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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 Longer Use

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 Use

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 years.

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 new one?

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 actually use?

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 well.

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!

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

June , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN