So is the IPAQ better than Palm for reading emails on the loo?
Jan 26, 2002 (Updated Feb 5, 2003) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line The iPaq is better than the Palm for reading anything just about anywhere, but only on the merit of its brilliant screen
This is a slightly updated version of a review I wrote a while back comparing my old Palm Vx with my then new device, the iPaq 3670.
Since then, I ditched my iPaq for a Palm m505 (and since wished I waited and got the new Sony Clie - but that's another story). As my review places emphasis on the OS and the software, most points also apply to the new Palm m505 (and indeed Pocket PC 2002).
So please be aware that you are reading the words of a re-converted man; don't be put off though, hopefully my review tells it how it is. Please also be aware that the review doesn't fit snugly into any category, let alone this one; without rewriting the whole thing I'm not sure what to do with it... Although primarily outlining the OSs, my review does use the iPaq and Palm devices as a focal point. It also compares Microsoft's desktop software with the Pocket PC's.
A simple answer to my title's question is yes, although that doesn't tell us much about the iPaq. It is better than the palm for reading anything just about anywhere (limited only by your levels of imagination...), especially on the throne. The screen really is wonderful, [snip lots of technical details about this]
As many of the reviews already written discuss the technicalities of this device, I see it as my job to tell the reader about those things that aren't specified in the manuals, and give the reader an idea of how the software looks and feels, how fast it is, and what the limitations are. So this review assumes you know a bit about what the iPaq looks like, what its specifications are, what you can do with it, and what it feels like to hold it. What do you gain from the move over to iPaq from Palm, and what do you miss out on? To this end, my review may as well be on Windows CE or the Pocket PC if it weren't for a few little specific comments about the iPaq. By the way, you may notice the British flavour to my spelling, don't be alarmed... (no - please see http://www.epinions.com/content_52615220868 for that!).
As a self confessed Outlook junkie and general MS Office enthusiast (NB not a general MS enthusiast), the iPaq had some very enticing advantages over my Palm Vx, and the 505. It features a selection of MS applications, including: Pocket Outlook, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, and MS Money. (If you are a Palm user by strong conviction, your anti-MS tendencies possibly cause you to quiver at the thought.) So, how good is all this software anyway?
The first thing to note is that the so called 'pocket-' apps are basically just greatly-reduced-featured versions of their desktop counterparts.
Invariably, due to the size of the screen, Outlook doesn't look and feel like you may be used to: there is no equivalent of the shortcut bar with which you can switch between the different folders, indeed there isn't even the concept that different folders represent different functions (i.e. the calendar folder or the contacts folder). The different functions of Outlook don't really coalesce at any point (and are not accessible on any other screen) as they do on Desktop Outlook with its 'folder' analogy - other than on the pocket equivalent of the 'Outlook Today' screen... known merely as the 'Today' screen. Unlike the desktop version, 'Today' is but a token gesture, for it doesn't really have any of the usefulness of the screen in the Desktop counterpart, such as the ability to click on a single item to open it. At least the 'Today' screen is slightly customizable - it lets you decide what you want it to show - the important things in life, like how many emails you haven't got round to reading and what your name is (it displays the device's owner details by default). Above all, it has pretty colours up at the top where it says 'today', and four adjacent and strangely abstract different colour boxes just below the date. But even with all this, I'd still complain about the lack of reddish feel in the mix. Nevermind. So, similar to the Palm's set-up, Outlook is effectively split up into calendar, contacts, inbox, and notes - they may as well be different applications. Personally, I find this a slight disappointment as I liked Desktop Outlook's simple 'clickability' interface. We also lose out on the ability to create items out of different kinds of items... For instance, in Desktop Outlook we are able to drag, say, an email into the calendar folder and it will create a new appointment, and insert the email into the notes section of the appointment.
As with all of the Pocket PC's applications, the menu is at the bottom of the screen. One significant advantage over the Palm is that the categories that you may use in Outlook may be synchronized to your iPaq. Outlook items feature full category support.
The Inbox tends to take a long time (can be up to 20 seconds!) to open if you have emails in it which have large attachments, although it is possible to specify that you don't want it to synchronize these attachments. My favoured workaround is to archive the emails that have large attachments, and re-sync. The ability to include and view these attachments is inherently a major advantage over the Palm, so I can't really complain. Most importantly, however, is a problem I have noticed with inbox when opening from the start menu whilst in another Office application. I have hardly tested this extensively, but I notice that when one opens inbox for the first time, no items are displayed! One must view a different folder then return to inbox to see the items.
At the top of the inbox screen, there are two pull down menus - one takes you to different mail folders, the other lets you specify how the items are sorted. Under the top bar there is the message list; no buttons or tabs, just the list. At the bottom there is a useless status bar that you can't get rid of, then the menu.
Email accounts and inbox views. Just like Desktop Outlook, one can have multiple email accounts (services), and set the dial-up options for each account (useful for wireless devices). One can also specify a few simple viewing options, such as what happens when you move/delete an item - does it return to the inbox or show you the next item, etc. This is another token gesture; if you want more interesting things like message filters, inbox rules, follow-up flags, custom views, message tracking options, signatures, then you can forget it. If you wanted full .pst file support, i.e. the full synchronization of all of your folders, you can forget it. The extent to which one can customize one's views is small: you don't choose the fact that you see the mail icon, the sender, the subject, the date/time, and the size; but you can choose in what order you want your emails listed: list them according to the subject, the sender, or the date/time.
Email synchronization and Outlook integration. One is able to copy any message in Outlook (regardless of its location) to the iPaq's inbox, but one can't copy it to any other folder in the iPaq. This rules out manually creating the folders in your iPaq to mirror those of your Desktop Outlook, and copying messages across. As one would expect, there is outbox support, so if you write an email on your iPaq and you want to send it from your PC, it can do that (or indeed set it so that the email is sent wirelessly). Fine, but there is no drafts folder in Pocket Outlook... messages that are unsent get saved to your inbox. This is very silly - the Palm certainly doesn't do this. Inherent to the Windows CE interface, there seems to be no 'cancel' option when you do actions, so if I were to try to copy a message to another folder, it would take me to a screen asking "which folder?", and then I would have to copy it - I couldn't back out. What if I change my mind? There is only an OK button at the top. How annoying. Now the worst thing about the inbox is this: when I am on the move, I want to connect to my mail server with my infra-red mobile phone (I think you Americans call it a cell phone?!). I can do this, but any emails I receive wirelessly simply go into the POP/IMAP set of folders - they don't go into my inbox (which synchronizes with Desktop Outlook)! I can't even copy them to my inbox for synchronization because you can only copy or move items within the current parent folder! To clarify: you have your 'ActiveSync' set of folders which contains deleted, inbox, outbox, and sent items, and it syncs with your PC; and you have your POP/IMAP mail folders (which contains the same). You can't move any items from one set to the other. Even more interestingly (it's awful, it really is), you can't synchronize your iPaq sent items with your desktop sent items! Or, your deleted items! (Although you may not care about that one.) You can only sync your inbox and outbox, and there is no crossover allowed between your ActiveSync and your other POP/IMAP folders. Anyway, if that confused you, the net effect of all of this is that you can't use Outlook on your iPaq to really manage your emails well. There's no integrity to the connectivity! What if you receive a mail on the loo when connected through your mobile phone - it is then stuck on your iPaq forever, never to be archived back to your trusty Outlook on your desktop PC! The only workaround that I see is to partake in some dodgy cut and paste shenanigans involving Word or Outlook notes or something...
The email screen. Did I mention that my iPaq's Outlook doesn't tell you if a mail has a priority status? My Palm could do that. Well, at least we can put in people's names and it will check their email addresses there and then (the Palm has a lookup button that takes you onto another screen). When you bring up the 'new email' screen, there is the header at the top and the body at the bottom. It's a little bizarre, however, that when you pull down the header to see a little more detail (there's a little double down arrow that does this), it tells you how many characters there are in the email. a) Who cares, and b) it doesn't even update as you type. It only updates if you elect to save the email (to the inbox no less), then reopen the email and pull down the header again. Like anyone is ever going to do that... Anyway, that doesn't matter. The email screen is a little more encouraging. There is a 'Send' button at the top, and you can attach files of any sort, cross check the addresses with your address book, and browse through your contact list ticking anyone who you want to send the email to. In the header section you get to choose how you want it sent - either by placing the email in your Desktop Outlook's outbox, or by sending it through one of your accounts. I guess this is all fairly standard.
Options screen. Setting up the accounts is easy, and it uses a wizard-style approach (which seems a little inconsistent with the style of doing things in the other CE Office apps but hey...). In it, you get to specify all the necessary connection details - it seems conclusive enough. For each account that is set up, a folder with sub-folders is added to the list of mail folders (as shown in the pull down menu on the main inbox screen).
One last inbox moan. With the help of some wonderful free software (Eudora), my Palm Vx (and now my m505) could outperform my iPaq in terms of email functionality, full-stop. Unfortunately, Eudora isn't an option for the WinCE operating system but even if it were it would be a shame to have to use that instead of Outlook. I don't really mind about the fact I can't customize my views or have inbox rules on my iPaq, but I really do mind that Pocket Outlook doesn't maintain email folder integrity with my Desktop Outlook. It really falls short on this - if anyone should design software that does the job, it should at least be MS. [end of moan].
The Calendar is the only other real complex part of Pocket PC's Outlook, and it is fairly well designed, but again it is limited. Rather than being necessary, the limitations that I notice here are simply restricting. I will discuss these limitations. A quick note on the layout - there are five different views to choose from: agenda, day, week, month, year. The agenda view simply displays what appointments there are today, much like 'Today'. In fact, it does nothing more than 'Today' except for that very thing that 'Today' should have done anyway (in my opinion!): be able to open an item by clicking on it! Oh well. The day view is nice, it looks like Desktop Outlook. You can even see the little icons that reside in the white area of the appointment on the iPaq. You don't have any control over the time intervals displayed as you do on real-life-Outlook. As with all the views, we can pull down a little date selector to browse through days, months, or years, depending on the current view. The week view is much like the 'work week' view in real-Outlook; it splits the screen vertically (staring at these vertical lines makes one nauseous). The month view is rather easier; it has squares instead of long thin rectangles for each day. Unlike real-Outlook, one is limited in this view: one can't see all day appointments, or even the fact that there exist one day appointments in a given day. Having said this, there is a little icon in the corner of each day telling you what type of appointment you have, if any. The year view is quite useful, it displays all the days in the year, with red days being Sundays. And of course, one may click on a day in any of these views to see that day in 'day view'.
What else niggles? Well, in real-Outlook we can press Ctrl-G to goto a certain date (which can be input in many useful formats like "the twentieth sunday next year" etc.). There is no equivalent here, but perhaps that is only a minor niggle; one may not expect Pocket PC software to be able to do this sort of thing. Another niggle, one that is less acceptable, is that you can't drag over days to select and view them. While there are only a limited number of views and this is understandable, (i.e. you can't see 4 days in one go), it would be nice to select a week and then for this to be displayed in week view, or do the same with a month. Worst of all: when in day view, one can click on a time slot to create an appointment there. It's simple - you click then click and hold to bring up the context menu. That's great, but the problem is that when you select multiple time slots (say you want your meeting to go on for 2 hours), you can't then click again and bring up a context menu! What is the point of being able to select multiple time slots at all?! Anyway, aside from these things, I am slightly more optimistic about Calendar, and would feel perfectly happy sitting in the bath and arranging my evenings...
Onto less interesting things... Unlike the email inbox, the contacts section has a dedicated button on the front panel of the iPaq (although it is possible to assign these buttons to different things). It is simple - the top bar of the screen has a pull down menu which shows contacts of the different categories which (phew) synchronize with your Desktop Outlook's categories. Its default is 'all categories'. Next to this is a little field where you can type names in, just like there is in Desktop Outlook. This is perpetually useful for me, but the Palm's equivalent search function searched every Palm item there exists, which was fast and simple, and was another nice way of bringing my information overload together in a helpful way. This little search box has a useless and unnecessary limitation compared to its counterpart in Desktop Outlook: it only searches on the contact's name rather than other fields such as the email address. If you forget someone's name, but remember their nickname or email address or something, you can't search by this on the iPaq, whereas you can on Desktop Outlook. This brings me onto my next issue: not all fields in Desktop Outlook's contacts form are present in Pocket Outlook's. This doesn't worry me too much, because the main things are there, like birthday, multiple email address fields, multiple postage address fields, spouse, children... etc. The notes field is also here, and it is nice that one can record and attach sound files to contacts with great ease too. Back to the main 'contacts' screen, we are also able to receive contacts via infrared. Useful, but the Palm could do that in some form or other.
This is pretty much the same as Desktop Outlook. Limitations include: you can't see the tasks alongside the calendar (this isn't so bad); you can't view all tasks, completed and active, at the same time (this isn't so bad). You can, however, list tasks by their categories, and show just recent tasks, if this matters to you. You can also sort by status, priority, subject, start date, and due date. There is the option to have an entry bar, where you don't need to open a new task just to enter one in - you just type it in the bar. Unlike our emails, we can have priorities for our tasks, and these sync to Desktop Outlook. Note that you can't assign tasks to people on the iPaq, as you can with real-life Outlook.
Notes aren't stored as Outlook items as such, they are stored as files that can be seen in the iPaq's file manager. This isn't a real problem; they still sync back to the Outlook notes section on real-life Outlook, and they can be seen as icons when you go to the 'notes' application. Again, the nice thing is that we can attach voice recordings to notes, and these can be played in real-life Outlook.
That concludes Outlook. Now onto Word.
Word files may be copied to your iPaq and opened and edited, but again with limitations. This was a step-up from the old Palms' standard included software, although with the new models (505 etc) there are bundled application suites such as Documents to Go that enable good document editing. Like on the Palm equivalents, Word for the iPaq is a single document environment - you can only have one doc open at any time. I think this is a well considered limitation, I wouldn't have it any other way. With Word, you can draw lines, apply fill colours, group objects, resize your scribbles, and that's about it. You can't import pictures, but then, that's fine with me. You can scribble on the page in such a way that afterwards you can try to get it to recognise your scribble into English, and that works nicely as a quick gimmicky thing. You can record sound and it embeds the sound into the doc. That's quite nice too. Obviously you can input words with your preferred method, either the graffiti approach or the keyboard approach. You can apply formatting, bullet points, and basic paragraph operations including left, right, centre, and indenting. Curiously we can't justify paragraphs, or even see that they are justified when they have been copied from the PC. But don't worry, in my experience transferring highly formatted files from PC to iPaq, then editing them (even though some advanced formatting doesn't show up), then transferring them back, doesn't actually lose the formatting you did on your PC. It just simply doesn't show it.
Other limitations compared to the real-life Word include the following: they may not matter, half of them are necessary in my view, and one would probably expect these limitations. Forget it if you want... tables, track changes, columns, dictionary and thesaurus, paragraph numbering, autoformat, themes, style management, headers/footers, cross references, different page views, autotext, text boxes, toolbars... the list goes on. How Word acts if you do have these things on your PC then you transfer them to iPaq and back again, is entirely unpredictable... the user instructions say somewhere that you must be prepared to lose certain file formatting things if you copy to iPaq then back to PC. That's fine with me, although it would have been polite for the manual to tell me exactly what the limitations are. This seems an inherent thing of working on a screen so small, and it doesn't pose any problems if I want to do some serious typing (with my foldaway keyboard) - I can just perform my dodgy copy and paste shenanigans. I don't mind in this case because it's a problem that is to be expected in my opinion.
Much the same limitations exist on Excel. I won't list them here, but needless to say you won't be using statistical functions such as "Weibull" here (ok, I don't really have a clue what this does...).
After the purchase of my iPaq I was not really in the position to comment... no, seriously, I never used this. Most banks nowadays send pieces of paper in the post telling me how overdrawn I am, I don't think I need this information every time I turn on my iPaq... that would grind me down somewhat....! Students get it hard in this country nowadays... (yes I know I spent silly money on an iPaq...)
So, that concludes all I wanted to say about the Pocket Office suite.
One can listen to sound files, and watch short video clips on the iPaq. I don't know what all the fuss is about with wireless video here, clearly it's going to cost an awful lot of money to get some equipment that gives you more than 30k per second bandwidth anyway. Having said this, there is planned an expansion feature with which your iPaq can receive TV signals. That sounds nice and useful. File explorer is simply what it says, and it has that Windows flavour that we have come to know too well. Rest assured one can open files from here.
If you want third party software, which was the thing that kept me going on my Palm Vx, you are in for a disappointment. Browse around any good download site, like Tucows or Download.com, and you will see that any third party software there exists costs money. Compared to the Palm, there is next to no free software for the Pocket PC, and there's not much more software that costs too. Not on the download sites anyway. It's a sad state of affairs: the cool funky games you are used to on your Palm that were freeware are nowhere to be found, as are those innovative apps that let you control your TV from your handheld, or those metronomes.... the list goes on. I guess people like developing for the Palm, people like the simplicity of the operating system, and people like its non involvement in anything MS. Take a look around the download sites, there really isn't as much for CE as there is for Palm.
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