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User to User: The HP OmniGo 100

User to User: The HP OmniGo 100

Hal compares the different products in HP's handheld line and a user "takes apart" an OmniGo 100.

By Hal Goldstein

OG100 In Vertical Mode With Stylus

 In this month's User to User column I will summarize my thoughts about the three HP Handhelds. Then I'll pass on some interesting HP OmniGo 100 thoughts from several knowledgeable users.

HP Handhelds Compared -- The Bottom Line

Comparing the HP 200LX and the HP OmniGo 100 is like comparing apples and oranges. The HP OmniGo 100 has lots of neat new features and innovations. However, most HP Palmtop Paper readers will not want to switch even though many of us will recommend the HP OmniGo 100 to our friends, family, and professional colleagues.

Here's why. I don't use the Mac (and don't even like Windows much). Even so, for years I have recommended an Apple Macintosh to my less technically inclined, more right-brained friends. The reason the Mac has a much easier more intuitive computer user interface than DOS-based or even Windows based PC's. Personally, I will stick to my HP 200LX. However, because of the HP OmniGo 100's price, its slick pen interface, and the ease of use yet depth of applications, I will recommend the HP OmniGo 100 to many of my friends. (HP OmniGo 100's will make excellent Christmas gifts.) To more serious PC users I will suggest the HP 200LX.

First here is the bad news why many of us spoiled by the HP 200LX won't switch. The HP OmniGo 100 does not run DOS. It has a smaller screen with all that that implies. The built-in apps, though similar, aren't as powerful no macros; no Lotus 1-2-3. Storage capacity is less since the HP OmniGo 100 can only use SRAM cards, not Flash cards. Also, battery life isn't as long. There is no fax or communications capability except for several wireless paging PC Card options due soon.

On the other hand the HP OmniGo 100 has a very nice, somewhat addicting graphical/pen interface. The ingeniously engineered hardware allows the unit to fold one way for keyboard input and another for pen input. New users will be able to simply start using the HP OmniGo 100 by pointing at applications, without having to know about files, "System RAM/electronic disk ratio," shelling to DOS, and so on. Those users willing to invest an hour or so to learn and practice will be able to use Graffiti handwriting recognition with a high degree of accuracy. The powerful HP 200LX database applications PHONE, APPT, DataBase, NoteTaker, WorldTime are implemented on the HP OmniGo 100 but are much simpler. Many new users would be willing to give up the advanced features of the more robust HP 200LX database counterparts for the ability to write and draw in these applications.

HP feels its primary target is mobile professionals with financial responsibilities. HP Calc, a GEOS spreadsheet, a regular calculator, and an simulated HP 12C provide these users with an excellent package. Those of us who have used Vertical Reader on the Palmtop will appreciate the hypertext HP OmniGo 100 BookReader.

All in all there is much to recommend in the HP OmniGo 100.

The OmniGo 700LX Communicator Plus

The HP OmniGo 700LX Communicator Plus, which starts shipping in 1996, combines an enlarged HP 200LX with a Nokia cellular phone. The HP OmniGo 700LX should be an ideal product for mobile cellular phone users with the need to fax or to communicate electronically wherever they are. The package is a bit bulkier than an HP OmniGo 100 or HP 200LX. However, it will still be the smallest product available with this communications capability, and will certainly fit in a briefcase.

For the rest of this column I thought I'd share with you the insights of some advanced users who have taken their first look at the OmniGo 100.

Inside the HP OmniGo 100

One of the reasons to think the HP OmniGo will be a winner is the incredible amount of features for its price. The first question that comes to mind is why is the HP 200LX so much more expensive? The answer is that the HP 200LX uses a lot of custom, relatively low volume parts. On the other hand HP apparently designed the HP OmniGo 100 so that it could use many more standard off-the-shelf parts. Desktop PC prices keep lowering for this reason many different manufacturers use the same parts.

David Marsh, a real tinkerer, verified this theory. He got ahold of an HP OmniGo 100 and immediately took it apart. This is what he said about it on CompuServe's HPHAND Forum:

I got a chance to disassemble a new HP OmniGo 100 last night, so I thought I'd report on what I found: All of the parts are standard off the shelf parts except for the ROMs, which are masked parts. The main system chip is a Vadem VG230, which is a highly integrated PC-on-a-chip that includes an 80186-compatible core and also all of the glue necessary to drive an LCD display, PC Card slot, and PC/XT style bus. Interestingly, the Vadem chip is a standard part, unlike the 95-100-200LX series which all had custom ASIC chips for the main chip. I also believe that it's a 5-volt part, unlike the HP 100/200LX, which use 3.3-volts. All of the chips are in inexpensive packages (j-lead PSRAMS, PQFP processor, and SO flat packs for the ROMs and assorted others). There are two 512K x 8 PSRAM chips, very much like the 95LX 1MB setup. The ROMs are set up as one 1MB chip and one 2MB chip. Remaining parts look like they are for the card port, and a level converter chip for the RS232 port. As in the earlier Palmtops, the display has the controllers on the display module, and is connected through a flex cable in the hinge. The display half of the case also houses the lithium coin cell backup battery. On the main circuit board, there appears to be some extra circuit ground traces near exterior areas of the unit, presumably to cut down on electrostatic discharge dangers to the circuitry. The case construction is similar to earlier models, with the same style of heat-staked keyboard arrangement, and a pressure connector to the main board. The stylus slides into a well below the keyboard along the front of the unit, and `clicks' into place.

PC Cards and the HP OmniGo 100

Contributing writer Mark Scardina made some interesting observations. He writes the following:

PC CARD SUPPORT

The OmniGo 100 as shipped has limited PC Card support. Though the GEOS operating system can support different types of cards, the only type supported here are SRAM cards. I tried both linear Flash (Maxtor) and ATA Flash (SanDisk and IBM) and neither card was recognized. Modem cards were not recognized either. Since the HP OmniGo slot will take Type II cards, we might surmise that additional card support is planned.

Once an SRAM card is inserted, you are prompted to have it formatted. The OmniGo 100 insulates the user from the concept of files, directories, and drives. Instead of an application like Filer, the OmniGo comes with a Transfer program which allows you to back up data to the SRAM card. When you back up an application, all the files associated with that application are copied at once on an application by application basis. GEOS uses a DOS compatible file format which means you should be able to read the SRAM card in an HP Palmtop, a laptop, or a PC with a PC Card slot. Making sense of those files is another matter.

ADDING APPLICATIONS

The Help file indicates that applications residing on a PC Card will automatically be added to the Home screen for launching. I was able to confirm this using several games that were written for the Zoomer (GEOS-based handheld) and ran quite well on the OmniGo. This means that additional software will be able to be run from a ROM or SRAM card.

BATTERIES

The OmniGo 100 does not have a provision for an AC adapter nor is there any selection of battery types. Only AA alkalines are specified along with a 2032 Lithium backup battery. One nice touch is the design of the battery compartment. Even with the battery cover off the batteries are securely held by the wrap-around design of the compartment. Due to the pre-production nature of the unit I examined, I cannot say what the final battery life will be.

Miscellaneous tidbits

Craig Payne who now works for Megahertz was one of the original developers for the much acclaimed but unfortunately now defunct GO Pen Operating System for PDAs. Craig got a brief look at the OmniGo and here is what he reported.

WHAT'S IN THE PACKAGE

The manuals just keep getting smaller. The OmniGo 100's manual is about a half inch thick. The OmniGo 100 ships with non-rechargeable Lithium AA batteries. These main batteries live in the center part of the double-jointed hinge. The serial cable is the same as on the LX.

The Jotter application gets a dedicated key. Jotter is a 20 page scrapbook that accepts ink or text. Unlike the HP 200LX the ALT key is sticky like the SHIFT key. You can configure the HP OmniGo 100 to turn on when you touch the screen. Roughly 300K+ is available of the 1MB on a new machine. Printers supported: HP LaserJet, DeskJet, Epson 24 pin, IBM 24 pin ProPrinter, Cannon BubbleJet. Port speeds are 9600 or 19,200 baud.

Keyboard reset is Shift-On-Next. There is also a hole for a paper-clip reset. The spreadsheet is limited to 64 rows by 64 columns. Fresh alkaline batteries should last from two to five weeks.

HP OmniGo 100 Specifications

3rd Party Products for the OmniGo 100 Organizer Plus

iPhone Life magazine


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