|The Medical Palm Review |
November, 2005 (V6N9) - Goldilocks and the Three, er, Palms
This is a true story. Only the facts have been changed to protect the innocent. Like many fairy tales, the ending is still a little murky. Is it "they all lived happily ever after" or "they cried 'Wee! Wee! Wee!" all the way home"?
Exit the Kyocera 7135
Last week my Kyocera smartphone stopped working. Longtime readers of this newsletter know that this is my preferred handheld computer. It runs the Palm OS and has an integrated cell phone. It's small and light and very robust - it has survived lots of rough handling in the Emergency Department. For the past two years it has supplanted all my other gizmos. I had even just purchased SoftickPPP software to make it easier to access my e-mail and the Internet. The Kyocera was also a gift from my friends and colleagues in the University Health Network Information Systems division. I had even stopped wearing a watch in the past year as the 7135 had a digital time readout visible on the upper edge of its case.
It decided to fail at a particularly awkward moment. I was in the middle of a mass casualty preparedness exercise. Surrounded by paramedics, screaming children painted as casualties, observers from other communities and a cast of thousands. I discovered that I could not call my fellow coordinators. I also lost the ability to access the Internet. Sometimes there was a funky message on the screen: "Service Required... Contact Provider". Somehow I got through the exercise using alternative communications. When I got home I found that the battery was draining and could not be recharged in the cradle.
"Time to call Kyocera technical support for advice" I thought. Hah! They told me that the phone could be serviced only through my wireless provider. But, for what it was worth, the helpful fellow on the phone thought my smartphone would need to be replaced.
"Time to call Bell Mobility technical support" I thought. Hah! They wanted C$700 just to look at the device and provide a refurbished model. No refurbs were available as loaners either. And they refused to provide any other cell phone to tide me over until I repaired the problem. But they were happy to continue billing me for the wireless account that I couldn't use.
"Time to do some online research" I thought. Aha! On PDAPhoneHome I found a few discussions of just this topic. On one forum I learned that most cell phone service providers are phasing out the Kyocera 7135 in favour of the Palm Treo 650 but that Radio Shack might do repairs. In Texas. And it would take up to a month. I even tried removing the battery for a few days as someone suggested in another forum. That got rid of the error messages but the phone still wouldn't work. GeekZone contributors suggested only complete replacement would be in order.
Back to Bell Mobility. The service centre staff cheerfully told me that they no longer supported the Kyocera devices anyway and offered me an "upgrade" to a Treo 600 or 650. This was not a free upgrade mind you.
I went home and had another look at the poor dead lump of a PDA. I decided to try recharging it one more time. For some reason it would not fit snugly into its cradle. Close inspection revealed that the connector in the bottom edge of the phone had become chipped and some of its pins were bent. I fixed that and was able to seat the PDA in its cradle again. Hopefully I recharged the battery and reset the PDA. Although the Palm features all seemed functional the phone was not. I had no way to ascertain whether that connector was the whole problem but was willing to give it a try.
"Time to look for some spare parts" I thought. A Google search located the exact part I needed (see right) in ten seconds. Tessco had the part and for only US$4.20 plus shipping they could get it to me in thirty days. But when I called them they told me that they only sell to certified repair people and dealers. Kyocera took the same stance. Bell Mobility staff weren't keen but promised to see if they could scare up a spare part for me. (As of this writing, I am still waiting to hear back from them).
Frankly, at this point it was beginning to look like my poor Kyocera was terminally ill.
Once Upon A Time
By this time, I had been without cell phone service for a week. It was awkward but not disastrous. I could still use the Kyocera for my medical reference books at work but I worried it would fail sooner or later. To paraphrase Goldilocks, this chair was too shaky.
I needed a backup device while I sorted things out. As it happens, I had three options.
My oldest PDA is the Handera 330. I wrote about it extensively in previous years. It pioneered large screens, dual expansion card slots, and very flexible power options with excellent battery endurance. But it has a dim black and green screen and only 8 Mb of memory. That is insufficient for more than one of my medical reference books. The older version of Palm OS on this device does not let me run some of my applications. Handera has stopped making or supporting PDAs so this would not be a good option for the long term. And I would still need a cell phone. This chair was too small for Goldilocks.
I also have a Sony Clié NZ90. This machine has a gorgeous colour screen. Graffiti works very smoothly and it has a serviceable keyboard built-in. There is 16 Mb of memory and an external memory card with enough room for all my medical references. Because the Clié has two expansion card slots I can also insert a WiFi card. This lets me access unsecured wireless networks but there is no cell phone. Furthermore, this PDA is very large and almost three times heavier than my Kyocera. It can't be held and operated with one hand. I tried it for a few days but found it just too awkward. This chair was too heavy for Goldilocks.
The third option was to get that Treo 650 from Bell Mobility. To strain the metaphor a little more, it was a fancy new chair for Goldilocks to try. "Time to do some more research online" I thought.
The reviews on CNet, InfoSync World, Geek.com, PCWorld were all encouraging.
The advantages are clear. It's a brand new gizmo with more memory and a faster processor than my older devices. It has a built-in phone, wireless networking, and even a snapshot camera. It's a modest size and weight compared to older PDAs. The screen is much sharper than that of the Kyocera. The keyboard and navigation buttons are well thought out. If the battery fails your data is safe because the memory is Flash ROM instead of RAM.
The chatter in discussion forums such as TreoCentral, EverythingTreo, HowardForums, and the review at Gizmodo were less enthusiastic and certainly illuminated some weak points. The Treo 650 can't multitask. It lacks a handwriting recognition system for writing on screen. All the Palm functions have been modified and some are very different indeed. There is no Graffiti handwriting recognition, although there is a surprisingly good keyboard. There is no built-in WiFi. Although there is more more memory than on older devices, the way it is used requires more space for files than on older devices. The high resolution screen makes problems for older software - some won't work on the Treo 650. All of this entails making adjustments.
Do I really need a PDA? Couldn't I get by with printouts from my desktop PC software? I use Time & Chaos for appointments, contacts and To Do lists - and all three functions have good printing options. But that means rethinking many of the work practices I have developed over the past five years. Rather like telling Goldilocks to sit on the floor.
The Fairy Tale Continues?
In the end I went back to Bell Mobility and shelled out for the Treo 650.
That way I resumed my cell phone service without interruption or the need to get a new phone number. And I figured that it would be no more awkward learning the new device than reinstalling my software on the older ones.
There are some teething issues. PEPID, my favourite medical reference program, can only run on the SD memory card (some Treo 650's have an OS upgrade that solves this problem). This is mitigated by the fast SD memory card. There are software solutions to provide Graffiti handwriting recognition (although the keyboard seems very usable).
And another thing I found out is that there are a raft of web sites with other Treo users exchanging tips and with lots of software to download. If user community counts for anything, I will be alright.
Bottom line: Goldilocks will just have to show some spine and get down to the changes.
Nuts and Bolts
The folk at Palm have been very busy this fall. While I was struggling to figure out whether to get a Treo 650 Palm phone they announced that there would soon be a Treo 650 with the Pocket PC operating system. Forbes had an article about it. The most remarkable aspect of this is the way Palm has joined forces with their greatest rival. Strength or weakness? You decide.
But the real threat will emerge when the new Microsoft desktop PC OS is finally brought to market. Palm PDAs with features designed to capitalize on Vista capabilities will be wanted - and there may not be many Palm developers still in the race. Palm devices may be relegated to niche environments. Even (Especially?) medical users may want one gizmo that does wireless Internet, mobile phone and has PDA tools. Cell phones and Microsoft will eat up Palm OS for sure then.... Ironically, Palm the company may actually be healthier if it sleeps with the elephant.
And if more versions of their hardware will protect Palm's hardware market share then it should be good news that there is another new version of the Treo - this one with RIM Blackberry e-mail software.
The Treo also can play music or videos but it is late to a party dominated by Apple. The latest little white iPods do calendar, phone book, music, video, digital photo display. And they are thinner and lighter too. The new screens are excellent. And the iTunes store sells podcasts, videos and TV shows now to go with its music.
So now Palm is being squeezed by mobile phones and Symbian on the communicator and organizer side, and better multimedia devices like iPods on the other. Look for a new iPod that acts as external hard drive for a PC using WiFi or USB, and Bluetooth to talk to your phone. Add e-mail and you have a ... back door attack into the PDA space. Peoples are starting to think about iPods as the indispensable and ubiquitous tool. David Pogue, who writes about tech for the New York Times, even posted New York City subway maps for iPods.
Did I just purchase my last Palm OS handheld PDA? Perish the thought! But who can predict the future?
We're Ready For Your Screen Test Now
Before the untimely demise of my Kyocera I was starting to use it more to explore the Internet The small screen made that exploration tedious at times.
Using a PDA to access web pages shares many of the same frustrations as using a text only browser. All that fancy formating, graphic images, animation, sound effects may look good on your PC or Mac but almost invariably are wasted on small screens or text browsers.
It also makes for a slow browse if you use a wireless (PDA) or dial-up connection.
Even the Medical Palm Review site has its quirks. If you use a PDA or a text only browser to access, you will see that it displays the navigation menu before the site title or any content. This has its pros and cons but it does violate some of the conventions encouraged for web site development.
Useful ideas about how to make your web site accessible to mobile devices can be found at
- The Dive Into Mark site. Mark provides info about how to create mobile editions of your web sites. He also published an excellent online text about web publishing for disabled users and text browsers, called Dive Into Accessibility. Many of those principles are relevant for mobile browsers also. For example, on page 16 of the Accessibility reference, he discusses how to shift the navigation menu so it appears after the main content on a text browser or PDA without spoiling the layout in a visual browser.
- The University of Washington Accessible Web Design site has excellent tips, links to testing software and other resources.
- Dan's Web Tips looks like it violates some of the "rules" but is actually tuned to good practices. The Graceful Degradation link is particularly relevant to our topic.
- Roger Hudson's presentation on universal accessibility at the Web Essentials conference in 2004 addresses accessibility from a somewhat different perspective.
- And, of course, the World Wide Web Consortium continues to update its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
- WebMonkey published several articles on publishing web documents for small screens and designing web sites for PDAs.
- Both Plucker and AvantGo provide some insight into how they render web pages that they convert for use on PDAs. The information in their guides and FAQs is a bit old but it does address many core issues. iSiloX is another popular web site converter for PDAs. It has a discussion forum area where you can get help, but little in the way of guidelines for web site developers except how to link several documents during conversion.
Usually, when I want to see how a web page looks on a PDA, I can test the site with LynxView or one of the test suites listed at the University of Washington Accessible Web Design site.
I am also partial to using iSiloX to convert a web document on my computer into a file that can be downloaded onto my PDA and browsed with the iSilo document reader.
Alternatively I can publish the site to the Internet then try using Plucker and AvantGo to see how they render the web pages on a PDA.
If you don't want to use costly connection time or drain your battery on a PDA phone and don't have access to wireless networking either, you can still download web pages to your handheld if you put it in its cradle and use your desktop PC's Internet connection. SoftickPPP (for USB ports) or MochaPPP (for serial ports) with the PDA while it is in its cradle, or use Palm emulator SW if you configure it to access your desktop PC's Internet connection.
Of course, you can test without a PDA at all if you have one of the Palm Emulators or Simulators set up on your desktop PC and configured to HotSync to the Internet through the PC's broadband or dial-up connection..
Medical "Doc" of the Month
Pocket Emergency Medicine for PDA, by Hamedani AG, et al, is available now from Skyscape. This is a reasonably priced reference for students and has the advantage of cross-linking to other SkyScape references.
The CPOD portable physiological monitor was developed by NASA for use in experiments, training and flight mission crew. It is able to records and store up to nine hours of telemetry data. It isn't able to plug into your PDA but what a great adjunct it would be to long ambulance runs or to mobile medical crews.
By the way, about that Treo 650 PDA phone: according to this emission information at CNet it has one of the highest SAR radiation emission ratings of any cell phone on the market. If you are concerned about such things, you may want to get a head set. But consider getting a wired one instead of a Bluetooth set - the radio emissions may not be less with Bluetooth. The Kyocera 7135, by the way, had half the emission SAR of the Treo. Sigh.
Hack of the Month
Since my PDA phone does not have WiFi, I am starting to think about how to access the Internet with it.
The simplest is to dial up and use the phone's built-in browser and e-mail software.
Another strategy is to use a cell phone as a modem to link to your PDA (if it has no phone of its own) or a laptop PC. The principal advantage is that you can take advantage of the bigger screen and particular applications that run on your laptop.
The major downside is that some laptops (well, mine anyway) are too darn heavy to lug around all the time. And the Internet connection at dial up speeds is rather pokey compared to what I usually do with my broadband connection at home.
The details can be rather fiddly (cables? Bluetooth? the settings to access your cellular provider's data service) and vary depending on the sort of phone and service you use. But for the road warrior who wants to be able to get his e-mail wherever there is cellular service rather than hunting for WiFi hotspots, it's either this or the RIM Blackberry.
Still interested? You can find excellent instructions at engadget, MobileTechReview, and CNet to get you started.
No feedback about removing links from the end of each issue. None at all. I guess you don't miss them. So I won't put them back. Yet.
In Times to Come
Christmas is coming. And that means just one thing: discounted prices on all your mobile computing gear. Now comes the big decision: get the discounted stuff or wait for the new (and full-priced) goodies. I can't promise I'll be much help with decision-making here. In fact, I just might make things worse...
I will also let you know about my progress with the Treo 650. Hey, if I have to struggle to get used to the thing I'm going to make you suffer with me.
Until then, enjoy!
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