Anything a PC can do

5th January 2001 at 00:00
Mobile learning is affordable with a handheld that has nearly all the functions of a standard computer. Les Watson looks at a small and stylish entrant

The iPAQ pocket PC is a feature-rich handheld device that goes well beyond the concept of having a "personal organiser synchronised with my PC". Most of the things that can do with your PC, you can do - with some limitations - on your iPAQ.

Weighing just six ounces, it is solid and well constructed, coming in a techno, stainless steel finish and has been designed to fit into a shirt pocket. There is a neat plastic carry case carrying additional battery power, a modem, or wireless networking card. Four buttons on the device give direct access to functions, such as the calendar or notebook, and these can be assigned to functions to suit the user.

A one-touch navigation button provides mousefunctionality for navigating menus and also doubles as a speaker for listening to MP3 files. It also has a pen that can be used to navigate by touching the screen.

The machine uses the Windows CE 3 operating system, so those familiar with Windows will have no trouble using it. Compared with other handhelds on the market, the iPAQ is very responsive thanks to a quick processor and adequate memory for applications.

The reflective thin film transistor (TFT) display produces an excellent clear, sharp image that is one of the best I've seen on a handheld. The machine also has a built-in light sensor to adjust the screen's brightness. Handwriting recognition is excellent. I got through the alphabet - upper and lower case - andnumbers zero to nine, with just two errors.

The iPAQ, like most modern personal digital assistants (PDAs), expects you to learn or know its handwriting system, rather than it learning yours. As people tend to be more accommodating than computers this makes sense. Most users should be able to achieve a minimum 95 per cent success-rate, with a little practice. If you don't like the system you can use the mini on-screen keyboard. What's more, if you really don't want to write or tap the keyboard, you can record your voice.

A cradle attached to the USB, or serial port on your PC, allows the iPAQ to synchronise data and it does so remarkably quickly. Sitting the machine on its cradle also charges the lithium polymer battery, which has a life of 12 hours between charges.

The machine comes with pocket versions of Word, Excel and Internet Explorer. Dealing with email and surfing the Net are straightforward, given an Ethernet card or modem. The iPAQ also has Microsoft Reader software, giving the resolution of a printed book and letting you annotate text.

So, what's wrong with it? I only managed to screw two things up:I put the pen in the wrong way and found it pretty tough to get out, and I recorded some voice files that were saved as notes and synchronised with my email. Apart from these minor issues the iPAQ was a highly functional, well-made product.

Compaq iPAQ handheld computer, 206 Mhz StrongARM processor and 32 Mb of standard memory upgradable to 340 Mb. Price: pound;382 + VAT (pound;288 + VAT for the monochrome version) Compaq at BETT stands: G40 and W40


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