Chewing my keyboard

Friday, July 16, 2004

Small... and beautifully formed

Her chaotic life
 
The fact that my life is, well, a tad chaotic and usually planned several months in advance has been bugging ME for a fair bit of time as well as bugging other people who often have to book an appointment with me several weeks in advance :( This isn't improved by the fact my diary is on my work computer and my telephone numbers and contacts are spread between my e-mail account and my mobile phone.
 
What I need
 
Thus, with the aid of a nice mother who will give me money, I went on a search for a PDA (personal digital assistant if you aren't physically fused with your computer... courtesy of Microsoft [bleurgh] ). My specifications were something that had a nice colour screen, would keep my addresses, phone numbers, etc. and that I could write memos on, edit Word documents with and view photos with. I didn't really need internet connectivity because my phone thinks Bluetooth is something to do with whales [my mum thinks Bluetooth is something to do with mobile phones and given she is still struggling to work window scrollbars I'm shocked!]  Since I only have a maintenance grant, ideally this should come to less than £200 including accessories.
 
What I'm looking for [this sounds like song lyrics... what I'm looking foooorrrrr?!]
 
I've decided to share my results purely because, well, computer reviews don't really deal with the sort of thing I want to know. There's no point in having an all-singing, all-dancing system that not only plays MP3s and keeps your diary but also runs the London marathon and can rustle up a nice curry if 3 days in the screen goes dead and it goes to electronic micro-computer heaven. Likewise, there's not a lot of point in something if it has a fixed expected life before you've got to pay the cost of the thing to get it replaced. You may want to upgrade in 2 years but you might not be the CEO of a major corporation and own a yacht. I thus look for warranty, reliability and known faults, and computer reviews never have the things long enough and get them when they've just been released so people have had less chance to complain.
 
In the Palm OS of your hand
 
Apparently the first thing you should look at is whether you want the Palm operating system (OS) or Windows Pocket Mobile 2003 (or whatever it's called). One of them is by Microsoft who brought us Windows . Windows, in case you're not familiar, is that operating system that crashes at least 16 times a day. Palm has Documents To Go which is kind of like Pocket Office 2003 but better. As a Liberal, I am dead against monopolies since they stifle creativity and allow the development of big, bloated attempts at software which have huge hackable faults in them and which require vast quantities of memory and run really slowly (I don't like Windows, ok, so shoot me)... Rant over... As a result, I really wanted a PDA that ran Palm OS 5.2.1. Unfortunately, Sony is allegedly pulling out of the PDA market (source PDA Buyer Issue 07) and the only other company using Palm OS 5.2.1 is PalmOne. Palm PDAs do tend to be less expensive than Pocket PC ones and this is A GOOD THING.
 
Bottom of the palm
 
The main systems that you would be looking for Palm OS 5.2.1 at bottom of the range (almost bottom actually - I wasn't paying £70 for a glorified address book) are the Sony Clie TJ35 (~£145 from Amazon) and the Palm Tungsten E (~£133 from Amazon).  I never really got into looking at the Sony seriously until later because the Palm Tungsten seemed a really great buy and did everything I wanted it to do without being horrifyingly expensive. You can play MP3s on it, keep schedules, addresses, diary and use Documents To Go to edit Powerpoint (Pocket Office can't edit Powerpoint although you can buy a 3rd party application to do this), Word and Excel files. Unfortunately, the 'E'  has a 90-day warranty... Checking on the Amazon site, a worrying number had died and you keep wondering "why not 365-days?"... Hmmm, maybe this thing is a bit, ahem, disposable. So I googled Palm Tungsten E and warranty...
 
"...Unfortunately Palm has an established history of poor hardware..."
 
"... I called Palm tech support and was told the Tungsten E is the only Palm that has this 90 day warranty, and I should try doing a hard reset. ... "
 
"... Anyways, my experience, around a month and a half (thank gd it happened within the warranty) my palm started loosing battery life very fast, it got so bad that ... "
 
And that was just page 1 of the Google results... I could have chosen to get one from Comet or Dixons with an extended warranty but that made the thing so expensive (+£45-£49) that I could have got a higher specification model. Furthermore, it didn't include the built-in battery which was one of the main things that went wrong.
 
That didn't work so...
 
Anyway, I then started looking at the Zire 72 which is the model up from the Tungsten E and is very fluffy and consumer (rather than business) orientated. Although this was notable for suffering from peeling paint, I assumed it might have a 1-year warranty and it seemed to be easier to buy a case for it. Somewhere on the UK PalmOne site I found that the 90-day warranty appeared to apply to all their products (I now can't find it again - these people bury these things deep).
 
Power to the people (or the battery/consumerable rip-off)
 
The Zire 72 ALSO had a built-in battery which meant as soon as the lithium-ion battery runs out, you have to return the thing to the factory and pay £100 to have it replaced. Now, for some reason, this issue never bothers me with the Gameboy but this is probably because the Gameboy is cheaper and because I try to hang on to computers for years because speed rather than the system determines what you can play/do and I never really test the limits of the system. By the time the Gameboy goes wrong, I will have probably got a DS (which plays all existing GBA games :D). I just keep thinking by the time you start paying close to £200 for something, it shouldn't go off in 2-years. The Sony TJ35 had a year guarantee but the battery isn't included because it's a consumerable. This means that if your battery goes wrong in 2 months then it's your fault for 'abusing' the battery and hence you have to pay £100 to have your battery replaced. None of the Palm OS systems, regardless of how expensive they are, have user-replaceable batteries. I found this pretty crazy although you can buy third party batteries here for £30 provided you're ok with taking the thing apart yourself.
 
Slinking back to Windows
 
Well, given the Palm's didn't seem brilliantly reliable and the cost of extended warranties from Dixons, etc. is a joke and given Sony is pulling out of the PDA market with the belief the next systems won't be running on Palm OS AND none of the Palm OS systems have user-replaceable batteries limiting their life to 13-24 months (it is nice to think your system can run on and on if you want it to)... then... well, I had to start grudgingly looking at a Pocket PC rather than a Palm (Windows... Booo! Hiss! Shame! Resign!). It's lucky I have a Windows PC though - only Palm systems will interface with Macs.  Sadly, as in every other sphere, it looks like Microsoft is going to get its iron hand around the PDA market. There are a fair number of the usual brands running Pocket PC: Toshiba, HP/Compaq, Dell... and probably Sony at some point in the future.  The Pocket PCs tend to start at a higher base price than the Palms with a 'bog-standard' model getting on for close to £200. I wrote Toshiba e400 off instantly due to the built-in battery again leaving me with two systems with user-replaceable lithium-ion batteries - Dell and HP.
 
Choices, choices...

It's now hard to buy the older HP iPAQ h1930, it appears, so I was looking at the HP iPAQ h1940 instead. Dell have a range of systems, the oldest X5 Axim, the older X3i and the new X30. The Axim X30 has just come out and thus they have a free postage offer on it and have slashed the price (until 21/07/04). The X30 was thus significantly cheaper than the X5 for better specs. This to me seemed a shame since I liked the chunky, rubbery appearance of the X5 (it appears I'm in a minority on this one). All these systems come with a full year's warranty. The Dell you could extend the warranty for 2-years. I had a Dell laptop for 3-years which was immensely powerful and as ugly as sin (I called it 'the black brick' for good reason. It's kind of like this but chunkier, black and with sharper edges. It weighed a ton and had a fan which sounded like one on a jeep) and the thing that gave out on it was the power cable which had a nasty habit of shorting and cutting the laptop off. My dad has been promising to mend the power cable for ages and hasn't got around to it. The brick  was reliable but I had terrible problems setting it up due to software issues, it took ages to come and the technical support was awful. That said, once it did get going I had no problems with it at all bar some loose keys. Apparently various people had had problems with new Axims being delayed for weeks because of supply problems and the newer systems having teething problems. Early teething problems also plagued my Psion 5(badly peeling paint) which I'm replacing since the backlight has died (I've had the Psion for about 5-6 years). Given the technical support was dreadful the limited time we had to deal with it, I felt unsure about the system especially since the Dell Axims (bar the X5) are very ugly and boxy (rather like the much lamented and missed 'brick') and I felt that perhaps there were some corners being cut with the casing which is a bit worrying with a PDA but not too much of a problem with the notebook.
 
iPAQs

The iPAQ h1940 with aluminium case, spare battery and SD card bought from elsewhere was actually cheaper than the similar specification Dell X30 (the cheaper models of most PDAs don't come with a decent case, sufficient memory to play MP3s or a cradle. The latter computer reviewers seem to think is important but I've never had a cradle so I'm not going to miss it). The only problem with the iPAQ was that various people had reported broken screens that HP wouldn't replace since it was deemed to be accidental damage and not a design flaw. The consensus seems to be that it's more susceptible than something bigger and you've got to treat it carefully... I would have a fit if I dropped any electronic equipment from waist-height even once rather than be angry the screen had broken! My Psion lost its stylus because the spring broke in the 'stylus holding in mechanism' when it was dropped (once in the 6-years I've owned it). The iPAQ h1940  is also notable for having a yellow screen but a lot of reviewers conclude that the first-time PDA user won't be too bothered about this and I found the yellowness I've seen on pictures rather homely and warm-looking.
 
And after all that...

Anyway, conclusion. I bought a h1940 with an aluminium case to protect it.  I've always (touch wood) been satisfied with HP printers I've had so decided I'd try HP this time to see how it went. The h1900s are apparently design classics; small, shiny and beautifully formed... rather like me (well, ok, not the shiny bit [wink]).
 
More shortly (I should have the device on Monday)...

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