Taking a PDA travelling
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2001. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
Among palm-type PDA fans, there are two kinds of
people. Type A people
are happy with their Palm, Visor, or Pocket Windows handheld the way it
came out of the box. They use the appointments calendar, the address
and the to-do list, and write themselves short notes. Maybe they keep
handheld synched up to their PC, but maybe not.
Type B people push the envelope. Like Type A people,
they keep the gadget
with them all the time. But unlike Type A's, they're always looking for
new ways to use their toy. They buy hardware and software add-ons, and
check out web sites like www.palmgear.com for new programs to try out.
Since getting a Handspring Visor Deluxe last year,
I've got to admit
to becoming a Type B person. My Visor (a popular Palm-clone most
for the addition of a Springboard expansion slot) sports a 33.6 modem
a neat, fold-up keyboard. Software lets me calculate tides and currents
at many popular spots along BC's coast or to shoot a few rounds of golf
with Tiger Woods.
The Avantgo web site (www.avantgo.com) lets me get
onto my Visor without the bother of getting the little-thing online.
Visor, or Win CE users sign up (for free) for their choices from
hundred sites, ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Joke of the Day,
or enter the URLs of their choice.
Afterwards, whenever they synch their handheld to
their desktop PC,
that computer goes online, brings back the desired web content all
formatted for viewing on the tiny handheld screen, and sends it on to
Recently, my wife and I went for a holiday to New
Orleans. My wife took
a guidebook, but I loaded Lonely Planet's City Sync software
onto the Visor. New Orleans is one of twenty cities from New York to
in the series.
The software comes in your choice of two formats: you
can download a
single city for US$20 or buy a US$50 CD with the whole set of cities
a license to use any four of your choice (with a license for a fifth
when you register online). Any city can be downloaded and tried out for
free for a 24-hour period.
The software compares well to a typical guidebook.
Each city gets an
overview, with basic information. There's a section on safety?how to
help in case of an emergency. Then the good stuff; sections on where to
go, what to do, and where to eat, shop, sleep, and hang out and party.
Again, overviews, then details on individual attractions. The reviews
short and snappy but are pretty up to date, and don't hesitate to be
You can write yourself notes about your trip, or
quickly add that restaurant
reservation to your Calendar. The scrollable lists let you quickly
for restaurants or hotels or nightlife in a particular neighbourhood or
There's a lot of information packed in a little space,
but the interface
took a bit of getting used to. Nice feature?each review has a link to a
map, and it works in reverse too; clicking on a link on the map takes
directly to a review of that location.
Unfortunately, the maps are a bit hard to use. That's
not the software's
fault as much as a limitation of the small screen size on the PDA. You
may have to do a lot of scrolling to figure out how to actually get to
a location on the map. And it's especially confusing for a city like
Orleans, where the streets don't match up to any North-South axis, but
rather follow the twists and turns of the Mississippi River.
Unlike most guidebooks, except for the maps there are
doubt due to the tightness of memory on the PDA. Even so, if you've got
a 2 MB Palm or Visor model, don't even think about it. You can be a
Type A user with a 2 MB model. But right now, on my Visor, AvantGo
seven web-channels loaded) takes up 721 KB of space, while the CitySync
program and maps for three cities takes up about 1250 KB? too much for
a 2 MB PDA, though on my 8 MB model, there's RAM to spare.
Not everybody gets accustomed to reading on the dull
screen. My wife never quite got the hang of it. Then again, she found
couldn't read the red print her guidebook used for restaurant reviews
especially in the dim light of romantic French Quarter hangouts.
With its small screen and pen-input, my Visor isn't a
a notebook or desktop computer. Then again, I can't carry either of
in my shirt pocket when I'm strolling down New Orlean's Rue Royal.