Gadget corner

6th January 2006 at 00:00
With handheld learning well and truly in the spotlight, Merlin John takes another step on his way to his ideal PDA

If I have to nail my colours to the mast, I have a preference for Palm PDAs (personal digital organisers) over their Pocket PC siblings. The reasons are simple: over many years, Palms have handled my data and communicated better and more securely (I have lost too much work on Pocket PCs). Also, the handwriting recognition is superior as are the graphics. This ought to be as obvious as the difference between Apple and PC but, as we know, it can be made to vanish by clever marketing.

The switch to a new Palm TX (above, around pound;250) from a redundant Tungsten E (the screen broke) was a positive experience - one more step towards the elusive ideal PDA. The significance of this device has to be its clever integration of wireless technologies - Bluetooth and wi-fi. Both applications worked well and were extremely practical, Bluetooth for synching information for other devices and communicating with mobile phones, and wi-fi for connecting to the internet for email and browsing (but let down by a dodgy browser).

It wasn't just that the wireless capability was present and worked, but the simplicity of connection, something that has been sadly missing from Pocket PCs (the impressive implementation of Siemens Fujitsu PDAs in Wolverhampton, worth checking out, has enjoyed extra and effective support for this acknowledged shortcoming of Windows PDAs).

The screen and graphics are excellent, memory is more than adequate (128Mb), backed up by an SD card slot, and connection to your PC or Mac is by a proprietary Palm USB cable for synchronising (and trickle charging) rather than a "dock", which some users prefer. There is a separate charger if needed.

The TX was more than adequate for journalistic purposes but would have benefited in school from the camera and voice-memo functions of the Zire 72, which was used in the Dudley handhelds trial.

For classroom use, however, Palm must listen to the educationists who insist on compatibility with Flash, an increasingly popular ingredient of modern education "content". And all manufacturers should take heed of the call from the Dudley pilot for a robust education PDA (although the TX is certainly robust enough for adult professional use). It's worth checking progress on this issue at the Handheld Learning website (below) run by Graham Brown-Martin, who set up the UK's first major educational conference for mobile computers at Goldsmiths College, London, last year.

Palm's Z22 (above) entry-level PDA (around pound;80) scored a hit with Online's 12-year-old tester, Michaela Shaw. She quickly took to the diminutive device's effective data-handling to bring order to her social whirl - the address book and diary were more than adequate. And she liked the size and ease of use. But in the longer term she wanted better games and more support and space for, you've guessed it, music and photos. It seems there's no going back.

Handheld Learning 2005 with fascinating presentations from the Dudley and Wolverhampton pilots, demonstrated the need for good PDAs in education; now it's time for the manufacturers to go the extra yard and make one for the classroom.

* RM is about to launch a new "clamshell" tablet PC. For more information on laptops and Tablet PCs, along with reviews, visit our Web Extra section at

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