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Upgrading to the HP 360LX

Upgrading to the HP 360LX

This long-time LX user, who recently purchased a new Windows CE Handheld PC, describes his experience and first impressions.

By Chris Lott

I have been using the HP 200LX palmtop computer for a little over three years now, preceded by a 95LX model. I have always been enamored with the HP quality in their calculators, and was pleased that their approach translated so well into the palmtop series.

I recently decided to take the plunge and upgrade to the newly announced HP 360LX palmtop WIN CE computer.

The upgrade to the 360LX model, however, has been somewhat disappointing, despite the many advances that this palmtop computer brings to the market. One of the important advantages that I was looking forward to was compatibility with the ubiquitous Microsoft Office files that all my colleagues are using. Currently, I have to translate any Excel files to 1-2-3 format, or save Word files as text in order to carry them on my 200LX palmtop. And I can forget about Power Point slide shows. The 360LX seemed like its time had come for me, and I was looking forward to the upgrade.

 Finding and buying the 360LX

 The first problem was locating the palmtop. I have been following the development of the 300 series in The HP Palmtop Paper and decided that the 360 model had been improved to the point that I would upgrade.

I checked our local sources here in Huntsville and found that nobody sold the 360 yet, and that they were all sold out of the 320 models. I toyed with the thought of buying a 320 and getting it upgraded for free by HP, but decided not to. The information I could find on the upgrade didn't make it clear whether the resulting unit would have just Windows CE 2.0, or would also include all the new features of the 360LX, particularly Power Point.

I then called EduCalc, from whom I have purchased palmtop accessories in the past, and found that they were getting out of the palmtop business. They recommended another mail order company, PC Mall, where I ordered the unit and had it shipped overnight for a reasonable $7 fee.

 When the unit arrived, I noticed its slightly larger size, as compared with my 200LX. I was expecting this, but it was still a shock to place them side by side. I am also concerned with the wimpy rubber feet that are used on the 360LX. The 200LX had plenty small feet by my experience, but those on the 360 make them look huge. The keyboard is a pleasure to type on - I'm typing this article right now, using standard touch typing and just loving it. This is a big improvement on the 200LX, although I do miss the 200LX's number pad. The touch screen takes some getting used to, but isn't at all hard to use.

 The installation process

 I installed the accompanying software on my desktop. First was the Windows CE installation, followed by the HP-specific software. My office computer runs NT 4.0 and I had some problems installing the HP programs. I finally had to poke around in a command shell and figure out which batch file was needed to install the PIM translation software. Even then, the batch file didn't run on my computer, and I had to examine it and figure out what .exe file I needed to run manually.

Also, the Microsoft disk installation process didn't match the printed instructions, but the differences were minor and easy to figure out. I do wish some explanation was given for installing the optional features - I'm still not sure what they're for and which ones would be good to install.

The 360LX also lacked a good manual. Nothing like a traditional HP manual was included. I guess we're supposed to rely on the built-in help screens, which I didn't find very helpful the many times that I consulted them.

I finally got the Mobile Devices explorer window running on my computer after tracking down the service pack 3 disk, which is one of Microsoft's periodic bug patches. The installation process warned me that I might need to re-install the service pack, and indeed I did. Once this was done, I promptly translated my appointment and phone book files from my 200LX, and copied over from my PC to the new 360LX a few example files in Word, Excel and Power Point to try out. I needed these documents on a business trip, and decided to take them along electronically in my palmtop.

Finally before leaving, I set up the remote networking features and confirmed that I could establish a PPP connection and terminal connection to my ISP. I could, but I have yet to figure out how to set up a script file so that I don't have to manually login each time.

Terminal emulation

 The terminal application turns out to be basically useless for me - the screen fonts are unreadable at standard 24x80 settings, and there seemed to be no way to change to a more readable font. You could zoom to a readable font, but it was so big that the 24x80 window needed scroll bars. This didn't work well with the standard UNIX mail reader programs and editors. This was my first disappointment of many.

 Word, Excel, and Power Point

 The Word, Excel and Power Point files all worked reasonably well. However, I was particularly disappointed with the Power Point editing capabilities. During my trip, I had occasion to insert a couple of charts. I couldn't figure out how this was done - the only capability I could find for editing was to insert a title sheet, and to add digital "ink" to a slide, although it appears that this isn't saved with the file.

On the return flight I decided to begin inserting the "facing page text" into my slide presentation. I didn't think twice about this capability being absent, as it is just text editing like Word. Well, I couldn't figure out how to do this, either. You can select a notes page view, but this must only be to examine previously written notes, not insert any. I had great expectations for this version of Pocket Power Point, but have decided that it is basically worthless for my needs.

 The versions of Pocket Excel and Word are quite impressive, in spite of the fact that they omit certain features, and the menus have been changed around a little bit. In Excel, I do miss the capability to get to the end or beginning of a column of contiguous values by using the END/UP-ARROW or END/ DOWN-ARROW sequences. If equivalent keystrokes are available, I haven't figured them out yet.

Also, I can't figure out how to turn off automatic re-calculation. I had a particularly large spreadsheet, and it took several seconds to calculate it on the 360LX. I looked through the help screens and menus, but couldn't find it anywhere. All in all, however, I think the compromises made for these two programs are reasonable and work well enough.

 Battery life

 The battery life on this model is a real change. I would get two-plus weeks out of my 200LX, but the 360LX eats batteries at a phenomenal rate. While I have used the 360LX for less than a week, I have gone through two sets of alkaline batteries, and am working on a set of Lithium's, which seem to be holding up better. I have kept the backlight time to a minimum, but wonder about other accessories that might consume power, such as the serial and IR ports. I can't find a way to turn these on or off, although I've gotten an alert message on several occasions that the batteries are low, and the serial port will consume extra power.

Like James Robertson in his article (see Vol. 6 No. 5 of The HP Palmtop Paper), I tried to use the flash disk from my 200LX. Even though it has Stacker on it, I expected to be able to view the uncompressed portion of the volume. Alas, when I plugged in my card, I was prompted for the name of the driver to use - no default filename, no browse option. I don't know how to proceed here. My flash card is the 30/60MB model sold by ACE (made by IBM).

My modem, a 19200-baud PCMCIA card made by Megahertz, on the other hand, worked like a charm. I didn't have to provide any information at all, and it was just plug and play. I have noticed that it usually causes the screen to go blank or to have vertical stripes every time it is initialized, but it doesn't seem to be doing any harm.

 PIM software

 The PIM translation software did a passable job for my files, contrary to Mr. Robertson's experiences. I noticed that the category field wasn't transferred properly, and I had to enter them all in again to several hundred entries. Also, the 360LX phone book seems to automatically recognize phone numbers with their area codes.

For some reason, the translation program didn't handle my phone numbers correctly. I discovered that I could cut and paste a phone number, and the program would then recognize it. I could tell this because I had used a dash to separate the area code from the phone number. After the cut and paste, the program would reformat them its own way, using parentheses around the area code. Why the translation program didn't do this escapes me. Also, I couldn't figure out how to change the name of a category. There was an option to delete or create one, but it appears that you're stuck with your original name, like it or not.

 File translation

 I am also disappointed with the file format translation technique. As mentioned earlier, one reason I decided to try out the 360LX was because so many of my colleagues are using the Office products, such as Excel and Word. During my recent trip, a Word file was sent to me by e-mail. First, I had problems getting the Inbox to properly receive and download the file attachment. But assuming that I solve that problem, there wasn't any way that I could read the file without being at my desktop computer to translate it into the Pocket Word format.

Upon further reflection, I have decided that this isn't any better than the process I used with the 200LX, when I would translate a Word file to ASCII text, or an Excel file to Lotus 1-2-3 format. I see an opportunity for someone to provide an online file translation service - send a Word or Excel file by e-mail, and it is returned in the appropriate Pocket format. Until then, the attractiveness of Office compatibility is greatly diminished for me.

 Missing functions

 There were other basic functions that I wished were included in the unit. I was hoping for telnet and ftp capabilities, but found that these were only available as third-party products. It seems odd to support full graphical Web browsing, yet not have provisions for these basic services. The calculator program was functional, but I found it hard to use. I have been using HP RPN calculators for 20 years, and found the sudden transition to an algebraic calculator tough.

I also miss the Quicken capability, but noticed that a "financial program" was included free with the HP CD-ROM. I haven't installed this yet, but I presume this is a replacement for Quicken. The absence of the database engine, as noted by others, was a big problem. I have several databases, and don't know what to do with them.

I just can't decide whether to keep my 360LX or not. There are certainly a number of improvements, but my disappointments have been many. Time will tell.

 Addendum

 After trying the HP 360LX for about two weeks, I simply gave up on it and returned it. It lacked too many functions and connectivity features, so I decided it wasn't worth my trouble.

 I have resumed using my trusty HP 200LX, and haven't regretted it for a moment.
 
 

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