast and volume slide controls, virtual ink Graffiti, voice memo, room for four AAA batteries instead of two AA or an L-ion battery (allows for longer life)
Software: Standard Palm apps (Date Book, Address Book, Mail, To Do List, Memo Pad), CardPro to access add-on cards, Backup, Chapura Pocket Mirror (links to Microsoft Outlook), Quickoffice (to create Excel charts and Word compatible docs)


Flashy additions
While new Palm PDAs such as the m125, m500, and m505 support Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia Cards (MMC), none of them support CompactFlash (CF). The HandEra 330, however, supports all three. CF support is a big plus, as the CF cards are cheap, they’re formatted for PCs, and they provide up to 1 GB of memory. CF slots also support modems, Ethernet, wireless networking, phone cards, and so on (a list of accessory devices can be found on HandEra's Web site).

Figure A
Features of the HandEra 330 include a Jog Wheel and two industry-standard slots for adding memory and other devices.


Going Jogging
The Jog Wheel/Auxiliary Button functions (see Figure A above) are what I like best about the HandEra 330. The Jog Dial allows you to scroll through applications, addresses, memos, to-do items, and other data fields. Once you've found the application or information you need, you press the Auxiliary Button to select. In essence, you’ve got a one-handed machine.

And, when you can’t free your hand to write something down, you can press and hold the Auxiliary Button to navigate to Voice Pad, which begins recording as long as you keep the button pressed. When you let go, recording stops. You can scroll through voice memos using the Jog Wheel and then press it straight in to play back that important message.

Feature comparison
Should you invest in the HandEra 330? I think so. Palm has improved, thanks to PDA competition, but not enough to keep up with new technology. HandEra beats Palm devices, hands down.

But you can make up your own mind. Figure B lists key features of the HandEra 330, Palm m125, m500, m505, and the HandSpring Visor Pro for comparison.
Figure B
HandEra
330
Palm
m125
Palm
m500
Palm
m505
HandSpring
Visor Pro
Price $299 $249 $399 $449 $299
Processor 33 MHz 33 MHz 33 MHz 33 MHz 33 MHz
Screen Gray Gray Gray Color Gray
Resolution 240x320 160x160 160x160 160x160 160x160
RAM/ROM 8 MB/
2 MB
8 MB/
2 MB
(non-flash)
8 MB/
4 MB
8 MB/
4 MB
16 MB
Palm OS 3.5.2 (4.0 to come) 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.5.2
CompactFlash Yes No No No No—
Springboard
SD & MMC cards Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Jog Dial Yes No No No No
Voice Memo Yes No No No No
Vibrating & LED Alarm No Yes No
Speaker Yes No No No No
Microphone Yes No No No No
Power 4 AAA or optional
L-Ion
2 AA L-Ion L-Ion L-Ion
Collapsible Graffiti area Yes No No No No
Bonus
software
Quick Office, Pocket Mirror Documents To Go, Pocket Mirro Documents To Go, Pocket Mirro Documents To Go, Pocket Mirror None
USB Cradle No—serial Yes Yes Yes Yes

I think you’ll agree that the 330 deserves a high five. Just the collapsible Graffiti area tips the scale in its favor. The extra screen real estate really makes the most of a limitation.

A few wrinkles
With such an otherwise well-engineered product, you'd think that HandEra would hinge the battery door rather than making one that detaches. The HandEra also connects to a serial port, not a USB. But both are minor quibbles.

A more significant issue, however, is the cost of accessories. It would have been nice had HandEra included the A/C adaptor/Lithium battery charger, but at $40, HandEra is charging an arm and a leg for a transformer.

A strong grip on device design
Overall, HandEra Inc. makes quality gear. Last year, I reviewed HandEra’s TRGPro (the company was called TRGPro Products Inc. until it changed its name to HandEra in May), and I praised its revved-up version of the Palm IIIx.

The Des Moines, IA-based company began its life specializing in memory upgrades for RAM-starved Palm Pilot and Palm Pilot Professionals. (It still sells memory kits for Palm devices.) Gradually, familiarity with Palm hardware led it to tinker with the devices themselves and make innovative software like FlashPro, for copying programs to nonvolatile system memory, and AutoCF, for running programs from a CompactFlash card.

The company’s history gives me confidence in its product. I recommend the HandEra 330 as the digital assistant that’s best in its class and as a product that is considerately engineered for users’ real lives.

Are you still using your PDA?
Do you still use a PDA to keep track of your work, or is it collecting dust on your bookshelf? Post your comments below and tell us if you’ve continued using your PDA.

 

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