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User To User: Month 1, APD (After Palmtop Discontinuance)

A few new 200LXs in inventory. The latest on backlighting.
By Hal Goldstein
If you are reading this, you probably know that HP discontinued the 200LX on November 1, 1999. That means that although HP will continue to service and support the 200LX for three years, it no longer will sell them.

 Availability of Palmtops

 Before the Nov. 1 deadline, we purchased 300 new Palmtops for resale. By the time you read this, probably about one half will be gone. We are exploring a few leads for obtaining more new ones, but as of this writing, we are not optimistic. At the same time we are working on obtaining a good supply of used Palmtops that we can refurbish.

Windows CE Alternatives

 I have been quite surprised after all this time, there still isn't a Windows CE machine that I would trade in my 200LX for. (One strong user did switch, check out William Quinlan's article on the Jornada 680.) I like the Jornada 680:- its keyboard, its color backlit screen, and yes, even some of the built-in and third party software. However, the 200LX size, battery life, out-of-doors readability, and built-in and DOS software still means that the 200LX is my handheld of choice. Furthermore, it is not easy to port all my data from the 200LX built-in applications to the Jornada.

 What has surprised me is that most of the Windows CE OEM's are not producing 200LX-sized models. They either manufacture a palm-size product that is more pocketable, or a mini-notebook sized product for touch-typing. These device manufacturers must believe the market research that says that sales of pocket-sized units with keyboards will be flat. HP with its Jornada 680 seems the only company truly committed to that pocket-sized space.

 The Latest on Backlighting

 I am almost embarrassed to bring the topic up again without being able to make a formal announcement. However, getting all the pieces of the project to line up has taken longer than we anticipated. I have an 80% confidence level that we will be able to backlight 200LX user's machines in first quarter 2000 for $199.95.

 Times2Tech Gets Involved

 Here's the latest. First, Mack Baggette of Times2Tech (Mack brought you the Thaddeus Computing memory and speed upgrades) has teamed up with backlight pioneers, John Musielewicz and David Sargeant on the development team. Mack has designed a board that will fit in the 200LX hinge that powers the backlighting. Mack's involvement means that his 5 to 96 megabyte doublespeed upgrades are completely compatible with backlighting. Further, Mack has upgraded his doublespeed driver software to accommodate backlighting. That effort saves Palmtop user memory and guarantees compatibility with Mack's other upgrades.

 How Good is The Backlighting?

 I am quite pleased with the latest prototype, which I have used extensively for the past two weeks. It uses similar backlight technology as Palm Computing's popular Palm V. So, playing with a Palm will give you an idea of what the product will be like.

 Because of a reflective layer added to the 200LX screen, the 200LX screen in non-backlit mode looks a little different than a normal 200LX screen. In some ways I like the upgraded screen better, in some ways I don't. The new screen has a bit of a colored tint to it. Mine appears gold, depending on the lighting. Most of those who have seen the prototype find the new screen more pleasing to look at than the normal screen. The contrast seems as good as a normal Palmtop when looking straight-on, The shortcoming of the upgraded screen is that in non-backlighting conditions, it is less forgiving on the angle that you can read the screen. In other words when I look at the new screen, I need to make sure I am viewing it from an easily readable angle. After a few days of usage, I no longer noticed this difference.

 In backlight mode I am pleased. In the dark and in dim light the Palmtop is quite readable. It's not bright enough to illuminate the keyboard, but works well for viewing the screen. Currently we use a blue EL panel, which, when filtered through the screen and the polarizers, looks pretty similar to an indiglo wristwatch's green-blue light. We are experimenting with other colors, including white, but these take more power.

 In an upgraded Palmtop, a transflective polarizer replaces the reflective aluminum found in a stock Palmtop. The polarizer allows the backlight to shine through. It also reflects light in order that you can see the screen when the backlight is off. When backlighting is turned on, and the light shining through the back of the film is brighter than ambient light, the screen appears to invert. That is, black pixels become white and white pixels become black. To compensate for this and make the screen look normal, the backlight software automatically inverts the screen when backlight is turned on. However, if the ambient light is stronger than the backlight, backlighting will not be visible and the software still inverts the screen. That means you can tell if backlighting is on in normal conditions because the screen appears to be inverted.

 User Controls Backlighting By Software

 The current version of backlight software lets the user turn backlighting on and off by pressing Fn B. The user can change that hotkey. Backlight software should be installed on start up. For those with doublespeed, the software will be included in the doublespeed driver. If the backlight software somehow gets deleted, it will be possible to reinstate backlight usage using a debug script.

 Backlighting Power Demands

 How much Palmtop power backlighting consumes depends on how much you keep it on. When operating all the time, initial tests show battery life decreased by 30%. Most people won't leave it on all the time, so 10% seems like a reasonable estimate for how much it will decrease your battery life. The backlight has no noticeable effect on battery life unless you turn it on.

 Modifying Your Palmtop

 Backlighting is a completely internal modification. Unless you look at the screen, you should not be able to tell the unit has been changed. The new components add an unnoticeable amount of weight, since the lighting panel is paper-thin and the power circuit is very small.

 The procedure is the most labor intensive of all the upgrades. We will offer the product, when we are confident that spoilage will be negligible. Our 90-day warranty extendable to one and two years, will apply.

Once a screen is upgraded, it cannot be restored to factory condition. We will be able to swap your backlit screen for an original screen, for a fee not yet determined.

 The EL panel used is expected to last for 5,000+ hours of running time before fading and wearing out. Using the backlight three hours a day, this translates to over 4.5 years of use.

The backlight upgrade draws power from the main Palmtop 3.3v supply, which means that it will not impact the other power supplies used in the Palmtop

 What's the Holdup?

 As of November 1, we still have to finalize the design and have a month of beta testing. We want to make sure we can reliably perform the upgrade in a reasonable period of time (ideally under 30 minutes). Finally, the many components must be available before we can begin mass-producing the backlighting.

 Purchasing New Palmtops With Backlighting

 Unfortunately, we were unable to announce the backlight upgrade before HP discontinued the 200LX. The only way we are able to offer backlighting on a new Palmtop is for you to make a $500 deposit to have us reserve one of the Palmtops we have in inventory. If for some reason, we are not able to backlight the Palmtop by the end of the first quarter 2000, we will refund your money.

 Questions and Getting the Latest Information

 If you have any technical questions about backlighting e-mail David Sargeant at backlight@hplx.net. We are taking names and e-mail addresses of people interested in purchasing a backlight when it becomes available. To be added to the list, send a message to backlight@thaddeus.com.

iPhone Life magazine


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