What I do and don't like about my PDA
By Pat Hughes
My current model is a Sharp Zaurus MI-C1-A and was released around 2000. The prior model
was a Sharp Zaurus PI-5000 released in 1994(?). I bought that one in 1995 and the recent
one in 2001. The first stopped working after many years of abuse when I left it in the
trunk of a car up in northern Honshu during winter. The screen shattered when something
got stuck between the lid and the screen. It actually kept on running but with the screen
shattered I could not access the commands.
The following lists of likes, dislikes, use and no longer use is fairly complete but there
are of course additional functions that I have not tried and as we see below I have not
mastered even some of those I do use.
I'll start this off with the two most common items that most people think about then break
into a more detailed list.
Back Lighting--there is none. If you don't catch the room light right you can't see it.
This might save on batteries but can make it hard to read the screen or see pictures.
Input--fine for characters but not so good for the roman alphabet. I have gotten used to
picking at the keyboard. But the couple of times I tried to write a report using the PDA I
found it more frustrating than useful.
What I No
Camera--I had never had a digital camera before so I splashed out and bought the camera
attachment. Not bad for its size actually: I can take low resolution shots as well as
multiple shots for a short action sequence. But without a backlight I really could not see
them that well on the PDA so eventually gave up taking shots, especially now that I
finally bought a digital camera.
I might use this camera in the future if my next model supports it but in the meantime...
anyone want to buy a camera attachment and 32MB SD memory card? :-)
Voice Recorder--I thought to record voices and study what was said in the meeting later
but... the thrill wore off pretty quickly. The reception was good. I think what defeated
this was that in order to hear it best I had to download to my notebook otherwise I had to
use a simple ear-jack.
Meishi Exchange--the idea is that you meet someone with a similar machine and by pointing
your PDAs at each other you can quickly exchange your business card data. Theoretically it
worked with the Newton as well but the one attempt failed and I have never again met
anyone with that machine nor with a Zaurus.
Internet Access--yes, you can display a web page on the screen. There are limitations of
course: no Java comes to mind. But for text and usual graphics it does work. But I
strongly advise you to use as fast a connection as you can afford. My cell phone cable
connection was too slow at 9600 baud and too awkward to hold both in one hand while doing
input with the other. An internal modem would resolve both problems but the temptation is
just not strong enough.
Modem--this is 7 years ago with my first machine. It was more of a modem adaptor actually
and these days the modem is built-in and you just connect a cable to a jack. Or go
completely wireless as mentioned above. Might be handy for pulling down something you
wanted to read or that required only a bit of input for a reply but once again the back-
lighting defeats this as does the awkwardness of getting the info down.
What I Do
Scheduler--I had data going back 5 years at the touch of a finger. When the old machine
broke I was able to bring the old data (from backup on another machine) into the new
machine in file format (instead of straight into the scheduler). Not as handy but still
there. The address data came in correctly and that was good because I would never have
input all that info again!
Address Book--before I replaced my broken PDA with a new one I went back to making notes
on paper for appointments, phone numbers etc. While many phone numbers are in my keitai
now this is only handy in Japan and you can't really put addresses in there as well. Also,
since this is Japan, we don't have the option to pull out a chip and put it into another
phone so you really do need a backup. Besides...I am not going to input all that info using
my thumb: that is worse than picking at a screen keyboard!
Clock--I deal with numerous time zones so this is handy. You can only display your current
time and one other but that is usually enough.
Train Map--connections, times, fares from one end of Japan to the other and detailed
within the major cities. Very handy; I was very happy to see this function come out and it
helped me to decide on this model. It is hard-coded so you cannot update it to show new
fares or lines (e.g., Oedo line in Tokyo) but the info will do for another couple of
Dictionary--this gets a fair bit of use. It also helped me to decide not to buy the newer
model. When I bought this Zaurus there was already a newer one on the market but the style
had gone vertical (a lot of my old data was wider than the new screen) and although the
new slide down/out keyboard was interesting, the lack of a dictionary disappointed me.
They promised to release it within a few months and it could be downloaded into the
machine. I liked the idea of being able to upgrade the software but was wary of how long
"a few months" would really take.
Drawing--I don't use this as much as I used to. But I do find it is very amusing when kids
want to try out the PDA. It is cool for them to draw pictures on a computer screen and
they figure out how to start new pictures, delete old ones, change colours etc., even when
they don't read a word of Japanese.
Will I buy a
In the end I see that the number of items on each list above comes out about even. I think
that what I have learned is that I should stick with the functions I need and not buy the
extra toys. But did you hear that the newest ones will play MP4 movies, and MP3 music and
have GPS maps and if you are into Linux programming... :-)
Those items I am using now I will continue to need. What else would I like to see and
Bigger Screens--less frame, less menus, less dead-space. Make it all one big screen!
Battery life must improve to make this feasible but doing this would stretch the current
display area by almost 40%. This same step certainly made notebook computers much more
popular! I think this would make e-books, newspapers, etc., more likely to succeed as
Hot... something or other--I forget what the buzzword is. But if I could drop the PDA into
a cradle and have the data I want to read pulled off either the internet or my computer to
read later I can see myself using that. This has been offered by some PDAs for a couple of
years. (In theory by Zaurus too and I have the cradle but never got it to be as smooth as
I hoped...operator error no doubt.)
To test whether I would read something this size I shrank the size of the Windows Notepad
application to the same size as it would appear on the PDA. With my original Zaurus the
resolution was lower so there were not many characters per line. With the current machine
it is not too bad actually. I would suggest you use this type of simple test yourself
before deciding on the usefulness of reading on a PDA.
As I look this over I see that being able to exchange data easily with my notebook seems
to be a limitation for a number of functions--camera, voice recorder, mail/report, etc.
Perhaps it is time for me to re-examine that cradle!
One bit of advice I might add: get a manual in a language you read easily! The manuals
contain a lot of detail and are no longer on-line inside the PDA as they were before.
Although I can work my way through a Japanese manual it does take more time and I tend to
put it off. If I had an English manual perhaps I would have worked out that cradle thing--
and other functions--a lot faster and might be using those functions now!
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June , 2002
The Newsletter of the
Tokyo PC Users Group
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