Friday, July 15, 2005

I'm such a nerd...

Because I’m a bit of a nerd, I thought I’d give a brief history of the digital devices that have given me so much joy over the years.

Philips Nino
My love affair with the hand-held device began with the Philips Nino. I bought this device before they started making all of the converged devices that have a cell phone, PDA, MP3 player, etc. etc. all built into one device. This was just a plain old PDA, nothing more, nothing less. (It didn’t even come with an application that could play MP3s, although I found one I could download for free.)

At the time, your choice of PDA was limited to two options: A Palm Pilot, or a Windows CE device. If you wanted a Windows CE device, the Nino was the way to go – none of the other CE devices came close.

Neopoint 1000
But eventually I bought a cell phone. And soon after, I started to get annoyed that I had to carry two devices with me everywhere. I thought it would be great if I could get a phone that included PDA functionality. So I bought a Neopoint 1000, which, at the time, was about the only choice on the market. (There was also the Qualcomm pdQ, which used the Palm operating system, which came out somewhere in this time frame. But it was a big heavy brick; it would be lighter to carry a phone and PDA than to carry this thing by itself, I’m sure.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t have to use the Neopoint for too long before I realized it was pretty crappy as a PDA, and not too hot as a phone either. So I was back to carrying both a phone and a PDA. But the Nino was getting pretty out of date, so I wanted to update.

Compaq iPaq 3800And thus I got the Compaq iPaq. By this time, the Windows CE operating system had been revamped – it was now called PocketPC. It had a greatly improved interface, and even came with a pocket version of Windows Media Player, so you could play MP3’s on it.

At the time that I bought it, the Compaq units were the devices to buy, if you wanted a PocketPC. There were other companies out there making PocketPC devices, but Compaq was way ahead of the competition in terms of reliability, price, and just plain coolness factor. It even came with an extra sleeve I could slide the unit into (with a built-in battery), that had a PCMCIA slot. So I could put in things like a wireless card, and get connected to the internet. This was revolutionary. This was great.

Of course, no one device can really occupy my attention for too long, no matter how cool it may be...

BlackberryAt the time, I was working for a consulting company that specialized in wireless devices. So I was one of the first people that got to try the Blackberry device. (By “one of the first”, I probably mean one of the first 1,000 people… It’s not like I actually worked for RIM or anything.) This combined the PDA functionality (calendar, contacts, etc.) with email paging, so my emails got sent from my inbox directly to my Blackberry, and I could then respond to the emails real time. I started off on the pager-sized device, and then got upgraded to the larger model.


Of course, this was before the Blackberry had phone capabilities integrated, so I was still carrying the cell phone with me. I hadn’t lost a device, I’d just traded one device for another, and added the capability to get emails instantly.

Unfortunately, there is a big drawback to email pagers: They never stop going off. If you know anyone who has one, you might notice that it’s very hard to hold a conversation with them, because they constantly stop talking to you to answer their email. And trust me, it’s hard not to. It’s a pager, after all – pagers are designed to be answered immediately.

So I eventually gave up the Blackberry, and went back to my iPaq for PDA functionality. I just check my email regularly on the computer, like a normal person, and when I’m away from the computer, I get work done. Unfortunately, my iPaq started to show its years, and when the power button broke on me, I decided it was finally time to get a new device.

What I really wanted was a PocketPC device that was also a phone. For me, I use the PDA functionality more than I use the phone functionality (which makes me different from most of the population), so I wanted a very solid PDA, with the phone functionality almost as an add-on.

PPC 5050
So I started to look at the PPC 5050, from Audiovox. I’m sure most of you think this is a pretty ugly device, but for me, it had everything I wanted: it was a PocketPC (Phone Edition), and oh, look at that, it’s also a phone!

Unfortunately, when Bell Mobility first introduced it, it was too expensive, so I decided to wait until it came down in price. And then they took it off the market, before it ever did. So, in retrospect, I probably dodged a bullet by not getting this device. If I had, maybe I’d still be bothering Mobility’s tech support, trying to get the thing up and running…

But I was still very disappointed. Where was I ever going to find a device that combined the PDA functionality with a phone?

Treo 600Shortly after, BellMo introduced the Treo 600, and I almost converted to a Palm user, just because I liked the form factor of this device. Finally, here was a device that was both a phone and a PDA, and, judging by the reviews, did a good job of both. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Which left me in the dark, because I had now run out of options. What was I to do?

Dell Axim x50vI eventually gave up on the integrated phone/PDA device, and decided to start shopping around for a regular PocketPC PDA. I’ll just live with carrying two devices around, and get a good, solid PDA. The unit I chose was the Dell Axim x50v, which has a VGA screen. (It can even flip the screen horizontally or vertically, depending on what would be easier to read.) It has built-in Bluetooth and wireless networking capabilities, which means that I can surf the web if there’s a wireless connection. Or, if I have a Bluetooth-enabled phone, I can look up a contact in my Axim, and then have it talk to my phone and have it dial the number. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a Bluetooth-enabled phone, so this isn’t really an important feature for me.)

But the main reason I went for the Dell was that I had just finally given up on finding a combined PDA/phone that I liked. Especially one that used the PocketPC operating system, which I liked. (It’s nice to have Windows Media Player built in, and Pocket Word, and Pocket Excel, etc. etc.)

And then, a couple of months after I got my Axim, Bell Mobility introduced this:

PPC 6600
The PPC 6600. That’s right. Another PocketPC phone, and it has an integrated slide-out keyboard, in case you don’t want to use the stylus. I was kicking myself – why didn’t I wait just a little longer, and I could have got a great device?

And then Rogers introduced an even better phone:

SMT 5600
The SMT5600. This phone is a PocketPC device, too – but a special version of PocketPC, specially designed for use in phones, optimally designed for one-handed use with the phone keypad, instead of a pen. (I believe Microsoft marketing call these devices a “Windows Mobile-based Smartphone”.) And there’s no way I can justify buying it, now, because I just bought the Axim, and it’s a great device.

Actually, I’m having problems with the Axim’s screen, so maybe I’ll return it, and then I can get whatever I want… Hmm…