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Add-ons for your handheld

Want to customise your handheld with some nifty accessories? Check out our guide to the latest add-ons for Pocket PC and Palm devices.
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By Rob Beattie on
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1 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Body Glove cases
£21.99


Pros
Mmmm...Neoprene
Cons
Dull design
Verdict
Hard-wearing, well priced and very tactile
Editors’ Rating
7/10

Since everything needs a fancy name, this isn't just another case designed to keep your Palm or Pocket PC safe and sound. No, it's a 'data suit', fashioned from Neoprene -- the material favoured by divers for its toughness and flexibility. Neoprene’s also highly stain-resistant, shrugs off water and won't fade in sunlight. The Universal cases featured here come in either a book style (which unsurprisingly opens like a book) or a top style, which opens like a reporter's ring-bound notepad and offers marginally more space inside. Both have a large Velcro hook pad and a smaller, removable sticky-backed loop pad. Fix that on the back of your handheld, press it firmly into the case and the result is a snug and secure fit. There's a pocket on the other side of the case for spare SD, CF cards and other similarly small handheld-related items and a good strong zip to keep everything together.

Fellowes (01302) 836836

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2 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Prolink FM 201 radio
£39.99 (CompactFlash); £29.99 (SD)


Pros
Radio is good for you
Cons
Comedy manual
Verdict
Inexpensive, doesn’t murder your battery, works well
Editors’ Rating
8/10

This is by far the most efficient way to add sound and music to a Pocket PC or Palm. It doesn't require powerful hardware and you don't need to be concerned about adding extra memory, even if you want to be entertained all day. For the money you get a Compact Flash (or SD) card that offers FM stereo radio (88 to 108MHz) a pair of headphones and a software player. You can scan for stations manually or use the Auto Search feature to jump to the next available station and then store your favourite channels in one of the 18 pre-set slots. Exactly how, isn’t at all clear, however. The manual’s no help (it’s two pages long) and there’s no electronic documentation either. To save you from having to crack the code yourself, scan for a station and then select an empty pre-set where you’d like to store it. Tap and hold the numbered button down with the stylus until your chosen station’s frequency appears next to the pre-set button, and then let go. Repeat for each channel. Once everything’s set up, the FM 201 works a treat -- it even plays back from the cradle free of interference, should you need to conserve battery power. Sure, radio's not funky like video and it’s not personal like music, but it's a very good fit with a handheld and the pre-set confusions aside, this is well worth it.

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3 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Zip-Linq iPAQ DataSync I
£19.96


Pros
Cuts out clutter
Cons
Nearly £20
Verdict
It’s a bit pricey for a cable, but it’s beautifully simple and very compact
Editors’ Rating
8/10

A name that no-one could love conceals one of the most useful gadgets in this roundup -- an extendable USB synchronise-and-charge cable. At rest, it's the length of a cigarette (if you can remember those), but pull gently on both ends and the cable unrolls from a central spindle to a full, glorious 80cm (more than the length of your arm). As you pull, you'll hear a series of five tiny clicks. Stop just after any of these clicks and the cable stays fixed at that length (make sure you don’t just pull on one end though, because it’ll will tangle). And that's it. It works with 22xx, 38xx, 39xx and 54xx series iPAQs, synchronises perfectly, charges perfectly and fits in a shirt pocket. Lovely.

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4 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Sony PEGA-GC10 Game Controller
£29


Pros
Everyone needs to have more fun
Cons
Thirty quid’s a bit steep
Verdict
Good entertainment, although it’d be even more fun if it worked with other handhelds too
Editors’ Rating
7/10

It's always seemed something of a waste to be packing such a cracking colour screen and then to use it only for keeping track of your business appointments or social engagements -- such as they might be. At least Sony CLIE owners can avail themselves of this, a handy clip-on game controller with keys arranged in the up, down, left, right, A and B layout familiar to console players all over the world. Install the driver software from the supplied CD, plug in the controller’s connector and then slide the sleeve up your CLIE and you’re ready to play Columns -- a Tetris perform-alike with maddening music and high addiction levels. The controller works with lots of different of CLIEs and you’ll find a useful compatibility chart on the Web site. It doesn’t deliver Nokia N-Gage levels of wham-bam game play, but there are plenty of more reflective titles including backgammon, Battleship, Monopoly, chess and Scrabble available for a few dollars at handmark.com and elsewhere. Although game-playing positively gobbles up the battery, it’s still just the job for whiling away idle minutes on a long train journey -- so much so that if your CLIE has a headphone socket, your fellow passengers will thank you for it.

Sony UK (08705) 111999

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5 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Creative Travelsound speakers
£50


Pros
Loud, well-defined sound
Cons
Engineering-sample looks
Verdict
Just the job for music on the move
Editors’ Rating
8/10

Although travel speakers are notorious for looking far better than they sound, these are a rather noisy and extremely pleasant exception. Creative says you get two watts per channel with a frequency response of between 150Hz-20kHz, and use suggests even if that if the spec sounds a bit underwhelming, most music does not. Even so, it's clearly more suited to gentle indie strumming a la Coldplay than angry, The Darkness-style bare-chested strutting. The Travelsound speakers come flat in a nasty nylon bag, but fold out for use, revealing the battery compartment (four AAAs, which give about 30 hours’ playback) and connectors for headphones (why?) and a line in; you also get a stereo connecting cable. The speakers sit very close together, so naturally the stereo image isn't up to much. However, they do come with a 'wide stereo stage' setting that sort-of works, although usually you’ll be too close to them to notice. Ignore the fact that they look like the head of that film robot out of Short Circuit, turn them up, and you’ll find these are an excellent travel companion for your handheld; and of course they’ll also work with MP3, CD and Minidisc players as well, making them a compact yet flexible addition to your luggage.

Creative Labs

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6 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Presenter to Go
£159.99 (Palm, Pocket PC, Sony CLIE)


Pros
Frees the world’s favourite presentation program from the desktop
Cons
Expensive when compared with Pack and Go
Verdict
If you need PowerPoint in your pocket, this is the way to do it
Editors’ Rating
7/10

PowerPoint, it seems, is not a program that likes anyone getting away from it. Corporate users are aware of its ubiquity in the conference room (where ‘death by PowerPoint’ is a common expression -- and a common fate), and now you can carry it in your pocket as well. Presenter to Go includes a PowerPoint plug-in that lets you save any presentation in a special compressed format and then copy it to your handheld; once there, a second program lets you run the presentation. Then, rather than gather everyone around your handheld, you plug in the supplied CompactFlash card that takes the display signal out of the handheld and converts it into something a monitor or projector (or anything with a VGA connector) can handle. Thus, you can turn up to your presentation, slip the handheld out of your pocket, connect it to £2,500-worth of projector, and proceed to look good while carrying very little. There are some limitations -- mainly that you can’t include transitions or animations, and that the upper resolution supported is 1,024 by 768. But frankly, most people over-egg their presentations, so this shouldn't be a problem. Of course, there are alternatives, notably PowerPoint's own Pack and Go feature, which can write both the presentation and the necessary Viewer program to a CD or USB stick. But that’s a fixed delivery mechanism, whereas with Presenter to Go you can remove slides from a presentation, re-order them and so on. You also get a neat 14-button remote control, which looks much better than clicking a mouse button.

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7 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Veo Photo Traveler
£50 (Palm); £63 (Pocket PC)


Pros
Neat, easy-to-use VGA camera
Cons
Photo quality is disappointing
Verdict
Hard to recommend, despite its usability
Editors’ Rating
4/10

This is a snazzy-looking stills camera on an SD stick that can rotate through 180 degrees and take photos at up to 640 by 480 (VGA) resolution. Pop it into the SD slot with the lens facing away from you until you hear a tiny click to show that it's in place, wait for the little tune and the camera software loads automatically. Initially you'll see just two on-screen buttons -- for setting preferences and taking photographs. The preferences box lets you switch between low, medium and high quality and 320 by 240 or 640 by 480 resolution -- the quality settings don't seem to affect picture size, but altering the resolution results in photos of 50KB and 200KB respectively. If you really want to fiddle, there's also an Advanced settings dialogue box that lets you manually adjust the exposure time (then again, if you were into fiddling with camera settings, you probably would be using one of these). You can take a photo straight away by tapping the camera icon, which turns the screen into a viewfinder (tap the screen again and the viewfinder doubles in size); alternatively, you can use the timer. Stored photos are displayed as a strip of thumbnails and can be viewed, deleted or beamed to another handheld. The quality's not much better than you'll get a from a modern mobile phone, and the snail-like speed at which the preview screen updates when you're trying to take a photo makes things difficult. It also feels light and flimsy, even in its case. Unless you’ve got a specific short-term need for a Palm camera, you’d be better off waiting for the upcoming Palm-branded 1.3-megapixel camera. It’s more expensive, but also has a 1,024 by 768 (XGA) resolution.

Expansys

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8 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Targus Wireless IR Keyboard
£60


Pros
Works with most Palm and Pocket PCs
Cons
Ugly and lacks cursor keys
Verdict
Lacks the purposeful elegance of the Stowaway, but gets the job done
Editors’ Rating
6/10

Targus set the standard for portable keyboards with the Stowaway -- a cunningly designed full-sized keyboard that folded away concertina-like into a form factor barely bigger than the handheld itself. This is the new wireless variation that delivers a typing keyboard of a similar size while reducing the overall footprint. It's thicker though, because of the cradle that’s designed not just to accommodate a wide range of different Pocket and Palm PCs, but also those that support a landscape mode. Small sprung bars hold the handheld in place and the infra-red connection is made courtesy of a plastic arm that can be rotated round the handheld until it's in the correct position. It lacks the simple, elegant design of the Stowaway, but works well enough. More significant, though, is the other thing the keyboard lacks: cursor keys. That means the only way to navigate is by using the keyboard-based 'mouse’, an eight-way rocker that allows you to move the cursor round the screen (a Confirm button next to it takes the place of a traditional mouse button). The two are OK for general navigation, but much harder to use -- and ultimately annoying -- if you’re editing a lot of text. Elsewhere, the keys have good travel, but it may take a while to get used to the space bar, which is split across the hinge with a ‘dead’ area in the middle, exactly the spot a proficient hunt-and-peck typist will hit every time. If you can get used to that and the lack of cursor keys, the flexibility offered by the Wireless IR Keyboard’s design may make up for its other shortcomings.

Targus 0208-607 7000

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9 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Audiovox RTM-8000
£176.24


Pros
Adds wide-area connectivity to your Pocket PC device
Cons
Convenience comes at a price; only class B GPRS
Verdict
If having everything in one device is important to you, then it’s worth considering.
Editors’ Rating
6/10

Despite the connected nature of many modern handhelds, it's still quite possible to buy one that only has infra-red connectivity. If that sounds like yours and you have a yen to change things, then consider this: a CompactFlash card that turns your Pocket PC into a voice- and data- enabled mobile phone. Getting the phone to work is simple enough. Install the dialer software, pop your SIM into the Audiovox card and slot that into the Pocket PC, open the tiny aerial, plug in the supplied ear piece-and-microphone combo and you're ready to make and receive calls. It lacks the elegance of an all-in-one solution like O2’s xda II, but it's tri-band, has decent reception and doesn't need a degree in telecoms to use. The same can't always be said of setting up GPRS using Connection Manager, and the supplied Audiovox software improves on this -- although you still require an unhealthy interest in IP and DNS settings. Once installed, Pocket Internet Explorer does its stuff and, within the limits of GPRS, works admirably. It's only a class B GPRS device, so it doesn't support voice and data at the same time, and you have to use the supplied ear-piece to make and take calls. But apart from that, the Audiovox RTM-8000 is well implemented.

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10 of 10 Rob Beattie/ZDNet

Treo Portable Keyboard
£69.51


Pros
Neat fold-out design, useful shortcut keys, charger adapter supplied
Cons
Somewhat flimsy construction
Verdict
If you want to get the most from your Treo 600, you need this keyboard
Editors’ Rating
8/10

Handspring’s award-winning Treo 600 Palm OS handheld/smartphone has a built-in thumb keyboard that’s OK for text messages and brief memos. But if you want to enter significant amounts of text, you really need to consider the neat Treo Portable Keyboard. Featuring a clever fold-out design, the keyboard’s 66 keys provide a typing platform that’s probably good enough to persuade some mobile users to leave their notebook at home. As well as the basic QWERTY arrangement, there is a useful range of Palm OS-related shortcut keys, accessible via the Fn key. The driver software lets you customise settings like the click sound, delay until repeat and repeat rate; you can also rearrange the cursor keys to your preferred layout. The keyboard comes with an adapter that allows you to charge your Treo 600 when it’s attached. What’s not to like about the Treo Portable Keyboard? Although the design is clever, the construction feels a little flimsy -- especially around the attachment for the Treo 600, which is too wobbly for our liking. Also, you have to remove the charger adapter from the keyboard before you can close it, which makes the former more likely to get lost. A proper built-in power connector would be preferable. These minor gripes aside, the Treo Portable Keyboard is an excellent add-on for serious mobile data users.

Handspring 0207-294 0157


Note
Some of the peripherals reviewed here are fussy about which Palm or Pocket PC they’ll work with. Where possible, we’ve indicated specific makes and models, but in the interests of not turning each review into a list, check each product’s Web site if you’re in any doubt.

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