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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Filling voids... and crossing lines...

A few days ago I made a decision about how to fill the void in my life left by the departure of my Tungsten C to the salvage yard established for such things in Phoenix. While I was tempted to go with a straight replacement, there were some things about the Tungsten C that made it less inviting than it was two years ago. The fact that I had to send it in for repair twice played a role in looking at other options. At the same time, it was still the best option in the Palm line.

Palm has come out with two other units that seemed attractive. One was the new Treo 650, a smart phone unit that integrates Palm technology into a GSM mobile wireless. But the more I read reviews about these integrated units, the less attractive they seemed. (Interestingly, the professional reviewers tended to love it -- but users tended not to....) It had all the bells and whistles of the Tungsten C that I really liked, especially the thumb keypad. But it lacks a WiFi option (instead it included only Bluetooth technology, which is okay), did not have a writable display area, and is not as powerful as the "C" RAM and ROM memory-wise. While I haven't found the WiFi option that useful here in Belfast, I am thinking about how much I would use it back in the US when I return the summer. I even sat through an online "webinar" that was broadcast the other day by the folks at PalmOne and Cingular (now that was a real interesting experience!), and was duly impressed with the power and utility of the Treo 650 -- that is, if I was a Fortune 500 corporation with a sales force of hundreds.

In other words, I came to the conclusion that moving to a smart phone would be a dumb move.

I also took a serious look at the Tungsten T5 unit that palmOne recently put on the market, and it also look like it was a possibility, especially since it costs about $50 less than the Tungsten C. Here again I found myself thinking about all the things I would be missing. No thumb keypad, no WiFi, and essentially a loss in memory and power for price that was pretty close to a straight replacement.

I began to think that palmOne was out to refute Moore's Law, or at least demonstrate that it no longer applied to product development.

Next I began to think about whether I ought to just wait for some other Palm OS based unit to come in the market that would be to my liking. Well it turns out that palmOne may be the only option left. The Sony Clie has all but disappeared from the scene as Sony "rethinks" its place in the handheld market. Handspring is now part of palmOne (they were the creators of the Treo line), and heaven knows what happened to Toshiba.

So the next step was to actually cross a line that I really did not want to cross -- and began to look at Windows-based handheld units. (Clearly I am not the only one....) Now here were some real options, but at a double cost. These units have always tended to be more expensive, and typically came with drawbacks (poor battery life, etc.). The other cost was that of abandoning the Palm OS for good old Microsoft. Just as I favor of Firefox over Internet Explorer, so I made the effort to avoid considering Windows in favor of Palm when it came to a handheld PDA.

But it's tough to ignore the fact that there are some pretty good units on the Windows OS side, especially those put out by Dell and HP in the US, and Fujitsu Siemens on this side of the pond. In fact, the Fujitsu Siemens really seemed to have the best options, especially their Pocket LOOX 720 that has a highly rated VGA display. But then there was the prospect of getting it repaired if something was to happen in the US. There is a Fujitsu USA company in the US, but for some reason they avoid marketing or providing service for their handheld units.

The Dell Axims looked very good, but I was bothered by reports about only three or four hour battery life.

As for the HP's, the ones that really attracted me where of course the top-of-the-line, high priced units. But then again the more I looked, the more I liked about HP, especially the 4700 series that included everything I wanted except a thumb keyboard -- or so I thought. Meandering through the Web sites that showed comparison prices, I suddenly came upon a sale at a moderately reputable vendor that had HP iPAQ HX4705s on sale for a fairly reasonable price (which is what you say about a $550 price on a $650 unit). At that point I started to look into the unit a lot more carefully, especially since the sale was one of those rare "you have only 24 hours to purchase at this price." As it turns out, for about $40 you can get a thumb keyboard that attaches to the base of the HX 4705. So here was a WiFi/Bluetooth/thumb keyboard/VGA display/highly rated battery handheld that I can live with. And so I cast my lot for the first time with their Windows-based PDA. Will I ever get over it?

But of course there's a problem from the get go: the vendor is unable to ship the unit to me in the UK because of some arrangement with HP not to export the 4700 series. Solution: it's on its way to my home in Massachusetts. It's an extra step in the process, but with a little assist from my wife and the shipping company I will actually be in possession of my new PDA in a week or so.

Oh, the anticipation....
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