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Palm Photographs

PalmV: February 2002
Medium 661x895, 86KB
Small 296x400, 20KB
This is my Palm V, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Palm (and later Handspring which is essentially the same thing) scores big over other PDAs in that they realised that these devices have little in the way of memory, processor power or display capabilities and wrote all of the software accordingly. This makes Palm software sensible and really easy to use, as opposed to the Windows CE route taken by Microsoft which took existing desktop apps and tried to shoehorn them in to handheld devices. WinCE (unfortunate abbreviation, and so PocketPC is now the moniker of choice) ran on much better machines, but then it had to just to try to keep up, and just having faster processors to get the OS running is a huge drain on the meagre battery power which is a crucial point for portable devices.

Even though things have moved on and PDAs are now capable of much more - more memory, better processor power, colour displays - the Palm V is still a classic and does me fine. Running the AvantGo web browser means that I can connect directly to the Internet using an infrared link to my mobile phone and browse full websites sitting in a cafe (although last time I tried this it took 6 minutes to try and find the football scores), or more sensibly you can sync your Palm either directly or using an internet connected PC and store useful pages. For example, part of my custom designed websites gives me the TV listings on my 8 favourite channels for the day. If something goes wrong with the web server I can always connect to it and sort the problem out using the telnet client which is capable of making SSH connections! And I've made copious notes using the text editor, although pages are restricted to 1.6KB (just use multiple pages); it's very handy for writing down what everyone wants in the local Chinese restaurant however.

SmartPad: February 2002
Full 1600x1200, 298KB
Medium 800x600, 48KB
Small 400x300, 15KB
This is a Seiko Intruments Inc. SmartPad. It was donated by Chris Edwards, who kindly sent this strange contraption to me after winning it as second prize in a competition, and as she doesn't have a Palm computer thought I might enjoy it more!

Basically you draw on the writing pad on the right with a normal-looking pen, and what you write instantly appears on the Palm! It's very odd to watch the Palm echoing your movement in realtime. It does it because underneath the pad is a kind of graphics tablet, and the special pen has additional electronics in it to send signals to the tablet.

As Chris points out, carrying your Palm around in a big case like this is kind of missing the point - your little hand-held device is now as big as a laptop computer - so it might be fine for the occasional meeting but a little OTT for every day use. It's well made though, for instance you take the pen cap off, put it on the back end of the pen, and a little nib comes out of the lid to become a stylus to use on the Palm or the keyboard; put the lid back on and the stylus vanishes. Also, the far left vertical strip is made of velcro, so you can move around a couple of velco pen holders to suit yourself, and the bottom pouch is for business cards but also has a little pocket inside for a holder for your extra ink cartridges etc. etc.

SmartPad closeup: February 2002
SmartPad closeup
Full 1200x1600, 185KB
Medium 600x800, 52KB
Small 300x400, 16KB
As you can see from the picture above, to get the image from a big writing pad to a small PDA the image is a bit small on-screen, but all the info is retained - you can zoom in (see left), and you can either hotsync your doodles to a PC which can export in BMP or GIF, or you can use built-in email software to send the image as a GIF via your mobile phone. Obviously you can also add text, just send text-only messages etc. etc. The native format for the sketches seems to be some kind of proprietary vector image, which can also be emailed to other users of the same software.

At the top of the photo you can also see the rather strange infrared device used to send the doodle data to the Palm.

Keypad: February 2002
Medium 951x591, 69KB
Small 400x249, 18KB
You can remove the writing pad and use the graphics tablet as a keyboard. The Palm has an on-screen keyboard, but it's a little small; using the tablet gives you a 250% bigger area to aim at (apparently).

You can get proper keyboards for Palm machines - they fold up to about the same size as the Palm itself, but pull out to almost the size of a proper full-size keyboard. I always thought about getting one, but never got round to it as they cost more than I paid for my second-hand Palm V! Also I've heard that they're not very stable, because they're so thin they flop around a bit when you're trying to balance them on your knee on the train which makes it hard to strike the right keys.

I've been thinking about the coolest use of this technology, and apart from wandering about video stores looking at the bargain DVDs and checking on my Palm (or WAP phone) to see if I've already got them, then using the Palm to update my database, I think the one best instance was this:

The first time I went to Bletchley Park (where some of the first computers were designed to help with World War II codebreaking) we arrived to find that the gates were shut. As Bletchley only opened every other weekend at the time we weren't sure what to do - had we picked the wrong weekend, or got the opening times wrong or something? There didn't seem to be any notices to give us a clue either way, and it was a long drive back if we'd got it wrong. By connecting the Palm to my 'phone I was able to check the opening times and dates on Bletchley's website without even getting out of the car. We were just a little early so we kept our cool, waited for the gates to open and had a bloody good time! :)

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