A PC in the hand
- By Michelle Speir
- Jul 10, 2000
The desktop PC isn't quite yet passe, but mobile devices are beginning to
threaten the desktop's once-sovereign realm. Indeed, the hype surrounding
the new Pocket PCs might make you wonder why you would need anything else.
Sporting applications with names such as Microsoft Pocket Word and Pocket
Excel, Pocket PCs sound like the perfect answer to a business traveler's
quandary of finding sufficient time to both travel and complete necessary
While Pocket PCs do offer more functionality and closer compatibility
with the desktop than ever before, they are still a long way from replacing
a desktop or notebook computer. Mobile software applications have advanced
light-years since the advent of the first personal digital assistants, but
they are still not equivalent to desktop applications.
And the typing problem remains. No matter how advanced Pocket PCs become,
they will always lack a keyboard, making anything but rudimentary data entry
problematic. Of course, you can buy a stowaway keyboard, but that gives
you something else to carry and will cost about $100.
If you don't mind these limitations, however, you'll find Pocket PCs
useful and fun. In addition to organizer functions such as meeting and task
scheduling, you can do light editing of word processing documents and spreadsheets,
send and receive e-mail, browse the Web, listen to digital music and more.
Improved screen technology has resulted in full-color backlit screens
that are pleasant to the eye and bright enough to be easily visible outdoors
or under fluorescent lighting. In addition, Microsoft Corp.'s new Windows
for Pocket PC operating system (also known as Windows CE 3.0) is more robust
than previous versions of Windows CE and easier to navigate, with single-tap
commands and an improved layout. For example, one new feature is called
"tap-and-hold." When you tap on an item and hold the stylus in place, it
is the equivalent of right-clicking, bringing up context-sensitive menus.
On the Other Hand
To see just what this new breed of mobile computers can do, we took
a look at one of the recent offerings from Hewlett-Packard Co., the Jornada
545. This unit is one of HP's Jornada 540 series of Pocket PCs.
At first glance, it's hard to distinguish the Jornada 545 from the popular
Palm Inc. handheld organizers. The size and shape are about the same, and
the unit features an on/off button and four user-programmable "hot keys"
for opening applications as well as an infrared port for wireless data transfer.
HP has added some clever features to this basic design, including a
flip-up metal cover with a flat stylus nestled on the inside, a rubber strip
around the perimeter of the unit for secure gripping and a jack on top of
the unit for using headphones while the Jornada 545 is in a pocket or bag.
The device also features a speaker on the front, a record button and
microphone on the left side, and best of all, a convenient "action" button
above the record button that can be used in place of the stylus to navigate
the system. Press the button to click on an item, and rock it up and down
Finally, the Type I CompactFlash card slot features an integrated door
that folds into the unit when it is open to accommodate oversized accessories
such as bar code scanners and modems.
Setting up the unit is easy and takes less than 10 minutes. The Jornada
545 comes with a USB cradle for connecting it to your desktop PC. (The Jornada
548 comes with a serial cable in addition to the USB cradle.) You can also
use the infrared port to transfer data between a desktop PC or notebook,
provided it also has an infrared port.
Before you're actually ready to share data between your Jornada and
another computer, you must first install Microsoft's ActiveSync and select
which applications you want synchronized. You can also set the Jornada to
automatically synchronize content as soon as the unit is placed in the cradle.
The Jornada 545 comes with a host of software pre-installed in its ROM,
including Microsoft Pocket Outlook, Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer,
Microsoft Pocket Word, Microsoft Pocket Excel, Microsoft Pocket Money (for
managing stocks and checking accounts), Microsoft Reader (for reading electronic
books), and Microsoft Windows Media Player. In addition, the unit ships
with a host of supplementary software, including Microsoft Pocket Streets
(for viewing U.S. maps), AOL Mail SM 1.0 (for sending and receiving America
Online e-mail), and more. All of this software makes the Jornada 545 a very
HP has thought about system security as well. You can set up a four-digit
password to control access to the Jornada (not the highest level of password
security, but at least it's something). You can also create a security log
that records all attempts to access the unit and any attempts to modify
You can use the Jornada 545 to send and receive e-mail and browse the
Internet live, but you'll need either a CompactFlash card modem, an infrared
modem or a mobile phone, all of which are optional, extra-cost accessories.
Since our unit did not come with any of these, we could not test Internet
You can also use a CompactFlash Network Interface Card to connect to
a network. This way you can synchronize data remotely via a dial-up connection
or over a local-area network. For a list of compatible Type I CompactFlash
cards, visit www.hp. com/jornada and go to the accessories page.
The Write Stuff
We found Windows for Pocket PC extremely easy to use. The one-tap feature
saves time and makes it easier to navigate. Menus and tabs are similar to
desktop versions of Windows 95/98. Data entry is almost exactly like that
of Palm devices: You can use an on-screen keyboard to tap out words or you
can use the character recognizer to "write" letters on the screen.
We thought that both data entry methods were easier in Windows for Pocket
PC than in the Palm operating systems. The on-screen keyboard pops up with
word "guesses" as you type. For example, tapping "c" and then "e" causes
the word "certain" to pop up. You can tap on the word to insert it into
the field where you are typing. We also found the keys to be just responsive
enough — sensitive to tapping, but not sensitive enough to result in accidental
addition of letters.
The character recognizer is easy to use as well. You can see the strokes
you are making as black lines on the white background. The program did a
good job of recognizing the letters we wrote, and thus data entry in this
fashion took place at a reasonable rate of speed — fast enough to take some
notes or jot a quick memo without becoming frustrated at the slow pace.
Another notable feature is the ability to embed short voice recordings
into the notes portion of any program in which you can write or draw on
the screen (this includes the calendar, tasks and contacts). You can save
your recordings in several formats: pulse code modulation, Dragon Systems
Inc.'s MobileVoice, Microsoft's GSM 6.10 and HP's Dynamic Voice.
Transferring files is easily accomplished with Internet Explorer. The
Jornada appears as "mobile device," and you can drag and drop or cut and
paste files just as you would to transfer them from one drive to another
on your desktop PC. Note that you can use Explorer on your desktop PC to
view the contents of the Jornada 545, but you cannot open them from there.
The 16M of RAM and 16M of ROM should be enough to hold a good amount
of Word, Excel and other documents along with a host of applications. If
you want a system with more memory, consider the Jornada 548, which comes
with 32M of ROM.
The rechargeable lithium ion battery should give you about eight hours
of battery life, according to HP. In addition, the unit's AC power adapter
features worldwide auto-voltage compatibility.
We found the overall design and functionality of this unit to be excellent.
The HP Jornada 545 is an excellent traveling companion that will enable
you to accomplish more on the road than ever before.