Strangely, it was while driving in a random fashion round yet another set of dead-ends and wrong roads in one of Britain?s fine industrial parks, in the vain hope of stumbling across my client?s premises by sheer good fortune, that I decided the time had come to invest in a personal organiser, or PDA. I had seen a review of a system called Navman, which operated in conjunction with a Compaq Ipaq as a portable GPS (Global Positional Satellite) navigation system, giving voiced directions to any address in the UK or Ireland. Fantastic...no more getting lost and being late for appointments! Yeah...right. I spent a total of just under £900 on a Compaq Ipaq 3950 and a navigation system based on an expansion jacket designed for the PDA. 5 months later, the navigation system has been relegated to the ?costly mistakes? shelf in my office, but the PDA (which I originally thought was going to be a pain in the bum) has made a place for itself in my heart. It has, in short, become almost indispensable, all but replacing my laptop for most circumstances, and obviating the need for a paper diary either on my desk or in my pocket. Had I been more patient, I could have purchased the Ipaq for just over £420 at PC World?s website (www.pcworld.co.uk) this being the price for which the 3950 can be purchased today. Or I could have bought the Bluetooth-enabled 3970 for a mere £60 more at £480.56. The Ipaq has a 400Mh processor driven along by Microsoft?s Pocket PC 2002 operating system. It has 64Mb of RAM aboard which can be expanded using the SD (Secure Data) card expansion slot found on the top edge, and it comes equipped with Outlook, Pocket Word, Money, Pocket Excel, Pocket Explorer (should you want to tackle the internet on the move) Windows Media Player, and more. It also features a voice-recorder, so taking verbal notes is a one-button task and the built-in speaker is clear and of good quality Size in a device
like this is all-important, as if it were too big or heavy, it would find itself very soon joining the Navman package on that shelf I mentioned. The Ipaq isn?t the lightest or smallest of the current crop of PDAs, but at 190 grammes, and with dimensions of 133mm x 84mm x x16mm, it easily slips into a pocket or briefcase, and no need to worry about scuffing or scratching either, as the package includes a lightweight rigid plastic cover which adds nothing to the size, and a negligible amount to the weight, while affording sturdy protection to the screen and the body of this sleek brushed aluminium and shiny black plastic machine. So what has this dinky diary done to deserve my approbation? To put it simply, it has encouraged me to be more organised in just about every aspect of my working life, and not a few elements of my private life too. Let me explain. My work is very varied; no two days are likely to be the same, so it?s sometimes difficult to keep accurate track on where I?m supposed to be and when, who I?m supposed to meet or pick up en route, what equipment I?ll need for the day, even how I should be dressed. Expenses are also an issue, as being self-employed I have to keep a decent record of work-related expenses for Mr I. Revenue and his pals. Throw into the mix the fact that I have recently been doing a great deal of overseas travel, with all its concomitant complications, and you may get an idea of what?s required to keep my affairs in order. Since the arrival of my Ipaq, I have been able to put all my appointments onto my PC in the office, dock the little beast on the supplied USB cradle and watch in goggle-eyed wonder as the software (which also comes in the Ipaq box) does its thing and synchronises the desktop and the pocket PC. Contacts, e-mails, appointments, tasks are all automatically updated. This is, crucially, a two-way street; appointments or contacts added during the day to the Ipaq will also update the deskt
op?s files. Users of Outlook will probably know that appointments call up reminder flags when they come due. Now I don?t have to be at home for these timely reminders to do their stuff, as the Ipaq does the same job, complete with a little chime to nudge you should it be stored in a briefcase or pocket. Should you have the machine switched off when a reminder comes due, you?ll find a little green neon on the top right corner flashing when you do come to look at it, to indicate that you have a reminder waiting. The inclusion of Excel means that I can keep a tally of what I spend and where in a format that allows easy transfer to whatever financial package my accountant prefers. Buying an Ipaq and registering your purchase with HP (who recently merged with Compaq) opens a ?points? account, which allows you to download extra software to a value of 5 ?points?. I got city maps for Amsterdam, Paris and Munich, plus Traveller (which works as an itinerary organiser) and a couple of games, then spent another £18 or so for some more points, using them for a Powerpoint player, which means I can show presentations created on my PC to clients, without the need for my laptop. The screen quality is such that while this isn?t ideal, it is fine for a quick viewing. I still have points in credit, and will keep them for future use. The range of software is nothing like as extensive as that available for Palm OS based PDAs, but there are a few good titles around. Additional software can be downloaded from, among other places, www.compaq.co.uk/products/ipaq/pocketpc/software.html This will give you links to a variety of sites which offer programmes for the Ipaq. An important factor to consider when buying a PDA is ease of use. The early versions of the handheld computer were hampered by the weakness and complexity of the handwriting recognition software, but fear not...the situation has changed dramatically! The Ipaq has a choice of input met
hods, with an onscreen ?keyboard? which is tapped with the stylus (slow, but accurate), letter recognition, in which you ?write? with the stylus on specified areas of the screen in single, slightly stylised letters (quite quick, once you?ve got the hang of it), block text recognition, which allows you to write in cursive or caps anywhere on the screen, creating notes as you go. You are given the option of defining which style of each letter and number you use, and how often, to set this up. I feel sure that once this set-up has been completed the facility will work well...but I can?t be bothered getting into it, as the letter recognition input works well for me. Additionally, there are a number of physical keyboard options available as accessories. These include a folding keyboard, which will slip into a briefcase, but opens out to an almost full-sized affair. This would be my choice, were I to feel the need to go this route. A quick tour round the controls of the Ipaq: From the front, the largest area is of course the screen, which measures 78mm x 60mm. In operation, this provides a very clear full-colour image of 240 x 320 pixels. Above the screen, and to the right as you look at it, a small chrome button is the on/off switch. This has a satisfyingly solid ?click? about it, and the screen response is immediate. Below the screen, four buttons and a rocker switch give you a huge amount of control over the features of the Ipaq. The buttons are customisable, but the factory defaults are for Calendar, Contacts, Inbox and Menu, while the rocker switch acts, as you would expect, like a small joystick, with four directional switches and a ?select? option with a straight downwards press. Again a satisfyingly solid feel to all the controls. At the top of the left-hand edge, a button provides one-touch access to the memo recording facility, allowing you to add voice to your ?Notes? file. The length of available recording ti
me is dictated (sorry) by the amount of free memory. Along the top of the device you?ll find an audio-out jack, the SD expansion slot and then the all-important stylus, which clicks home in a spring-loaded storage bay. The stylus (easily lost, but easily replaced ? thank goodness) is the most commonly used input device when I?m on the move, and also makes selecting options from menus a simple task. The bottom edge, to complete our tour, houses the soft reset button (recessed to avoid unnecessary reboots) and the connection slot into which car power adapter and docking cradle fit. As yet, I?ve had no need to call upon Compaq?s (or HP?s) customer support, but I have found their website a great help in sorting out a couple of things which confused me. Frankly, I could have found these solutions in the Users? Handbook, which comes in PDF form as part of the software CD-ROM, but I found searching the website easier, as I?ve yet to find a way of scrolling PDFs without fiddling about onscreen, and I?m WAY too impatient for all that! Summarising the good and the bad (at last, I hear you cry) I have to say that the Ipaq 3950 is a great machine, with a huge ?useability? rating. It?s very user-friendly, quick, versatile, rugged and sufficiently compact to make it easy to carry about. BUT... It?s a VERY expensive little gadget, and the software, both freebie and paid-for, is scarce when compared with the downloads available for Palm OS based PDAs. If I had my time again, I?d have opted for a Palm based machine and hang the nav system!
The Compaq ipaq 3970 in my opinion has to be one of the best PDA’s that is currently available on the market. This is due mainly to the availability and usefulness of the numerous jackets that are currently available for the Ipaq range. The other good point for the Ipaq pda range is that most if not all of the accessories are compatible across the range this means that even if you upgrade your ipaq you will not be left with a load of accessories that are now obsolete. The 3970 and also the 3950 have almost double the processing power of their predecessors and the only difference between the two is that the 3950 does not have the inbuilt bluetooth function though this can be added with the use of a “jacket” A jacket is essentially a sleeve that the ipaq slides into and this allows the ipaq to become more pratical. It is through the use of these “jackets” that the ipaq has really come into its own and knocked the competition right off the market. The next model up is the 5400 series and this has a biometric fingerprint reader increased communications via the wireless LAN that is inbuilt into the PDA but it does not have infrared capabilities! Which can sometimes be a hassle as not everyone out there has bluetooth yet! I do not believe that this model justifies the jump in price.