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In The Lab
Get More Out Of Your PDA
by chris

Office take-out: Windows CE and Pocket PC devices generally include scaled down versions of Microsoft Office Applications, to handle Excel spreadsheets (pic), Word documents (pic) and Outlook scheduling (pic), tasks, notes and email.

Email is handled in a variety of ways depending on the capabilities of your particular PDA. Without some sort of wireless network capability such as Bluetooth or 802.11, most PDAs will transfer email files when you synchronize with your computer, letting the computer send and receive mail. Some devices like the HP 6315 have built-in cellular network access, 802.11 wireless access, and Bluetooth access. The PDA can use any of these as well as the synchronize feature to send and receive email directly to the email servers on the Internet or local network.

Search from your PDA
Search from your PDA

Web Browsing: With cellular modems, Bluetooth or WiFi access, you can connect to local networks or the Internet. Some sites, like Google, will detect your device type and direct your browser to a small screen format version of the site. Pocket versions of Instant Messaging, Chat, terminal services, and email all allow you to access the Internet from your PDA.

Note taking: PDAs are not the best for taking notes, but it can be done. Windows CE devices had a software keyboard or a text pad for drawing letters. This text pad has evolved with Pocket PC version to a writing box (Transcriber, pic) that will convert your letters and words into text, captured in Pocket Word, Pocket Notes or any other Pocket applications that use text input. The notes application can also capture a graphical version of your note taking, retaining all of the uneven, shaky, unreadable characteristics of your handwriting.

Pocket gaming: There are hundreds, if not thousands of games available for Pocket PC or Palm PDA devices. You can find board games, card games, arcade and strategy games and more in the store and on web sites dedicated to PDA software. Some of these have very specific requirements such as the Operating System version, processor, or screen type or size. If a trial version of a program is available, download and test it before making a purchase. This is the best route for making sure that your device meets all the requirements necessary to run a game or any other application.

Power Toys: These are small programs that are not supported by Microsoft, but were developed to add a particular feature or perform a special function. You can find download links for Power Toys for Pocket PCs and links to other sites and user groups on the Microsoft Web Site for Windows Mobile devices. This is not an extensive collection, but you will find a Theme generator program and several sample Today backgrounds to customize your device with. If you search the Microsoft site for "Theme Switcher" you should turn up a different Pocket PC Power Toy download section in the TechNet area. This page has additional applications such as a Media Player skin changer, Internet Explorer add-ons, and more. Several of these were designed for Pocket PC 1.0 or Windows CE versions and either will not work, or have been incorporated into the newer Pocket PC versions.

Maps can be transferred from your desktop.
Maps can be transferred from your desktop.

Pocket Maps: Several map and navigation type programs are available for PDAs. With Microsoft Streets, a Pocket PC version is included on the CD or available for download as a stand-alone application. You can select a map area within Microsoft Streets or MapPoint, a right-click option brings up a menu choice to export the map, landmarks, restaurant and any push-pin detail to a pocket map. The resulting map files with all of the local street names, landmarks such as museums, restaurants, train stations, etc. all can be saved in a couple of megabytes for most of a city area. With a GPS attachment, software like Microsoft Pocket Streets or Pharos GPS will turn your PDA into a hand-held GPS device. It can track your position on a local street map, and some programs are capable of plotting routes and displaying directions while on the move.

Pocket Library: Most Pocket PC based devices also include a version of Microsoft Reader, but even if yours didn't you can still get MobiPocket Reader, Adobe Reader, or one of the other electronic-book (e-book) applications. E-books are full-length electronic versions of the hard-cover or paperback books from your favorite authors and they are available from the same place you can order regular books such as Amazon or Barns and Noble, from e-book specialty stores (including MobiPocket) and directly from some publishers. If you are into Science Fiction and Fantasy, you should definitely check out the Baen Book website! Besides having a subscription type service where you can buy electronic versions of soon-to-be released titles. Baen also has a free library just to get you hooked.

Media Player: Even before Pocket PCs, many Windows CE devices had simple media player support or third party applications that fill the same niche. Once you had captured, ripped or otherwise converted your audio tracks to WAV or MPG files, you can use the PDA to play them back. Converting files to Windows Media Audio format can squeeze a few more songs onto your memory card with a slightly higher compression level than MP3. With a couple of large memory cards, I can load most of my holiday music files into my PDA, then use the Media Player shuffle feature to provide continuous music when company is over. If the device has Microsoft's Windows Media Player, additional add-ons such as the Audible (Audio Book) player can be installed. Many of the current PDAs have processors fast enough to handle the higher bandwidth media such as movies. (WMA = Windows Media Audio; WMV = Windows Media Video)

A 30 second commercial, formatted for full-screen viewing takes up less than a megabyte of storage.
A 30 second commercial, formatted for full-screen viewing takes up less than a megabyte of storage.

Movie Player: Windows Media Encoding: Use Windows Media Encoder to convert and compress your home movies, TV shows or other un-encrypted video files to play on your Pocket PC device. A two hour TV movie can easily fit on a 256MB memory card. You still need a way to capture the video or save it on the computer, but once it is there, the conversion process is straight forward. For example, a 30-second commercial might be a 30MB .mpg file when first captured. This same file converted from 720x480 to a 320x214 .wmv file takes up only 979KB and will play full screen on the PDA in landscape mode.

PDA Accessories: Things to add to your shopping list to protect or enhance PDA use.

  • Screen protectors: On my first PDA, I played solitaire so often that I wore out the screen tapping the deck for the next cards. By the time I purchased my next unit, I knew better and ordered some screen protectors for it. These are not much more than a thin piece of plastic sheet that slips in between the screen and the front bezel.
  • Carrying cases: My second PDA was an HP with an aluminum cover that helped to protect the screen. The next PDA I purchased had no protective cover, so I bought an aluminum shell to provide similar protection.
  • Spare batteries: The manufacturers are catching on! The last two PDA units I bought have the capability to charge a backup battery in the base station at the same time the unit is charging or docked for synchronizing. Most have a panel that opens to swap the battery without tools, and some support oversize batteries that can extend the usable operating time.

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