Hewlett Packard (HP) was first to the market with a pocket PC, the Jornada 545, and its big brother, the Jornada 548, will further develop its marketshare. The name pocket PC is a reasonably good description of what you get. Under the sleek case beats a 32bit 133Mhz Hitachi SH-3 processor coupled to 32Mb of RAM.
This enables the device to perform all the normal functions of a personal digital assistant (PDA), such as contacts, calendars and to-do lists, with ease. Further to that, additional programs can be added either on Flash cards or downloaded into the device from a desktop PC via the supplied dock.
Microsoft launched the operating system used in the new Jornadas, Microsoft Windows for Pocket PC, as the latest in the CE range. Previous versions of CE had always been heavily criticised; performance was too slow to make the device really functional. The products it ran on were bulky, had limited battery life and were expensive. This was one of the reasons why the competition, particularly Palm, were so successful. Their products were smaller, cheaper and gave excellent performance from either a short charge or standard batteries.
When HP launched the Jornada 540 range it had expected the device to be able to show 65,536 colours on screen simultaneously. Unfortunately, one of the components used limited this to 4096. However, on a screen this size you're unlikely to notice the difference, and only a very small number of applications, around three per cent, would display that many.
Compaq's devices are also limited to 12bit (4096) colour, but not Casio's Cassiopeia E-115 Pocket PC. So if you really need to carry out image editing on the move then currently the Casio is worth considering. However, 4096 colours are plenty to make surfing the web and playing games look really good, so for most users it won't really be noticeable.
A great performer
Although superstition and computers aren't normally compatible it certainly is 'third time lucky' for Microsoft - the operating system is excellent. The software giant claims to have replanned every pixel displayed, and it shows. The single click interface is intuitive to use and the clean layout makes good use of the limited desk space.
The PDA functionality is very good, as the 548 has Pocket Outlook built in. This can seamlessly synchronise with Microsoft Outlook to ensure that you have all the vital information with you wherever you go, as well as updating your desktop with information you acquire while mobile. Email is also handled through Pocket Outlook.
Internet access is not ignored and Pocket Internet Explorer enables you to surf with ease. Advanced viewing options allow pages to be 'fitted to screen', making the most of the small screen area. The included AvantGo software enables web pages to be downloaded and viewed offline.
Pocket Word and Pocket Excel are both cut down versions of their desktop brothers. Microsoft has built in the conversion software into the system so you can open up a document that you receive attached to an email, edit it, and then send it back, without worrying about file types and whether or not the recipient will be able to open it.
In tune with users
Considering the applications included you could be forgiven for thinking that the Jornada will only appeal to the corporate market. But this isn't just an excellent mobile work tool. The built-in media player allows you to play and download MP3 files, and the supplied stereo headphones give you excellent CD quality audio. Although you may need to consider a Compactflash memory card if you plan to listen to a lot of music as most albums will exceed the standard 32Mb of RAM.
If music capabilities don't grab your attention then maybe the games will. Much loved games on the Palm V are easily forgotten once you see what pocket PCs can do. ZioGolf is supplied on the CD and if you like golf it's probably very good. But the fun will really start once developers start producing more arcade games - a version of Doom is already available.
In the box you'll also find other useful software. Pocket Money allows you to keep track of you accounts and synch with desktop versions of Microsoft Money. The reader software allows you to enjoy entire books while on the move and conveniently keeps tabs on how far you've read. Some books are included and more will be available for download from the web. There are lots of other programs included, but to round it off there's a financial calculator and Peacemaker, which enables IR beaming between the 548 and otherwise incompatible Palm and Handspring PDAs.
Connectivity is provided through the docking cradle via either serial or USB and built into the top is an IR port. This enable dial up via mobile phones and exchange of info with other devices. HP includes Jetsend, which means you can beam your files directly to any Jetsend device, such as printers.
The case also houses a Compactflash Type 1 card slot. This allows modems, networks cards and, of course, memory cards to be inserted. A modem card will allow fast connections compared with the slow 9600bps of a GSM phone. That said, using a Jornada in conjunction with a IR-enabled phone gives real freedom. If you need email on the go this is an excellent combination.
One aspect of Pocket PCs that warrants examination is the input mechanism. It doesn't matter how good all the software is if you can't get your information in to it. There are three options provided. A small on display keyboard can be used to touch the appropriate keys, but this takes up valuable screen space. The second option is to use character recogniser. With this you draw single characters on the screen and the tool translates these into typed text.
Last, you can use Transcriber. This lets you write freely anywhere on the display and again it is converted into typed text. It may not sound that astounding but it can also correctly recognise cursive scribble, it's so easy and so accurate. This is the fastest and simplest form of non-keyboard input on any PDA I've tried.
Pocket PCs look like they're going to win a good share of the market space. If you're looking for a beautifully designed and very capable machine then the Jornada is well worth considering.
Contact Hewlett Packard 08705 474747