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Pt. 2: To PDA or not to PDA?

By Natasha Thompson and Barbara Manning

Thanks to PALM Japan, I had a PALM M505 for 3 days to try it out. Honestly speaking, 3 days was way too brief. To figure it out, it helps to talk to a Palm user too. TPC Vice President Barbara Manning shared information and described her experience with the Palm.

  • When you first started using the Palm, how did it go?

I've been using a Palm Pilot for several years now. As usual I waited until most of the bugs were out and then bought a Palm V. It was not love at first peck.

I was used to using a paper system, and by the time I made the switch to electronics, I had field tested them all - Day Planner, Day Runner, Day Timers, Franklin Planners, and a host of others. I actually found the Franklin day planners the best of the lot and hoped to be able to transfer that experience to the electronic format. I wasn't able to do that at first, and I wasn't able to transfer Act! files to the Palm either.

So I spent a long time getting used to the new format and moving data from paper to electronic device. The obvious choice I thought was to start using the calendar as I learned the others. But getting used to the small screen and the small dots that indicated "something" was scheduled for that day in the month and week views, and entering meeting data was harder than I thought it would be. I also missed the memory jog that the repetitive adding of data to the month, week and day views gave me in the Franklin Day planner - by the time I'd updated my planner, I had a real good idea for what my week and month looked like.

I didn't RTFM for the Palm at all. Generally I at least skim it, but this one was so full of self-serving phugh, that I just decided to skip it. I just played with the device until I figured it out. Perhaps this was a bad judgment call, given my short attention span and lack of attention to detail, but it made more sense than reading the manual. For about 8 months or more, I carried both the paper planner and the Palm, secretly adding data to the Palm but continuing to use my planner in meetings and in public.

I liked the style of it and the cachet of having an e-device, but I still didn't know how to use it effectively. I continued to play with it, but treated it as a novelty not a planner. I continued to experiment with it and learned the graffiti writing so was able to add data a bit more conveniently. This became the key to my final transition to the Palm. As I learned how to add data conveniently, and how to transfer data from existing files to the Palm, I simply ended up with more data and more recent data on the palm than on the planner. Interestingly, as I added more data to the address book and the memo pad, that became a second key to my using it regularly. I had thought that the calendar would be the first application I would use, but it was the address book and memo pad that made me more comfortable with the device.

Once I realized the convenience and practicality of an easily updated source for the ever- changing contact data, it prompted me to get a grip on the date book and calendaring function. I was hooked, but I must admit, Palm was a very patient fisherman. The Palm website was a good first source of information, but a bit too commercial for my tastes. I felt like Dorothy just landed in Oz, when everything was wonderful. It just couldn't be that good. Still it's a very good starting point for information and now includes a "hall of fame" section for retired Palms, which includes my PalmV.

  • When I startup the Palm, can I read books, play music or look up Japanese kanji right away?

A year ago I upgraded to an M500 Palm and in hindsight, I probably should have paid the bump to get a color screen model, which I believe at the time was an M505, but I'm not sure. Now Palm offers the M515 with twice the memory of the M500 and boatloads of downloadable software. To compare the Palm products go to

Read books...
You can read books if you download one of many Palm readers, or use one of the expansion pack memory cards. See .
The memory cards provide you with a set of books for a particular author or subject. I like to select my own books, so I've downloaded the reader and then go to sites like to buy and download books. The reader is free, the books are under $10 US for sure.

Play music...
Although you can store audio clips on an expansion card, I don't think you'd want to play back a bit of music from it. There are lots of other handheld devices that do that much better than the Palm. I haven't used any of the expansion card features, having said that you can download audio to an expansion card, but you can't record audio on the device. That's too bad because I could sure use something to record some of the bull that is said in meetings I attend. It also has a number of alarm sounds that you can choose from, but I doubt that you'd want to download music to play later.

Surf the net ...
Well, yes, but you'll need an ISP account and data-enabled phone or modem in addition to the Palm. If you want to go wireless, you'll need to buy the i705 model. I can download pages to read on the train or elsewhere away from my PC, but if I want to browse, I've got to attach the phone to the Palm. This just seems a tad unwieldy to me and besides I'm rarely away from a PC for more than two hours -- I can't imagine needing to be that wired.

The site has a host of applications that run the gamut - games, productivity, professional applications, entertainment, education, healthcare and more. My personal favorite is XTNDConnect PC Desktop Synchronization by Extended Systems - a cheap way for companies to synch PDAs of many forms to "official work applications" like the one I use, Lotus Notes. Globally, my company is testing this application to synch PDAs with work email, calendaring, etc., functions in test mode. I hope that they roll it out soon, because I could sure use it.

Discussion boards...
On the Palm site, you'll see a tab for community. Click on it. This directs you to a number of sources, one of them being discussion boards which is actually are a redirection to -- a site devoted to handhelds and nothing else with a clear indication that says "Brighthand Forums for Palm handhelds. This site is NOT owned or operated by Palm, Inc." That works for me. It was here that I found out about electronic books and the beauty of downloading popular novels to my Palm and reading them from it. At five or six bucks a book, and the ease of finding and downloading titles it sure beats Yurindo hands down. I also like the fact that I can keep a personal library of the books I've bought on the site, so that I don't have to clutter the memory of my Palm with books I'm not currently reading. Now there are several sites where you can download books. A Google search on electronic books turns up over 2 million sites. The Brighthand discussion boards -- much like our own newsgroups -- are filled with people who have experience and answers to the questions that users have. I learned (finally!) how to install the Franklin Planning software that came with my M500 (free, but to what purpose when no one at Franklin could tell me how to load it to the Palm?) and many other hints and tips on using a Palm even more effectively than I had. I also got answers to many vexing questions like that annoying issue of Mr. Palm automatically turning off in the cradle after a few minutes.

By now I'm hooked, and the annual paper calendars have been tossed. I look forward now to playing with the Handera I just won at the last TPC meeting.

What's the lighting like on your PALM?
The Palm V and the M500 (which I have now) are both LCD displays with a backlight feature which you can use in dark conditions. Normally it's back lettering against a gray/green background. An Options feature allows me to "invert" the screen to gray/green letters on a black background. Except in very bright sunlight or sometimes just at dusk, I can see fine. The backlight feature is very good to use while reading in bed or looking at data in dark bars and other dark places. The batteries are long lasting -- I don't have to recharge for several days, even when I use it for say, a total of four hours a day.

Is there an "English OS" available?The demo device I received had "English OS" marked on the package. I could type in English, navigate using the icons, however, the toolbars and drop down boxes were in Japanese.

Yes, there is. I have an English OS, but I bought mine in the US. You can probably buy an English OS in Japan at stores in Aki, but it appears that you can't buy an English OS online. Apparently the distributor agreements are still in force and with it the assumption that if you're in Japan, you'll want a Japanese OS. I had hoped that global product marketers would be smarter about channel marketing and about drafting distributor contracts by now, but I guess not. You may be able to order one from a store in Hawaii. I bought mine at the Frankly Covey store in Honolulu.

Also I suspect that some of the smart people in TPC can install an English OS on your Japanese Palm, but it may be simpler and easier to take a short vacation and buy one while overseas.
I know that they sell Japanese OS models and I'm sure you can get an expansion card translator for the Japanese OS. I can get a translator expansion card for the Romance languages (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish) but they're all Roman character based. Only $39.95 plus tax and shipping. I can buy an expansion card for the Merriam- Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition, and the Franklin Thesaurus.

I frankly think that there is a paltry sum of expansion cards available, and of course the ones in English are specific to the US, except for the European and Asian travel guide expansion cards. The Palm site shows only 14 cards for all models. Great marketing though, as you must choose your model first then are directed to the expansion card page. It just happens to be the same page for all models. I download most of what I need and have skipped the expansion cards until I decided (as a consequence of writing this article) to buy the dictionary/thesaurus so that I could look up words as I read.

Is the backup feature easy to use?
Again, the backup is by buying a 16 MB expansion card for $70 US. The trouble with that I think is that it's entirely likely that you'll keep the card with the Palm, thus defeating the purpose of a backup in case of a lost Palm. I back up all the files on my PC at, which includes my Palm files.

If you mean synch, yes that's very easy. I purchased two hot synch cradles one for the office and one for home. With just a push of the button, any new data on the PC or the Palm is transferred to both. You have to be careful to hot synch alot -- I'll do a hot synch at least once at the end of the day at the office and once a day at home. I also synch the Palm when I first arrive at the office. If you don't do that, then Mr. Palm is never quite sure which record is the most recent. However I've never lost data. The worst that will happen is you'll have a lot of clean up to do, as the hot synch will transfer all the records to both devices, leaving you to clean up the duplicate data or remove the old data.

I really took off with it when I found the Handango site - a community of PDA users and a wealth of information about quirks, downfalls, quick fixes and original programs that are available as freeware, shareware and inexpensive downloadable applications -- . I especially like the huge array of software that you can buy for the Palm from third parties. There is a lot of software in about 14 categories like Business & Professional, Databases, Documents & Add-Ins, Education & Reference, Entertainment, Games, Medical, Personal Productivity, Software Suites and Tools, Travel, Wireless and more. This is where I get true value from my Palm. That and the discussion boards at Handango that I talked about before.

For someone thinking of buying a PDA, it seems challenging and entertaining at the same time. Keep in mind that the TPC newsgroups can be referred to for more ideas.

© 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

July , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

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