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The HP 320LX - First Hands-On Impressions

The HP 320LX - First Hands-On Impressions

Tom shares his initial reactions (both good and bad) to HP's new 320LX Palmtop PC, and to Microsoft's Windows CE operating system

by Tom Gibson

I have been anxiously awaiting the HP 320LX palmtop PC since the Fall COMDEX show, and now it is finally here. After waiting for Hal Goldstein and the rest of the publishing staff here at The HP Palmtop Paper to play with it for a couple of days, I am finally getting my hot little hands on it.

Our pre-release HP 320LX palmtop PC came with an AC adapter that has fold-down prongs to make it more compact; a serial cable to connect the HP 320LX to another computer, printer or modem; the Microsoft Handheld PC User's Guide; and a CD that contains Microsoft's Windows CE desktop software.

Neither the HP 320LX nor the CD that we received are final versions. The CD that will eventually be shipped with the HP 300/320LX will contain software that will convert the 100/200LX, OmniGo 100/120 (and OmniGo 700LX) Appointment Book to the Windows CE Calendar format, and the 100/200LX, OmniGo 100/120 (and OmniGo 700LX) Phone Book to Windows CE Contacts format. There will also be a number of free trial software packages from developers.

The CD also contains all of the software you need to connect and synch your Handheld PC with your Desktop PC (running either Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0), as well as the software to convert your desktop Word and Excel documents and workbooks to the native format for Pocket Word and Pocket Excel.

The HP 320LX will also come with a docking cradle that has an AC adaptor and serial connection built-in. However, we were not able to get a docking cradle in time for this article, as they are still in pre-production.

Size and weight

On first examination, I notice that the HP 320LX palmtop PC is slightly larger than the 200LX about an inch longer and maybe an eighth of an inch or so wider. (See Photo 1.) There is virtually no difference in the thickness, but the HP 320LX is heavier than the 200LX. (The HP 320LX is 16.1 ounces, whereas the 200LX weighs 10.4 ounces.)

 The 200LX on the top, with the new HP 320LX on the bottom.

 The HP 320LX has the familiar clamshell case, with nicely rounded corners, giving it a sleek look. The latch holding the HP 320LX closed is now a plastic, raised button that is narrower, but longer, than the latch on the 200LX, and is also located in the center of the lid.

On the right edge of the front of the unit is the pen slot. Looking over the HP 320LX before opening the top, I notice that there is a PCMCIA slot on the left side, same as on the HP 200LX. But the release for the PCMCIA card is on the back, and is a push-in button, as contrasted with the sliding latch on the HP 200LX.

I like the location (and type) of the PCMCIA card release better than the slide on the front of the 200LX, as it seems much easier to use. The button appears to be made so that it won't break off with over- use or aggressive use.

AC adapter and serial port

The AC adapter's plug (which pushes into the palmtop) is smaller, the post being less than half the width of the plug on the 200LX, and is located on the back of the machine, along with the serial port. The serial port is not the old 10-pin style we are all familiar with, but instead, looks like a miniature Centronics connector for a parallel printer.

When the included serial cable's connector is seating correctly, you can not only hear an audible click, but can also feel it. This redesign of the serial port should put an end to all of those bent pins we experienced when plugging in the serial cable upside down on the HP 200LX.

The locations of the AC adapter plug and serial port were designed to facilitate the use of the docking station. But they are also an improvement over the right side location on the 200LX, as the two cables won't interfere with the use of the machine, and will also get rid of the permanent bend that many of us have on our 200LX serial cable.

Two card slots

On the right side of the unit is the infrared port. Next to this is a covered compartment for a Compact Flash PCMCIA card. The cover slides out, revealing the actual slot. This means that users can have a PCMCIA modem attached in the full-sized PCMCIA slot, and still have a compact flash card available for storage.

On the bottom of the HP 320LX there are three different covers. (See Photo 2.) The main battery compartment (containing two "AA" batteries) is at the back of the machine, and has a cover that is approximately an inch shorter than the 200LX's battery cover. This will probably help keep at least one of the batteries in if the machine is dropped and the battery cover flies off.

 The bottom of the HP 320LX, with the covers for the main battery, backup battery and ROM removed. (The cover for the compact flash is on the left.)>

There is also a compartment which contains the coin backup battery, as well as a red reset button. Immediately to the right of the backup battery compartment is the speaker. The remaining compartment, located on the front center of the bottom, is for upgrading ROM.

Altogether, the look of the machine is very pleasing, with its sleek rounded edges, and I have no problem putting the HP 320LX into either my shirt pocket, pants or jacket pocket. I can feel the weight difference (compared with the 200LX), but it is not drastic enough to tear my shirt pocket off.

Looking inside

Now it's time to open the cover and take a look inside! There are many differences on the inside, most striking at first glance being the generous size of the screen. The display is a full 6-1/8 inches wide, and 2-3/8 inches tall. This contrasts with 4-13/16 inches wide, and 1-7/8 inches high for the 200LX display.

The image seems to extend almost to the edges, which gives the impression that the screen is even bigger than it is.

The next thing I noticed was the size of the keys, and the lack of a few keys that I am used to seeing, as well as the addition of two new keys. (See Photo 3.) The keyboard keys are much more generous in size than those on the 200LX, although the spacing between the keys is about the same. The keys are rounded on the front, and the back of each key is higher than the front.

 The 200LX on the left, with the new HP 320LX on the right.

 There is no ON/OFF key. To turn the unit on, you press the right side of the space bar. To turn it off, you press the (Fn) key and at the same time press the right side of the space bar.

There are no function keys (F1 through F10) on the HP 320LX, and no separate numeric keypad. There are two new keys on the keyboard: the special "Windows key," and the "back light button," (which is just to the left of the space bar).

The keyboard seems to be much easier to touch type on. However, I am still a four-finger typist, (sometimes going to six fingers, if I'm feeling especially good), so I will have to rely on others here to tell me about the touch-typing capabilities. Carol de Giere, Associate Editor, (and a very fast touch typist) says that she is able to type much faster on the HP 320LX keyboard than on the 200LX, and that it lends itself much more to setting on a table and touch typing than the 200LX does. This seems to be the general consensus of everyone here at Thaddeus Computing.

Getting started

Well, now it's time to turn it on! When the HP 320LX palmtop PC starts up for the very first time, you are given the opportunity to put in the owner information, date and time, and calibrate the pen, and then it's time to try the machine out and play a little.

Like all Microsoft Windows operating systems, Windows CE allows you to adapt, or personalize, the look and feel of the machine. (See Screen 1.) This is a very intelligent decision on Microsoft's part, as you really make it your own and begin to feel a real companionship with the machine by molding it to suit your personality.

 The Windows CE Desktop. (Note: because our screen dump utility couldn't handle the HP 320LX's wider screen, the dumps in this article are from a narrower, 480 pixel-wide Windows CE Handheld PC.)

 There are eight different background schemes built into the HP 320LX palmtop PC, and other schemes can be added by the user later, since the background schemes are bitmap images. For instance, I could scan a picture of myself and save it as a bitmap, then transfer it to the HP 320LX, and my smiling face would then be the background for the Desktop. The HP 320LX lets you choose whether or not the owner's page will be shown every time the unit is turned on. (Contrasted with this, if you left an application open when you shut off a 100/200LX, the owner's page will never appear first when the unit is turned on.)

Built-in applications

The HP 320LX palmtop PC comes stock with Microsoft Pocket Excel, (a version of the popular Windows spreadsheet /database application); Microsoft Pocket Word, (a version of the popular Windows word processing application); Calendar, (an appointment book application); Contacts, (similar to the Phone Book application on the 100/200LX); Tasks, (a ToDo list which can also be accessed from the Calendar application); Micro-soft Pocket Internet Explorer, (a Windows CE version of the popular Microsoft Internet Explorer); a Recycle Bin, (where all the stuff we delete goes); and an Inbox for e-mail.

Additionally, there are two things that should be familiar to the users of Windows 95: My Handheld PC, which is the same as the My Computer Icon, and the Start Button, where all of the applications and files are registered and the programs can all be run from.

The HP 300/320LX also comes with a simple Calculator (not HPCalc), a World Clock, Terminal application (TTY, VT-100 emulation), Remote Networking (for connecting to remote access servers), Solitaire, and the capability of printing directly from the HP 320LX to HP PCL printers from Pocket Word and Information Manager.

Pocket Excel

Pocket Excel, which looks like its big brother, Excel for Windows, shows 9 columns by 7 rows on the HP 320LX. (See Screen 2.) Pocket Excel, however, has nowhere near the capabilities of the desktop version. The scaled down version can only read and write files in its native Pocket Excel format, as contrasted with the full Windows version, which can read and write in a wide variety of formats.

 Using the built-in "golf card" template in Pocket Excel.

 There are only four Menu Bar choices (File, Edit, Format and Tools), and eight Icons (New, Open, Save, Cut, Paste, Copy, Undo and Autosum.) There is also the (?) Help icon, and the (X) Exit icon.

The Format pull-down menu has an option for Cell, which can also be accessed with the shortcut key-combination of (CTRL)+(1). This option allows you to change the cell formatting for the current cell (or range of cells), similar to the Range Format command in Lotus 1-2-3.

With other options you can change the vertical and horizontal alignment of the entries within the cells, select the font you want to use (along with the size and style of font), and select a border for the cell or range of cells. You can also change the row height, (or choose to hide the row), and change the column width (or hide a column from the Column Width option of the Format menu).

The Tools pull-down menu contains the GoTo option (also available by the hot-key combination of (CTRL)+(G)), which works the same as the Lotus 1-2-3 function GoTo (F5).

Also available is the Insert option. This contains nearly 100 commonly-used Microsoft Excel functions, and also gives a short description of what the functions do. The functions, which are arranged in categories, include Financial, Date and Time, Math and Trig, Statistical, Lookup, Text, Logical and Informational.

Since the functions are arranged in categories, it makes it simpler than having to scroll through one long list looking for the function you need.

The next menu option under Tools is Define Name, (similar to the Lotus 1-2-3 Range Name menu selection), which allows you to add new range or cell names, delete ranges, and paste a listing of the range names and their cells.

The last option on the Tools menu is Modify Sheets, which allows you to rename, insert, delete or move up or down in the sheet listing to any of the sheets contained in the open workbook.

Along the bottom of the Pocket Excel screen there are two selection boxes. The first is for selecting other sheets in the workbook, and the second allows you to find out information about cell ranges quickly, such as the Sum of the cells in the range, the Count of cells in the range that contain data, the Count of the cells that contain numbers, the minimum and maximum values in the range, and the average of the cells in the range.

There are no macros or database functions built into Pocket Excel, and many of the other features of the full Windows versions are missing, due to the size constraints of the amount of ROM, and the size of the HP 320LX itself. However, Pocket Excel is still a fairly usable spreadsheet application.

Pocket Word

Pocket Word is the little brother to Word for Windows. Like Pocket Excel, Pocket Word has nowhere near the capability of the desktop version.

There are the usual File, Edit and View pull-down menus; the font selector and size of font pull-down menu; buttons for Bold, Italics and Underline; buttons for Left, Right and Center justification, and a button for bulleting text.

Pocket Word can read and write files in its native Pocket Word format, or in straight (ASCII) text. (See Screen 3.) The application comes with nine different fonts built in, so you can make your word processing documents look good.

 Pocket Word can save documents in either its native format, or as ASCII text.

 If you're using HP's 300/ 320LX, you can print the documents directly from your palmtop PC to your printer. (With the other makes of handheld PCs, you have to transfer the document to the desktop, convert it to the desktop's version of Word, and then print from the desktop.)

You can view your Pocket Word documents in either Normal or Outline format, but the feature of Word for Windows that lets you preview how the document will look when printed ("Print Preview"), is not available.

There is no built-in spell checker, for those of us who have trouble spelling our names right. But again, with the limited size of ROM available, it is impossible to include this feature. This is another function that we will have to look to third parties for.

Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE)

The HP 300/320LX palmtop PC comes with Microsoft's Pocket Internet Explorer, version 1.1, built into ROM. (See Screen 4.) Being in ROM, we're saved from having to install the program into the precious 2- or 4-Megabytes of RAM that we are given for storage space, and for running the programs.

 Viewing Thaddeus Computing's Web page with Pocket Internet Explorer.

 Version 1.1 has the latest features available for Pocket Internet Explorer, so you are able to connect to the Internet and browse to your favorite sites, or download software or documents to your Handheld PC. With the HP 320LX's built-in Compact Flash capabilities, you can have the space to do all of this, even while using a PCMCIA modem.

Calendar

The Calendar on the HP 320LX has a decent look, although it shows only a nine-hour block at a time. (See Screen 5.) (The 200LX shows more time slots.) There is a calendar (to the right of the appointments) which shows six weeks at a time. This calendar is "hot," meaning you can tap on a day, or use the arrows on either side of the date and month to scroll through the months.

 In Calendar, nine one-hour blocks are shown.

 The current date is shown reversed in a football-shaped black field, and is circled. This lets you know at a glance what day the Calendar application is referring to, and you can use the right and left arrow keys to move, day-by-day, through the calendar.

Above the calendar is a scroll bar for Tasks, or ToDo's. You can start a new appointment by either tapping on the New Appointment icon, or on the time slot that you want to put the appointment into. The Appointment screen shows description, location, and duration of the appointment (with the beginning and ending dates and times), which allows you to have an appointment that spans more than one day. (See Screen 6.)

 The Appointment Screen in Calendar.

 There is a check box for Full Day Event, a Reminder section with a Remind Me check box (which is like the Alarm-Enabled check box on the HP 100/200LX), and lead time for the reminder, which can range from 0 minutes to 99 weeks.

There are options for choosing which alarm sounds will be related to a specific appointment, as well as the option to have messages interrupt you, regardless of which application you're in. The Recur tab on the Appointment screen lets you set the repeat options for the appointment (once, daily, weekly, monthly or yearly) and also set the date range for the repeat option.

There is also a Notes tab where notes for the appointment can be put. Looking at the Day or Weekly Calendar screen, you can tell which appointments have alarms, notes, locations and recurring options attached to them.

The Agenda view shows your appointments for the day (and all active tasks), and on most of the screens there is an icon for a pop-up date-picker calendar.

Tap on the Active Tasks bar and a drop down menu listing all of the To Do's or Tasks is shown. When you select one of the Tasks, the Task screen pops up. Along the right border of the screen there are three tabs: General, Recur and Notes.

The General tab shows the task, the priority you have assigned to it, a project or category, and the start and end date of the task.

Although the Calendar application on the HP 320LX is similar to Appointment Book on the HP 100/200LX, it has many new features that are lacking on the 100/200LX.

Contacts

The Contacts application is the HP 300/320LX's Phone Book application. The default screen has tabs (i.e., buttons) down the left side of the screen so you can go to different groups of records ("cde," or "fgh," for instance) when the Contact file gets beyond the nine names that show on each screen.

There is a box at the top, Find Last Name, to help you find the person you are looking for. The main screen contains four fields which the user can switch around by using Options in the Tools pull-down menu.

The Menu bar has options for File Edit, Tools, and icons for New Record, Delete, Find, and Find Last Name, along with the standard Help and Close. The Contact database can be sorted on any one of the four fields chosen for display on the main contacts screen, simply by tapping on it.

The Contact entry screen consists of three pages for each record (business, personal, and notes). In addition to fields we're already used to, there are fields for Pager, Mobile Phone, three e-mail fields, Web Page Address, Spouse and Children, Birthday and Anniversary, Assistants Name and Number, Category, and More. (See Screen 7.)

 The Contacts entry screen.

 Entering contact information is rather slick, with pop-up windows for all of the "parts" of a name. For example, my full name is Raymond Thomas Gibson, III, and all four of these parts of my name can be entered as separate fields, along with a salutation (Mr.).

There are similar pop-up entry boxes for the Business, Home and Other address fields, giving abundant room to put street addresses and a scroll bar for the Country field.

This is a very nice version of a phone book application, and since all of this information can be accessed from other applications, it will make corresponding (via e-mail, for example) easy.

 This is the Task application, which is similar to ToDo on the 100/200LX.
 
 

 Setting the Time Zone in World Time

 Other Goodies

The other built-in applications that come with the Windows CE operating system are a simple calculator (similar to the one that comes stock with Windows), World Clock, Remote Networking, the Inbox for e-mail, PC Link (for connecting to your Windows 95 or Windows NT Desktop PC), a Terminal dialer, and Solitaire.

The system has the usual Windows control panel, where most of the settings are made.

Conclusion

The HP 320LX palmtop PC is a very nice machine. It has the feel of a Hewlett-Packard product, and is solid and well manufactured.

HP has an advantage over the other manufacturers of Windows CE Handheld PCs, in that their units have a larger screen, the ability to print directly to HP PCL printers, and come with Pocket Internet Explorer version 1.1 built into ROM.

The units from the other manufacturers won't have these features until future versions of the Windows CE operating system are released.

The RAM is easy to replace and upgrade, (through its own door on the machine). The backlighting feature is nice and is done very well, allowing me to play solitaire for a half hour in the dark without the unit timing out or draining the batteries dry.

In the few days I've had the HP 320LX palmtop PC, I've used it a lot, mostly on battery power, and the batteries that came in the unit (Duracell Alkaline) are still 7/8 full. HP has done a wonderful job by giving us a machine that is battery friendly.

I have a feeling that this machine will make many more people throw away those paper Day Timers and get with the rest of us and our handheld computers.

For a Version 1.0 release of anything, this is a very good start. The Windows CE operating system is still a baby, compared to many of the other systems that are out there.

There are many things that would be nice to have on this HP 320LX, like a real database application (similar to that on the HP100/200LX), where we can design our own databases. I'd also like to have a spell checker, (like the one on the desktop version of Microsoft Word), and HP Calc. There is a real need for third-party vendors to come up with solutions that are not addressed by the core applications.

The HP 300/320LX palmtop PC and the Windows CE operating system are not for everyone, but they will satisfy the needs for many desktop computer users, especially those whose first computer was a Windows 95 machine.

[Editor's Note: Hewlett-Packard will officially announce the release of the HP 300/320 LX palmtop PCs during the third week of May. The units will be available from the same sources that carry the 200LX (including a number of HP Palmtop Paper advertisers).]

[Tom Gibson is Technical Editor at The HP Palmtop Paper.]

The HP 300/320 LX Palmtop PCs: Specifications

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