Mobile Computing, Part 1: Handhelds

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about my mobile computing solutions, and thinking about making some changes.

First the PDA/cell phone side of things. I’ve used a Treo for the last 4 years, before that I had a separate cell phone and Palm. I’ve been increasingly restless with my Treo lately – I often want a bigger screen, and have been wondering if I should go back to separate devices1.

When my Treo 600 went down, I used the A900 as my primary phone for a little while. I really like the form factor of the A900, and I haven’t used a :scare: normal :/scare: cell phone on a regular basis for years.

Since I’m already paying to use the A900 as a modem, I was thinking hard about adding a mobile device with bluetooth that could also use leverage the A900 connection. After doing a little research, I decided to give the Palm TX a try.

There is a lot that I like about the TX:

  • The screen is gorgeous.
  • The new Blazer (built-in browser) is quite capable.
  • I really like being able to rotate the screen – holding it in one hand and using the 5-way nav in horizontal mode is very comfortable.
  • The Bluetooth and WiFi work exactly as you’d expect for connectivity – it’s really fast.

However, there are a few things I don’t like as well:

  • The 5-way nav doesn’t work in SnapperMail the way it does on the Treo. This is something SnapperFish will address, but until they do it’s an annoyance.
  • The power on/off button is somewhat inconveniently recessed, making it harder to push (this is likely intentional to avoid accidental on/off).
  • Not having a keyboard turns out to be a big issue for me. Not just for replying to e-mails, but for looking up contacts, adding appointments, entering URLs into the browser… turns out I can’t really go back to grafitti after all.
  • While the Bluetooth works great for connecting to the internet, I can’t dial out on my A900 from the Palm. Perhaps this will be fixed in a future software update for the A900.

Adding a keyboard is an option for replying to e-mails while out and at a table, etc. but it doesn’t solve the problem of quickly getting to a phone number while in the car or entering a shorthand appointment with one hand. Also, if I get a Bluetooth keyboard I believe that I can either be connected to the phone (for internet access) or the keyboard, but not both at once.

Om asks why Palm hasn’t come out with an internet tablet, but the Palm TX is really very close to being that. Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, a nice screen, and a capable browser and e-mail client – it’s certainly going to meet the same needs as a Nokia 770 for a number of users. Of course, it doesn’t seem to be marketed that way.

I haven’t fully given up on the Palm TX – there is still a lot to like about it. If the “full screen grafitti” mode worked anywhere near as well as it did on the Newton, I might be willing to scrap the keyboard – it doesn’t.

There aren’t a lot of Palm OS devices that have keyboards built-in, but Sony made a few. The PEG-UX50 also has WiFi and Bluetooth, I thought that might be a decent option. I couldn’t find any on Craig’s List in Denver, but there were a few in the Bay Area and I decided to take advantage of my trip to the Bay Area last week and pick one up.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck with the unit I got. The price was good, but the WiFi is busted and I haven’t been able to get it to sync to my Mac (I may need some Sony drivers) or connect to the A900 via Bluetooth (I believe I need to install additional Bluetooth libraries). The guy who sold it to me has not responded to my e-mails or phone calls since I discovered this problem – I guess sometimes you get what you pay for. Anyone want to buy a Clie in nice condition except the Wifi?

I got a chance to play with Adam‘s Treo 700W at MashupCamp. I’d heard some good things about the 700W, so I was surprised at how bad it was. You basically have 2 hard buttons: Start menu and the Ok/Apply/Back/Cancel/Close button. The UI feels a bit clumsy – it just really turned me off quickly. I did like the keyboard though – they’ve improved that quite a bit.

Trying two devices again has me appreciating the Treo again. Perhaps the mythical Treo 700P will be the right solution for me after all.

I got to see Nokia 770 in action at MashupCamp as well. This thing is pretty darn cool – add Bluetooth keybaord and you’ve basically got a mini-laptop. If you install Opera 9 or Firefox, you can even use FeedLounge on it! I’m curious to learn more about this, but my guess is I’d have the same complaints about it that I have with the Palm TX.

I’m actually quite intrigued by the form factor of the new HTC devices. The keyboards are very usable, and having the big screen for browsing and reading e-mail is definitely a good thing. If only it weren’t running Windows Mobile… Are there any Palm devices that use this form factor?

I’m curious about the next generation Hiptop as well. I’m pretty well hooked on Sprint for their data plans, but the Hiptop isn’t far from what I’m looking for.

An EV-DO Blackberry would be intriguing too – though I still don’t think I can stomach the additional $45/month for the “Blackberry service”.

So, back to my current dilemma…

I was able to get a loaner Treo 600 from a friend, however it’s proven to be incredibly flakey. I had to switch the number back to my old Treo 600 (the one with the broken buttons) just so I can actually answer calls. I then wanted to simply switch the phone numbers between the A900 and the Treo, but due to the data plans attached to the phone numbers that doesn’t seem to be possible2. I think I’m going to go with the A900/Palm TX as my primary devices for a little while. At least until the Treo 700P is available.

Tune in tomorrow, when I get schizophrenic about my mobility preferences and laptops. :)

  1. A list of my mobile device history can be found here. [back]
  2. Anyone know someone working at Sprint that could help out here would be aweome. [back]