My Personal Data Assitants (PDAs)



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My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Handspring Visor Deluxe

K.I.T.T.

In April 2000, I bought a Handspring Visor Deluxe.  This PDA is a spinoff of the 3Com Palm Pilots. This particular model has 8MB RAM and comes with a USB cradle. It is comparable to Palm's IIIxe. All other Visor models either come with a serial cradle or no cradle at all (along with 2MB of RAM). This image shows the carry case that comes with the unit. It also shows the front face plate which protects the front of the unit while it's inside the case. It fits along the backside of the unit when the unit is in use...a very nice feature. The pen slides alongside the unit when not in use. Handsprings use ports called Springboard adapters for expandability. These ports can accept modules that can support a multitude of items....modems, games, storage media, mp3 players and much more.

The major differences between the Visor Deluxe and Palm IIIxe are:

    1. Handspring is optioned with a USB cradle (pictured on left) instead of a serial cradle (right side of image). Note: 3Com's USB cradle is now offered as an option.

    2. The Visors accept expansion modules.

    3. About the only negative thing Visors have is its OS, which is non-flashable. That makes it hard to upgrade to a newer OS version. Sure, not many people will need to upgrade the OS but when it comes to computers, having a CHOICE is great. For those of you who would like the option of upgrading the OS, you're better off purchasing any other PDA than Handspring.

I keep ALL my data in this thing. If I lose or break it, I'll be up a stinky creek with no paddles and a holey boat!

For backups, a Backup Module can be used, or the software 'Backup Buddy.' The Backup Module is a Springboard module and can be used as a form of backup information while a person is traveling and away from their PC, which may function as their main backup source. It is handy in case your Visor crashes while on the road. Backup Buddy is backup software that backs up EVERYTHING on your PDA. I'm talking database files and actual backup of the software. Hot Sync won't backup the actual software and if you aren't using Backup Buddy, you are going to have to back up the software yourself on your desktop.

Also, another 8MB of storage (RAM) can be used, in the form of another module. It's called a Flash Module. This just acts as additional storage space. You cannot beat 8MB+8MB of storage space!! In fact, instead of purchasing the backup module, I think I'll settle for something called Memplug, which is a module used for storage. It utilizes SmartMedia cards and Compact flash (amongst other storage media) as media for storage. They cost around $50 USD.

I own neither module yet, but rely on regular desktop PC backups, which I then backup to CD-RW disk. Keep in mind that when you backup your data with Handspring's utilities, it won't backup programs/software, just address book entries and such. Linux's commandline utilities backs up EVERYTHING, software and entered data.

I recently DID make my first module purchase, a CardAccess Thinmodem that I bought from Best Buy. After the purchase, I downloaded the upgrade patch from CardAccess and get V.90 speed, along with a nice web browser and email client that I can use on my PDA. Prior to the upgrade, the modem drained a good bit of the PDA's battery, but after I upgraded, the power problem isn't so pronounced. The update also increased modem speed from 33kbps to 56kbps. The only thing I don't like about this module is that it gets piping hot when it's being utilized. I should have waited for the Thinmodem Plus, which has 8MB of space (compared to the original Thinmodem's 2MB), but I'm actually quite happy with the Thinmodem.

Some sad news is that I've been having a problem with my Visor's screen. It seems the upper right-hand corner of the screen is very sensitive to touch and if I use too much pressure, it affects my screen as a whole, locking up or slowing down the unit's functions. I'd called Handspring USA about this when I was in Japan (recently relocated back to the U.S.) and they'd told me to see if I can get it repaired in Japan then they would reimburse me (I've a 3-yr extended warranty). That wasn't good advice since the repair cost would've been beyond my means. Japan is a VERY expensive place to live.

UPDATE: I've not taken my Visor back to Best Buy yet. I'll try to do this soon. Hopefully they'll give me a new one. It won't make much difference, as I don't use it all that often anymore since I got the Zaurus. I take that back: The Zaurus doesn't have any solid ebook readers...most are still in the beta stage and only read certain formats.

Now, on to other things....


My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Agenda VR3

VR3 (L), Visor (R)

I bought an Agenda VR3 14 June 2001. QUICK NOTE: Don't bother clicking the link... Agenda Computing is no more. They went bellyup a long time ago. Another company has filled the void. Their name is Softfield. They still sell the Agenda and in fact had a big part in its existence. They've modified the Agenda extensively. Go peruse their pages and see the goodies they have. This is not the developer edition (DE) but the consumer model (C). Actually, there is very little difference between the two models, though there is a substantial price difference with the DE priced at $179 and the C model at $249.

The consumer model is more refined. I've heard the DE model's plastic molding is brittle and prone to cracking and breaking.

Both models come with the same accessories: Quicksync cable and cradle, stylus, software CD (which also has a PDF manual), a carry case (which includes an extra stylus), and a flip-top. Also, 2 AAA-sized batteries are included, though you may want to use your own as they may be fresher.

I've only used mine for a few hours as the unit became nonfunctional 12 hours after I opened the packaging. There is a 1-year limited warranty that covers things like this. The problem is that the unit won't activate. The unit is essentially dead as there is NO power going through the unit. Fresh batteries don't cure the problem and I can't reboot the unit as there is no power. I was told to take out the batteries and leave the unit alone for 24 hours then place fresh batteries into the unit and it should reboot (the logic behind this was that leaving out the batteries for 24 hours would drain the internal battery and clear any bugs that may have been locking me out).

VR3 and components

I did email Agenda's customer support and they tried on 3 different occasions to ship me a replacement before I gave up and told them I wanted a refund. The are complying. I was supposed to ship the broken one back to them after I received the replacement but the customer service representative said that I should just keep it since it would cost me a good chunk of money shipping it back at the international rate. I'm considering buying Sharp's upcoming Linux PDA, which will use a StrongARM 206MHz processor along with Java. Either that, or wait until I return stateside and try to order another Agenda. I could also look into Compaq's Ipaq, which will be released running the Linux OS soon.

During the time the VR3 was functional, I did test it. It's quicker than most newpaper and magazine articles report, though I think there's the factor of my unit being a consumer unit while the media reported on the DE models. Also, the magazines report that the VR3s slow down after multitasking three or more applications. I didn't try more than two but I didn't really notice a slowdown either. A trick amongst the developers is to disable a daemon or two that are running in the background as it frees up some CPU cycles. I did have to reboot the unit once because I ran 'top' in an x-terminal and couldn't close the terminal down.

The unit will boot up when you first activate it and when you do subsequent reboots (there's a reset switch on the back, like Palm PDAs). Bootup is relatively quick and you get to see kernel messages just as you would a real Linux box when it boots. During the bootup process, you are asked to calibrate your screen by tapping coordinates on the PDA's screen. Afterward, X-windows is started. The whole process, from bootup to X-windows, takes approximately 1 minute.

One thing I really like about the VR3 is the way the pixels on the screen are depicted...they are very clear, much clearer than my Visor. The shading of the pixels look much clearer also.

Visor (L), VR3 (R)

The second thing I like about this unit is the number of buttons it has. There are two bottons on the face of the unit and two toggle-type buttons on the sides. Also, there are two buttons on the left side of the unit, upper left corner along the side, that act as up/down scroll buttons. On trying out an included game for the VR3, I found that the game 'Aliens' requires the user to tilt the face of the unit 90 degrees to the right for gameplay. This makes for a widened screen of play. I really like this feature in the game and wish the VR3 unit could use this as the X-windows default orientation, as there is more desktop room.

One thing I DON'T like is the way the VR3 implements handwriting recognition (HWR). I found that the faster I wrote, the more the HWR software misinterpreted my stylus strokes. I had to write slowly. I also don't like the way the software makes the user write in 4 different areas according to: lower case, upper case, numerals, and symbols. Agenda or an Agenda software developer would do well to emulate Palm's HWR for the VR3.

While working with the unit, I didn't have the chance to use the sync cradle and cable but did use the IR port to receive beams from my Visor to the VR3. I sent approximately 25 contacts (one at a time) from my Visor to the VR3. The beaming went well, though I didn't like the way the beaming acted. I don't know if this is an inherent fault of the VR3, Visor or IR transferring but I had a problem lining up the two IR ports for transfer. Either two things happened: 1) I would initiate a beam from the Visor but could not get it aligned quickly enough for the beaming to initialize and the beam software would time out, or, 2) I would be so anxious to line up both units for beaming within the allotted time that when the units DID link, I was moving them around so fast that I would again lose the link.

Visor and components VS VR3

I'm hoping that Agenda will keep working on the VR3's development so the unit will speed up its operations even more. Though the VR3 can multitask, the unit slows quite a bit, but, again, this is from magazine reviews. I didn't do much multitasking myself because I didn't want the unit to slow down to a crawl. Even when not multitasking, there is a bit of slowness when trying to activate an application. I also hope to see some type of storage expansion, either by adding RAM to the unit, or making something akin to Handspring's Springboard technology. Though there is no space on the current VR3 to use any type of Springboard-type technology, I do think it can be tried externally. Lastly, in the future, Agenda should use another CPU...preferrably StrongARM. 66MHz just isn't cutting it, especially since PDAs like the Visor Edge are already at 66MHz.

Expect a more thorough review of Agenda's VR3 if I ever decide to get a new VR3.

Note: I bought another VR3 (May 2002), a Blue Developer Edition.

Here are some quick digicam shots:

    

Its functional and I got it from eBay, but the backlight doesn't work and the seller didn't hint on this. I'll be emailing him shortly. Otherwise it's functional and pretty much identical in hardware to my broken one. I may or may not swap the cases...we'll see.


My Personal Data Assistant (PDA): Sharp Zaurus SL-5500

About a month ago, I took the plunge and bought a Sharp SL-5500 PDA, which runs Linux and Java. The unit is really slick. I'm very happy with it...it's powerful, moreso than my Visor's 33MHz CPU (the Sharp has a 206MHz StrongARM CPU), has 64MB of RAM, its own integrated keyboard, CF AND SD/MMC slots, MP3-capable, and a TFT color screen. It contains a rechargeable battery, a USB sync cradle, charging adapter, and come with a CD with some software (I installed filemanager, and terminal from the CD and a few things like an ebook reader and an encryption tool from the internet.

Links to Zaurus essentials are listed below:


Here are three JPGs of my Zaurus:

         

I've done a few things with the Zaurus in the last few days -


I first tried using the Zaurus with Windows XP. The two syncing software packages that come with the Zaurus work only in the Windows environment.

To get Linux to even recognize the Zaurus, you'll have to go to http://docs.zaurus.com/lc_generic.shtml. That page has instructions that shows you how to build USB modules so you can use the Zaurus USB cradle with Linux. It also has instructions on how to use the USB cradle to access your internet connection (I haven't tried this yet). In fact, http://docs.zaurus.com/ has a whole slew of HowTos...check them out!

I should mention that the procedures regarding getting a USB cradle working in Linux will vary from distribution to distribution. If you look at http://docs.zaurus.com/, you will see a section in the left-hand menu called "Linux Connectivity." This has links to various Linux distributions that may be helpful to getting connectivity with your flavor of Linux.

Now, to get the only linux syncing software package, you have to use QtopiaDesktop for Linux. This package can also be gotten from Trolltech. The fact that this doesn't come with the Zaurus sort of sucks, as you have to find the package on your own. Hell, the instructions books don't even mention that there's a Linux version of the sync software. Anyways, after downloading, you'll need these instructions, as the ones in the .tgz file are REALLY lacking. Soon, after installing the .tgz package and following that last link for instructions, I had my Zaurus syncing with Linux.


I've also tried out the numerous software for this PDA, which I'll list below:

I downloaded the above software from http://openzaurus.sf.net NOTE: They've recently moved the link...I'll track it down and update the page to reflect the new link.


To see my critique of OZ 3.1, see Zaurus and the Blog. It boils down to this, or this:

Some things haven't changed from the last time I used OZ (back in May). There's still no backup app. OZ itself may be considered more stable than the Sharp ROM for some folks, but its not the ROM that's giving me problems. It's alot of the software. I got none of the versions of opie-screenshotapplet to even install properly. When installing the screenshot application, AQPkg would, afterward, report that the app was installed, though I could find not even a hint of that software being installed. This happened with other software as well. Opie-irc crashed alot while trying to activate it. In order to use it, I had to just keep trying, while hoping it wouldn't crash during initialization.

The only app I REALLY liked was Konqueror. This browser puts Opera to shame, IMO. Nice arrangement of bookmarks, looks cleaner, and seems more configurable. I saw all of this thru a week of heavy usage of Konqueror. Very nice indeed.


My old notes are below. The OZ version I used was version 3.0 RC2, I believe, which I installed in May of 2002:

1. When closing applications, the 'OK' button should close apps, as 'X' does (upper righthand corner). The 'OK' button doesn't close applications, but leaves them open and running. The app is actually minimized. This confused me, after using the default Sharp ROM the last two months. There are other ways to minimize apps (pressing the 'Home' key or just opening another app).

2. No default HWR. You have to download it from OpenZaurus's site. I really think this should be used bey default. OZ comes with a virtual keyboard, and I don't understand why this is, as the Zaurus comes with a hardware keyboard already.

3. OZ seems not to be able to hold time (I'm using OZ 3.0 Beta 10).

4. Under 'Security', I cannot change the sync IP...password screen continues to pop up when using the virtual keyboard to try to change the IP, blocking edit attempts.

5. I can't install .backup files from the when I was using the stock ROM. The stock ROM has a backup feature where you can backup applications and application data to either CF or SD/MMC media. Before I started playing with OZ, I thought I should backup my information and apps so I could possibly use that data with OZ after I installed it. OZ has no backup restore (or backup) software installed as default and I haven't found an individual software package for backing up or restoring previous backups. I'm not aware of any way to restore backups from commandline either.

6. There's no IRDA installed as default. I found a software package but don't know how to operate it (no instructions).

7. I noticed immediately that there is wireless capability with OZ. I can't understand why someone's focusing on wireless with OZ when I've already found issues with more practical issues of the ROM. Based on this, I'm thinking the development focus of OZ is a bit flawed.

8. OZ comes with a VNC client by default and not a VNC server. I do have to point out that I talked to one of the developers (Kergoth on #zaurus @ irc.freenode.net) about this and he stated that he'll be adding a VNC server for OZ. The stock Sharp ROM has a VNC Server/Client package for it already but won't install onto OZ.

In conclusion, I really like using OZ. I was going to wipe it and reflash the stock Sharp ROM but figured I'd play with it and figure out how to get some things running correctly. Initially, my critique was bad...I'd played with it a few hours and immediately found some things I'd thought were flaws. After another twelve hours of playing with OZ, I'd found that what I thought were flaws were misunderstandings on my part. This got rid of six or seven items on my critique list that were considered bad. The above listing are issues after that fact.

Note:

I confess. Today (14 Jun 2002) I reinstalled the Sharp ROM (version 2.20). Four faults were beginning to make me angry:

I mentioned everything above in my OZ critique but numeral 3. I could deal with the other three faults but I really want/need to be able to sync with XP. I'll keep checking OZ to see if/when these things are fixed.

I also ran into problems when trying to go back to the Sharp ROM: Sharp's flash instructions neglect to mention to change the 'ospack.srom' package name to 'ospack'. nicodeimous from #zaurus at irc.openprojects.net hinted at this but I kept ignoring it until flash attempt number five. Once I tried this, the Zaurus flashed back to the Sharp ROM perfectly. These sites need to update their instructions!


If anyone cares to correct my views of OZ, feel free to email me at the address at the bottom of the page. I tried to be as objective as possible with my critiques and hoped not to make anyone angry. I'm just an OZ user, not a developer. I know developers and users don't always see things in the same manner. I'd like to see OZ progress into something usable for mainstream PDA users to use with their Zauruses (or is that Zauri, Zaurus'...). I'll keep trying the upcoming beta versions as they are released.


When installing the OZ ROM onto the Z, I ran into problems using Sharp's directions (flawed). Sharp's instructions don't mention to press the 'C' and 'D' keys simultaneously while pressing the reset button under the battery cover. I had to use http://docs.zaurus.com/rom_upgrade_howto.shtml instead, which is kind of sad, considering the Zaurus is a Sharp product. It was mentioned on IRC that the 'C and D' method worked universally but that the qpe-appROM installer should be used with Sharp ROMs. That wasn't the case with me when reinstalling Sharp's ROM (see below). I couldn't use the Sharp ROM installer...it kept outputting "can't find image file."



Want some pics of how Open Zaurus looks? Here are a few:

                   

I must confess that the first pic isn't actually a screenshot, but the image that eventually went into the background for the second shot. I like the picture (you can see, maybe, that Jessica has Tux tattoo'd to her stomach and arm...yes, I know it's most likely an edit) since the caption reads, "Linux never looked this good." I lose the caption in the screenshot and you can barely see the Tux tatts.

Want to see images of how Sharp's ROM looks? Here ya go! Keep in mind that I'm using VNC here and the colors are a bit off. Here's the chance to see VNC at work along with Sharp's flashROM:

                   

15 July 2002:

I ordered a Zaurus case last week from Piel Frama (located in Spain). This case is the best case I've ever seen for a PDA. It cost $65 and comes with a belt clip. I ordered the black leather one. The two other models are the sames except one is tan leather and the last is tan/black. Pictures are located here

31 August 2002:

I've owned a D-Link DCF-650W for almost two months now. I just love using the Zaurus to access the internet while I'm outside or in the living room! I've also used it at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. I liked it so much, I decided to get a Linksys WPC11 Wireless PC card for my notebook. Originally, I'd tried to use the D-Link with my notebook (in conjuction with a PCMCIA CF adapter...the D-Link is too big and won't fit into the adapter).

1 Dec 2002: I installed OZ 3.0 last night. I'll critique it at my "Zaurus and the Blog" site. This site is my new Zaurus journal.

9 Dec 2002: I removed OZ 3.0 two nights ago. Read about it at "Zaurus and the Blog".


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