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What if HP were to discontinue the Palmtop? Can the latest HP Windows CE Jornadas pick up where the Palmtop leaves off?

By Hal Goldstein

Rumors abound. We haven't heard anything official but there is the possibility that HP will discontinue the HP 200LX by year's end.

Since 1995 we have seen two HP OmniGo organizers and seven Windows CE PC Companions from the HP Handheld division. Meanwhile the HP 200LX remains the same and is, as many claim, the best of the lot.

The HP 200LX continues to sell despite HP's reluctance to market it. On the other hand, it's possible that sales of the Palmtop have dropped to a level that HP can justify omitting it from their product list. Let's hope this is only a rumor: another in a series of false alarms.

So What if HP Does Discontinue the 200LX?

How might discontinuing the 200LX effect HP Palmtop users? The answer is "not very much." HP has a policy of supporting its products (repair, warranty, tech support) for three years after it ceases production.

We at Thaddeus Computing expect to support the HP 200LX with repairs, software, knowledge products and upgrade services for a number of years after HP stops selling it. We can make that claim with confidence. We've been down this road before.

When HP quit producing the Portable Plus laptop in 1987 our business actually increased. We had more sales and upgrades than ever before. We continued supporting the Portable Plus until 1991 when HP introduced the Palmtop. At that time we spun off the Portable Plus business so that users continued to have support until 1994.

Although used palmtops are in short supply now, if HP discontinues the 200LX, we expect to be able to get large numbers of HP 200LX's from corporations and end users. That means we will be able to recycle and keep available HP 200LX's and HP 1000CX's for years to come at reasonable prices.

Furthermore, as this issue of The HP Palmtop Paper demonstrates, hardware and software solutions continue to be developed for the HP 200LX. I am hoping that in our next Ultimate Palmtop Catalog we will be able to offer a backlight upgrade for the HP 200LX. See David Sargeant's article for more details. We also keep finding new software from Japanese programmers. It's amazing what a program like X-Finder can do to enhance the Palmtop. We can't thank Toshiki Sasabe enough for translating the Japanese documentation into English. See Peniel Romanelli's article for more about X-Finder.

In addition, the "open source" movement for palmtop software continues. Pioneered by Gilles Kohl and the PAL project the open source movement means that new software can be designed much more quickly since programmers can build on the source code written by others and not have to reinvent things.

To find out more about these developments and to get your Palmtop technical support questions answered by strong, experienced users, I recommend the HPLX-L mail list. Thanks goes to Al Kind for moderating the list on his university's site and keeping the messages focused on the Palmtop.

HP's Latest Windows CE Machines?

In the past six months HP has introduced the Palm Pilot-sized HP Jornada 420, the almost-200LX-sized Jornada 680 and the mini-notebook-sized Jornada 820.

Our companion publication, Handheld PC Magazine (www.hpc mag.com) has reported on Windows CE since its introduction in 1997. In spite of the fact that we publish the only Win CE magazine, I haven't used a Win CE machine until this year.

Using the Jornada 820

So here I am, in a crowded airport, typing this article on the mini-notebook-sized Jornada 820. I have to admit, the full-sized, color, backlit, VGA screen is easy on the eyes. Pocket Word, a subset of MS Word, has all the features that I need. I'm not shooting for a finished product but rather something that I can turn over to our layout artist. The keyboard is well laid out and responsive. Touch-typing is a breeze. The HP J820 uses a touch pad as its pointing device. I'm not fond of it since it takes some getting used to. I'd really prefer a touch screen or a pop-out mouse. However, given a choice between a sleek, sexy Windows 98 laptop and my Windows CE Jornada 820, I'd have to go with the latter.

With the Jornada I don't have to worry about battery life. The J820 will keep on ticking for 10 hours or more on a full charge. When I have a ten-minute break, I can turn the machine on and work for ten minutes and not have to wait for Windows to load before I can type in an idea. It only takes a second or two to start the ROM-based Pocket Word or Pocket Excel. The Jornada 820 is small and light and easily fits in my backpack.

One of my biggest objections to Win CE in the past has been that you could not read native Word and Excel documents created on a Windows 95/98 machine on a Windows CE machine. The latest version of the Windows CE Pocket applications for both the Jornada 820 and 680 eliminates this objection. You can now import and export desktop Word and Excel files directly on a Windows CE device. If someone sends me an email with an Excel spreadsheet attached, I can read it! I don't have to mess with Microsoft's temperamental serial transfer software. (Unfortunately, you can't read a Lotus WK1 file directly. You still have to save the WK1 file on a desktop, load it in a full version of Excel and then transfer it to the Win CE computer.)

Enter Jornada 680

When HP sent us the three different Jornadas, Rich Hall, former editor of The HP Palmtop Paper and current Handheld PC Magazine editor, immediately laid claim to the palmtop-sized Jornada 680. I acquiesced, telling myself that I already had a 64 Meg Palmtop, my HP 200LX. So I wound up with the larger Jornada 820 but Rich has let me play with "his" J680. After trying out both units, I know that Rich got the better deal. The HP Jornada 680 is the first Windows CE device I would even consider carrying with me as my regular handheld. Will I switch? No, but the HP J680 has some pretty tempting features. It has the same built-in software as the HP J820 plus limited macro capability and a NoteTaker-like program. Both handheld PC's have built-in 56K modems with Pocket Outlook for email and Pocket Internet Explorer along with several additional applications and utilities.

The HP J680 has a touch screen which I prefer. The most tempting feature of the J680 has to be the keyboard. Even though the keys appear cramped, the engineers at HP did a superb job with the layout and key sculpting. I can actually touch type on this machine. Since I take a lot of notes at meetings and seminars and spend much of my time on the road writing documents and email, I like the idea of a useable keyboard on such a small device.

So Why Not Switch

On the other hand, the Jornada 680 is bulky and barely pocketable. I seldom wear a jacket, which means I carry my 200LX in my pants pocket. Given that the Jornada 680 is 1 inch longer, 1/2 inch wider, and weighs about 8 ounces more than the HP 200LX, it is an uncomfortable fit in my pocket.

Secondly, although the battery life of the J680 is good for a color handheld (6-8 hours), it doesn't come anywhere near the battery life of the HP Palmtop. The HP J680 requires rechargeable batteries and, even though I favor rechargeable batteries for ecological reasons, I realize there are times when the convenience of using off-the-shelf, AA batteries is necessary. This is especially the case on long trips and when AC is not available. I don't like being dependent on an AC adapter and having to remember to bring it with me. It means the Jornada 680 is truly not self-sufficient. (HP does offer an additional bulky, but long-lasting, second battery for the 680.)

Thirdly, although the built-in Win CE applications are getting better and less dependent on the desktop, I find the 200LX built-in programs are more capable and stable. The built-in 200LX database engine is more powerful then Pocket Access and the Windows CE phone application. Lotus 1-2-3 and HP 200LX HPCalc are far superior to Excel and the Win CE calculator. Addressing the weakness of the Win CE calculator, HP has included a second calculator modeled after HPCalc called OmniSolve (written by a third party, LandWare). OmniSolve has most of the HPCalc functions but omits two of my favorites: List and Solver. Furthermore, the number of applications that work on the 200LX far exceeds what is available for Windows CE.

In fairness to Windows CE, its applications work well. HP has gone the extra mile and included additional software needed to make its devices more useable (and more 200LX-like). In addition, new Windows CE commercial, freeware and shareware appears every day.

A fourth problem with the HP color Jornadas is that they are not very readable out of doors. HP has done a respectable job addressing this limitation and even has a configuration setting for reading outside. However, the 200LX is definitely more useable outside and the Jornadas are not readable in direct bright sunlight.

Fifth, Microsoft still hasn't gotten its synchronization/file transfer right, especially for those who use Windows NT. You really need a free serial port on your desktop, one that you can dedicate to H/PC communication. Hopefully these problems will be solved in the next few months with a free update.

A sixth concern is Pocket Outlook. You can always get inbox, outbox, sent files, when connecting to Outlook at your office. However, depending on your Windows CE setup, you may not be able to access or use one or the other of these folders, and you cannot synchronize Pocket Outlook with Outlook Express.

Seventh, the HP 200LX works well for me. I have it well trained and organized and am used to the keyboard and numeric keypad. I also have too much of my business locked in my Palmtop to leave it all behind and start over. Granted, it's possible to convert most of the data to Win CE format but the conversion process is time-consuming and prone to error.

The cost of the Jornada 680, $895, is the final barrier to switching from a Palmtop to a palmtop-sized, H/PC machine.

Palm-size Jornada 420

The palm-size Jornada 420 is impressive in its own way. Like the other two Jornadas it has a color, backlit display. The voice recorder works well and it has a useable set of dials and buttons on the left side of the machine that lets you navigate through menus and voice recordings. Even so, I prefer a keyboard and longer battery life.

Next issue I hope to examine, in detail, a DOS emulator for the Win CE machines and data transfer strategies between the 200LX and Windows CE machines.

iPhone Life magazine


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