Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

What’s in the box?

Posted by Michael Brown on August 26, 2005

Most people don’t have an idea of what a Palm Powered handheld is capable of, and that’s unfortunate. The common perception of “the Palm Pilot” is that it’s an electronic organizer, and that’s a perception Palm (as a company) should be trying to fix (Hello Marketing, wake up; it’s the 21st century!). Yes, it’s an organizer, but it’s much more than that. Here are some of the things that it can do “out-of-the-box”:

It can play music. Most handhelds these days come with an MP3 player, either built-in or on the CD that is in the box. After all, you just spent X dollars on your handheld, so it’s nice not to HAVE to buy another gadget to listen to music. That’s especially handy now that it’s back to school, and most parent’s wallets are feeling some pain.

It can view pictures. Everyone’s heard of the “brag book”; the place where favourite pictures are carried. It’s especially handy if ALL your favourite photo’s can fit in your pocket. It makes it all the more convenient to show them to friends and family. I keep some wedding photos, and some pictures of my wife and daughter on my Treo, to show people I run into that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s also nice to look at some friendly faces on “those kind of days”.

It can work with Microsoft Office Documents (and some other compatible formats). Almost all of the currently shipping handhelds (except the Zire 31) come with software that allows you to view and edit MS Office Documents on your handheld. Most of the training materials my company delivers were created on my Palm handheld. That way you can make productive use of your time to work on documents, no matter where you are. You don’t even need a laptop to be able to write Word documents or Excel spreadsheets; you can do it with your handheld wherever you find yourself. Imagine not having to lug a heavy laptop to work or school, or travelling through airports, just to type a few documents.

It can play videos. The software that comes with it varies by model, but they do play videos. The process usually involves converting the video on your desktop PC to something that will fit your handheld’s screen and capabilities. Sure, it won’t have a “big screen” experience, but it’s perfect for catching your favourite sitcom while you’re riding the bus or waiting in line.

It can do E-mail. All current palm handhelds come with VersaMail, which allows you to synchronize e-mail onto the handheld at every HotSync. You can then read, reply or compose mails when – and where – it’s convenient. Those mails will be stored in your handheld’s outbox until the next HotSync, when they’ll be sent. Smartphones like the Treo’s have their own mail client, which makes use of the cellular carrier’s network. That means you can check and respond to email whenever and wherever you are; you don’t have to wait to get back to your PC.

The nice thing about the Treo’s mail is that YOU decide when you get your mail. Blackberries have e-mail “pushed” out to them when it arrives at the server, and it’s not always at times that are convenient to you. With the Treo, you “pull” it to your smartphone when it’s convenient for YOU. Both VersaMail and TreoMail allow you to handle several e-mail accounts, so you can manage work and personal accounts on the same device. I use VersaMail on my Treo, and on my Tungsten T, and I find it to be a good product.

It can do SMS (Short Messaging Service). It may be able to do MMS (Multi-media Messaging Service) also, depending on the software included in your model of handheld or smartphone. MMS also depends on the service being offered by your cellular carrier (and the carrier of the person you wish to message). SMS is like instant messaging, but it can be easier on a handheld, because you have a larger screen. How it works is that it connects to your cell phone using Bluetooth or Infra-red, and allows you to compose, read, and save SMS messages on your handheld instead of on your cell phone.

SMS on the Treo smartphone is especially nice, because it groups messages from the same person into a “chat thread”. Let’s say I message my wife (which we do frequently). When I open the SMS application, it shows me messages grouped by person’s phone number. The app is smart enough to pull my wife’s name from my address book and display the messages as being from her. When I open that chat thread, it shows me our entire history of conversation, with most recent on the bottom. I can set a colour for my messages, and my wife’s messages are shown in a different colour. Our conversation is shown as it occurred, with my comments and hers shown in the correct “historical” order.

Oh yeah, it’s also a great electronic organizer. It has everything we’ve come to expect from a Palm PDA. It has a Date book/Calendar with alarms, repeating events, and all sorts of wonderful features that aren’t available in a paper planner. It has a task/to do list that you can use to help you organize your life. It has an Address/Contacts application which can keep track of all the phone numbers, addresses, and e-mail addresses of all the people you know – and you’ll never have to cross out or re-write them again when they move! It also has a Memo pad application, and an abundance of digital “sticky notes” that can help you keep track of all the information that hits you over the course of a day. All the palm-branded handhelds come with conduits for Microsoft Outlook, as well as palm’s own Palm Desktop (a Personal Information Manager, or PIM) to keep a copy of your valuable information on your desktop or laptop computer.

So, those are the things that a handheld can do, right out-of-the-box. Those are also not the first things people associate with a PDA, since to most people it’s just an electronic organizer. It is that, but much, much more. I tell my clients to think of it as a life management tool. A palm handheld or smartphone is really a handheld computer, and being a computer, it can be customized to suit your needs by installing software that addresses your unique requirements. Next week I’ll be talking about back to school, and how a handheld or smartphone can help the students you know “make the grade” this year.

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