I’ll start off by saying that although I am very involved with technology and computers, I am very slow to change my ways and jump on the techno bandwagon to try every new gizmo that comes along. I’ve been looking at PDA’s from a distance for awhile now and, to be honest, I haven’t been all that excited about them (mind you I don’t have a cell phone either). Small screen – bad eyes … learn a new shorthand language – old brain … big claims – skeptical outlook. But then again … we’re getting tired of dragging around a laptop just so we can keep track of contacts and appointments etc. while on the road.

Enter the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC. Has it changed our lives? Well … yes it has! Managing and publishing HomeToys is a job that requires tons of organization for very few people. We do everything from our Home Offices, over the internet and on the road … and I mean everything! Gracie (my partner for life … and no this is not her real name 🙂 handles Sales, marketing and remembering everything else we have to do to stay sane. She’s not a techno wizard but has a quick mind and adapts very quickly when the need arises … unfortunately this need does not extend to the use of a TV remote control 🙁 When the iPAQ arrived for this review I asked her to be the guinea pig. She frowned … sighed … squirmed in her chair and went on with her work. The iPAQ remained in the box for a week or so.

Viking Electronics
Finally I took the bull by the horns, opened the box and charged up the unit. Then came the part of the process that Gracie absolutely abhors … reading the instructions! I’m used to following instructions (mostly from Gracie) so I volunteered to give it a go. Basically I just had to familiarize myself with what the various buttons do and realize the the little plastic pencil (stylus) is what you use to operate the unit. Since we use windows on a daily basis … the iPAQ screen, icons and functions are totally recognizable and within minutes I had navigated around and found all of the applications that I needed to make some notes, appointments and a contact list. No mystery to these if you are a MS Outlook user. I think the best thing is that there is no boot delays or shutdown procedures … just hit the on switch and you’re at the same place you where when you shut down. The color screen is bright and clear, the buttons and case are solidly built and there is a nice light cover that hinges over the screen to protect it.

OK … so this is convenient … but how do I type on this thing … there’s no keyboard? There are 3 options made available by clicking (tapping with the stylus) an icon in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

* Keyboard opens a small keyboard on the bottom of the screen. Just tap the letters to type. This works great if you are used to using a keyboard and know where the letters are.
* Letter Recognizer opens a box at the bottom of the screen where you just print the letters and numbers as though on a piece of paper. Fortunately no shorthand language to learn … just print as you normally do. It’s not bad at recognizing the letters etc. although it takes a bit of practice. As you print, the letters appear in your note above so you can immediately tell when you get sloppy. As you go along … a little box opens that tries to guess what the word is. The more letters … the better the guess. If your word comes up just tap on it and the iPAQ finished typing it for you.
* Block Recognizer lets you just write on the screen. You can either save the note as scrawl (or a nice drawing if you like) or ask the iPAQ to try and recognize what you wrote and type it for you. Again … pretty good at recognizing printing and handwriting … plenty good enough for jotting down quick thoughts.

Applications and features that come with the unit include Calendar, Contacts, Task, Voice Recorder, Notes, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Outlook 2002, Windows Media Player (MP3), Calculator, Solitaire, Inbox (email), Microsoft Reader, Picture Viewer.

Cool … what else can this thing do? A microphone … hmmm. I just push the button and talk into the iPAQ. Each time I do this a separate file is saved as a note. Now Gracie is interested. Before I know it she is adding sound bytes left and right to remind her of things to do or ideas to follow up on. Now we have a series of notes where she keeps track of our things to do and ideas. Verbal notes are transcribed daily and we are so organized it’s scary!

OK … now let’s see what it means to “Synchronize” the iPAQ. Load the software into Gracie’s PC (this consists of drivers, the synchronizing software and MS Outlook). Plug the charging cradle into the USB port … a few set-up tasks and lo and behold the iPAQ emits a few tinkles to indicate that it has synchronized it’s files with the PC. Now Gracie can do her daily PC work … use the PC to transcribe the verbal notes … use and update the contact list etc. and when finished … grab the iPAQ and go to a meeting … with all of the information completely up to date. Take notes etc. while at the meeting … back to her office … plug in the iPAQ … tinkle tinkle … back to work on the PC. Now I can’t get it back 🙂

So far we have just touched the tip of the iceberg with the iPAQ. Our next business trip will really tell the story. Gracie won’t need her laptop to function and she’ll even be able to read her first ebook on the plane. The unit if fully capable of internet browsing and email functions and we have played with this feature while the unit is plugged into our office network. Before we take it on our next trip I plan to get a modem so we can get online independently. Again I’m skeptical of this as an internet tool … but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the functionality and I hope we can make it work for us in that regard.

The other accessory that I plan to try is a wireless network (802.11) card. With that we will be able to be online and networked to our other computers anywhere in our home office. Amazing possibilities! I’ve just started to surf around for other software and accessories … and there seems to be lots of it. For example Greg’s iPAQ and Pocket PC Software List kept me busy for a long time. There seems to be software for every need.

So … we’re off on a new journey into the future of technology with a new tool to help us mark the way. I don’t think everyone needs a Pocket PC … but if you work or play in a busy information packed world then you will probably use one in the future. I like the iPAQ because it’s functionality is totally familiar to me (as a windows user) and the learning curve was short. The unit is well made and easy to use … that’s all it takes to convince an old dog to try some new tricks 🙂