Selling Out to Pocket PC


Regular readers will remember my earlier comparison of PDAs and the fact that, at least for my purposes, the 2215 seemed a better choice. I was surprised at the amount of people who actually took the time to drop me a note to recommend buying a Palm instead, and expect a new round of e-mails this time (rage, who owns a PEG-NX70V, has already branded me a "sellout", and he's not likely to be the last).

The Whys

Why? Well, because I took the plunge and bought a 2210 (the local reference for the 2215). A radical change for one who still owns an original PalmPilot, and an apparently nonsensical choice for a Mac OS X user, but I had my reasons:

  • I needed Wi-Fi support, period. Being involved in a (currently pre-commercial) Wi-Fi service, there was no way I was getting a PDA without it.
  • I work in the real world. More to the point, I work for a multinational corporation, where I am forced to use Windows (and where buying a Mac for corporate use is unheard of, although I do try from time to time).
  • The PEG-UX50 is hideously expensive
  • It has a lot of built-in functionality:
    • A proper, standards-compliant browser (Palm offerings are still too crufty)
    • An excellent mail client (by far the best IMAP support of any PDA platform, and it does support IMAP over SSL now)
    • Excellent OBEX support for swapping contact and calendar data
    • A slew of built-in apps like Pocket Excel (great for carrying network tables around), Remote Desktop client, etc.
  • A much better network stack than Palm OS. I do a lot of network stuff, either through GPRS or Wi-Fi, and it's not uncommon for me to need real network tools (i.e., more along the lines of DHCP debugging and packet sniffers than just ping).
  • Brainless synchronization with my corporate Outlook (via Bluetooth, which means I don't need to carry cables around)
  • Expansion:
    • Compact Flash for a Wi-Fi card of my choosing (and I'm very likely to have to change cards more than once during the next few months)
    • SD slot for storage

Logistics and Tactics

There are also a couple of practical reasons:

  • There are plenty of other iPAQs around the office (no need to carry a charger, easy to swap information)
  • It's small, compact, and relatively cheap
  • It still has proper Graffiti
  • No matter what Palm and Sony come up with next (and Palm is expected to air the Tungsten T3 next month), Palm OS isn't as flexible in networking terms.
  • More choice in hardware expansion (storage, networking, whatever.)

The Obvious Drawbacks

The downsides, of course, are obvious:

  • It's a Pocket PC. It's not as intuitive as a Palm, even when knowing your way around.
  • It will crash spectacularly. Make no mistake about it. Nothing yet, but I'm expecting it any minute now.
  • It has a smaller screen than the current Cliés and the upcoming Palm offerings.
  • It's made of plastic (which admittedly helps reduce the weight, but something I'm not too comfortable with).
  • It's bound to be obsolete in 6 months or so.

Nevertheless, it does all I need, does it now and works perfectly as a standalone device - which, I guess, is all that matters.

The Experience

The 2210 is small. It is the same height as my 7650, and about the same size as a Tungsten. It feels fast, even compared to the H5450s I've been using for network testing. I do get the "wait" beachball from time to time, but so far only when starting devices or network connections (and sometimes not even then).

The screen is bright, crisp, with an excellent viewing angle (far better than the other iPAQ displays I have around) and is readable in several lighting conditions (although like most current displays, it tends to darken under direct sunlight, which is not that relevant for a device that will be mostly used indoors).

After getting rid of most of the hideous Start Menu clutter, disabling the tremendously irritating "bebop" menu sounds and remapping the Compaq button to the notepad, the device feels simple and straightforward (as it should be).

GPRS Connectivity

So far, so good. Out of the box, I was able to set up Bluetooth connectivity to my Nokia 7650 in 5 minutes flat (one to do the actual setup and four to figure out I had botched the GPRS initialization string). Two minutes after that, I was accessing my corporate e-mail over GPRS.

But then, I'm the proverbial "trained professional" - regular users are bound to have some difficulties here, even if the hideous Connections screen has been replaced with a brand new (but nevertheless still confusing) wizard (which I promptly skipped).

Connections through my 7650 to the Vodafone network were sometimes established in under five seconds (including Bluetooth activation and binding), which is nice. I'll definetly be using this - every day, in fact.

Wi-Fi

I got a SanDisk CF card, which has a built-in access point scanner (along the lines of NetStumbler). Initial setup was flawless, even though the bundled drivers are not yet fully PPC2003-aware. After the usual WEP fiddling to connect to my home network, I was off browsing in no time.

The browser feels fast, and page formatting is subtly improved. Multiple IMAP accounts worked first time, even my vast IMAP archive (which has a 6-level tree structure).

PPTP support is there, but I haven't tested it yet (I'll probably have to use IPSec, and need more time and patience to configure it properly).

Power control of CF cards is, as usual, crappy. I actually prefer to remove the card, but that leaves the CF slot exposed - which means I have to carry the little plastic cover around, a sure nuisance. Hopefully better drivers will fix this.

OBEX Support

vCard and vCal exchange with the Series 60 has the usual field mapping bugs: The iPAQ (like most other devices) won't recognize the e-mail fields the Series 60 uses and the Nokia keeps sending meeting descriptions as notes. Oddly enough, sending from the iPAQ to the Nokia works fine - e-mail addresses and all.

My iBook receives vCards from the iPAQ without any problems, but shows a couple of extra fields (X-CAT and X-IRMC-LUID, which are category and unique identifier fields) as notes. iCal's vCal support is still lacking, and it refuses to process meetings beamed from the iPAQ (which the Series 60 accepts without major hassles).

Beaming JPEG files across works without any problems. Files end up on the My Documents folder on the iPAQ, which happens to have a very nice image viewer (with auto-scaling and rotation) that is also invoked when handling mail attachments.

Syncing with the Mac

I'll be postponing this until the new version of PocketMac comes out. I have no pressing need to synchronize my work and home environments (that's what vcard2ldap is supposed to do), and I can wait for better iSync support.

ActiveSync over Bluetooth

Update: I yanked out my office laptop for its weekly backup and, while it bled gigabytes of files to my Firewire disk, I got ActiveSync installed. Bluetooth setup was fiddlier than expected, but I can only blame it on myself - I had it configured for PowerPoint Remote, so It took some time.

Once the devices were set up, however, it was quick and painless, with my device quickly becoming my Outlook's very own MiniMe. My only gripe is that I can't seem to implement a single-click syncing method, but the Bluetooth Manager applet is always present on the Today screen, so I don't have to hunt around the menus for syncing.

Software installation was also quick (at least as quick as USB) and I came across an added bonus (actually, it was something I had already experienced with a Bluetooth-enabled Toshiba) - when connected, my laptop acts as a LAN access server for my 2210, allowing me to access the Internet via Bluetooth.

Another very neat bonus is the set of Office file viewers that came on the installation CD. These allow me to view PowerPoint, Word and Excel files in their native formats (no more "unreadable attachments").

Battery Life

So far, a couple of hours of intense fiddling around (including Wi-Fi access) only made for a 20% drop on battery charge (straight out of the box, with the battery half-full). I've yet to see how it handles a regular work day, but will only make a point of that after the initial "fun" phase of installing every little gimmick I come across.

I'll be updating this as time progresses. So far, I'm pleased - the device is simple to use, and looks set to actually make things simpler for me (which is all that matters).

But I won't be dumping the Palm platform just yet - one good Pocket PC device is not reason enough, and within two years, proper networking and Wi-Fi support will most likely be an integral part of Palm OS. So I'll be keeping an eye out and testing all Palm hardware and software I can get my hands on in the meantime.

Besides, there's always the off chance that Steve will change his mind and churn out an Apple PDA. :)