Great Hardware Accessories for Pocket PCs
The last issue of Pocket PC magazine focused on hardware accessories. In researching that issue, it was amazing to see the number of hardware accessories and options currently available for the Pocket PC. In fact, we found so many excellent products that we didn't have room to mention them all. This edition of Gupta's Greats takes a look at nine more accessories.
UltraMote control your TV, VCR, or CD player from your Pocket PC
UltraMote is a universal remote control program that lets you program your iPAQ or Jornada Pocket PC with all the functions of your TV, VCR, CD player, and home automation systems. UltraMote lets you customize the screen design by adding your own symbols for different functions. Or you can use one of templates that come with the program.
Once the program is installed on your Pocket PC, you can program each button on the two UltraMote screens. The first screen has up to 24 buttons and the second screen has nine more buttons for less frequently used functions. The programming of each button is a simple procedure. First, enter UltraMote's "learn" mode. Then, align the infrared ports of your Pocket PC and the remote control that came with the TV, VCR, etc. Finally, tap a button on the UltraMote screen and the button on the remote control that activates the desired command. You will hear a beep when the UltraMote software has learned that particular command.
UltraMote lets you program "macros," which let you perform a sequence of actions by pressing a single button. UltraMote also has "Auto-repeat" functionality. Tap a button to execute a command once. Tap and hold the button to repeat that command. This functionality is very useful for commands such as volume up/down or channel up/down.
The optional UltraMote Extender is a CF card that adds an extended-range infrared port to the Pocket PC, increasing the usable range to 50 feet. This card works only with the UltraMote software in a CF card slot. Because of the design of the card the developer does not recommend using the card with an adapter in the longer PC Card slot. This is a limitation for people who have already invested in a PC Card sleeve. The developer should redesign the card so it will work when using a PC card adapter.
I had no problems using the UltraMote software and Extender with my TV and CD player. The UltraMote software works with Compaq iPAQ 3100/3600/3700 and 3800 series, HP Jornada 560 series, Audiovox Maestro and Toshiba e570. TheUltraMote extender CF card will work with all the above mentioned PocketPCs except the HP Jornada 560. Fortunately, the Jornada 560 has the longest IR range according to the manufacturer.
The UltraMote software is priced at $20. The UltraMote Extender card costs $30. You can save $10 by buying them together. You can purchase these products from the UltraMote Web site (www.ultramote.com).
Instant Power Chargers for Pocket PCs
Do you occasionally run out of battery power? If so, you might consider buying the Instant Power Charger, a small, portable power cartridge that can recharge your Pocket PC in about two hours. The kit includes a SmartCord connector and a disposable 3300 mAh zinc-air PowerCartridge. Different SmartCords are required for each brand of Pocket PC, so be sure and specify this when you purchase the product.
Each PowerCartridge charges your Pocket PC up to three times. The PowerCartridge comes in an air-tight pouch. You should store the power cartridge in the original pouch and reseal once you have used it. Left sealed, the PowerCartridge will keep its charge for about three months.
The Instant Power Charger kit, with the SmartCord and one PowerCartridge, costs $19.95. Replacement PowerCartridges cost $9.95 each. This is not a cheap solution, but it may be worthwhile to keep a kit as a backup in case you run out of power while traveling. An optional In-Car Charger Adapter is also available. It charges your Pocket PC using a cigarette lighter power adapter and the SmartCord connector. The PowerCartridge itself is not rechargeable. If you are buying the Instant Power Charger, I recommend that you buy the In-Car Charger Adapter. It costs only $7.95 and can be kept in your car to power your Pocket PC while you're listening to music or audible content.
The Instant Power Charger kit is available for the HP Jornada, Casio Cassiopeia, and Compaq iPAQ Pocket PCs and Pocket PC 2002s. It can be purchased from the Instant Power Web site (www.instant-power.com).
Atek CompactFlash Type I to Type II adapter for HP Jornada Pocket PCs
The HP Jornada Pocket PCs come with a built-in Type I CompactFlash slot, which accommodates most of the CF cards that are made today. But a few cards, most notably the IBM 1 Gb microdrive, are Type II cards and do not fit in the Jornada's slightly thinner CF slot.
The Atek CF Pocket 520/540 and CF Pocket 560 adapters solve this problem. These slim adapters slip into the Jornada's Type I CF slot and have a slightly thicker Type II slot which will accept any CompactFlash card. Two models of the Atek adapter are available, one for the Jornada 520/540 series and another for the Jornada 560 series. The adapter for the HP Jornada 520/540 series does not have a card ejector mechanism like the one found on the adapter for the HP Jornada 560 series. (The manufacturer's Web site has a tip from Dale Coffing on removing CF cards from the adapter for the HP Jornada 520/540 series.)
I tested the adapter for the Jornada 560 series with a 340 Mb IBM Microdrive. It worked without a hitch. The adapter replaces the existing CF slot and adds a little thickness to the back top half of the Jornada Pocket PC. If you're an HP Jornada owner who wants to use the IBM microdrive or any other Type II CF card, this accessory is a must. Both versions of the adapter are priced at $39.95 and can be purchased from the Atek Electronics Web site (www.atek.com/accessories/cfpocket.htm).
USB sync/power cables
I've always found it inconvenient to lug the iPAQ data cradle and power adapter with me when I wanted to work at home. True, I could purchase spare adapters and cradles, and keep them at home. But that would cost around $70.
A less expensive solution to my problem came in the form of third-party USB power/sync cables I tested from two different resellers. The first was the Gomadic iPAQ Power Sync Charging USB Sync Cable. The second was the Targus USB Charge-Sync Cable for Compaq iPAQ. The cables look and function almost identically. You use them to connect your iPAQ to the USB port of your desktop or laptop PC. Once connected, you can not only synchronize data using ActiveSync, you can run your iPAQ or charge its batteries from the power received from the PC's USB port.
I tested both the cables and they worked as described, without any problems. Both cables measured about three feet in length. It would have been more convenient if the cables were a little longer, but it would also use up more power to "push" the electricity the extra distance.
Because they are much less expensive than manufacturer's accessories, these cables make an excellent second sync/power cable for your home or office. If you travel with a laptop computer that has its own power source, the sync/power cables are a less expensive and more compact way to charge your iPAQ.
The Gomadic cables are available for all Compaq iPAQ Pocket PCs. Prices range from $14.95 to $19.95. They can be purchased from the Gomadic Web site (www.gomadic.com).
As this article went to press, the Targus cable was only available for the Compaq iPAQ 3600/3700 series. A cable for the H3800 series should be available shortly. The current Targus cable is priced at $29.99 and is available from Targus retailers or the Targus Web site (www.targus.com).
Instant Power markets a USB Charger Kit (no sync functions) for $19.95. The package includes the SmartCord, described in the second review above, and a USB power adapter. Instant Power offers versions for all Compaq, HP, and Casio Pocket PCs. For more information, visit their Web site (www.instant-power.com). For users of other Pocket PCs, check out Promax (www.promax.com) and Belkin (www.belkin.com) for similar USD/Sync power cable solutions.
Styluses from PDA Panache
Misplaced or lost your stylus? PDA Panache offers some excellent replacements. The Custom Stylus Upgrades from PDA Panache are made of metal and designed to fit perfectly into the stylus slot on your particular Pocket PC. These styluses are heavier than the original styluses and feel more comfortable to use. They have a stylus tip at one end and a ballpoint pen tip on the other, under a screw-on cap. It takes six complete turns to unscrew the cap--I would have preferred fewer turns. Once the cap is off, you can slip it onto the stylus end and use the device as a pen. The stylus end of the device narrows and has grooves to grip the device. The pen end does not. Custom Stylus Upgrades are available for Casio E-100/105/115/125 and EM500s, all Compaq iPAQs, and the HP Jornada 560 series. A custom stylus upgrade from PDA Panache costs between $15 and $18, depending on your Pocket PC model.
The Quad-40 Four Function Stylus is a well designed multifunction device with stylus, pen, 0.5 mm pencil, and orange text highlighter. It comes in a silver metal body with a black rubber "Dot Matrix" grip. This multifunctional stylus uses a gravity mechanism to select the point you want. Icons for each of the point types are found on the clicker end of the barrel. Hold the device with the desired icon point up and press the clicker and the desired point comes out. This functionality requires a little getting used to. The pen is slightly bigger than a normal pen. A removable cap on the clicker end of the device covers an eraser for the pencil. This multifunctional stylus does not fit in the Pocket PC's stylus slot. If you need to write with pen and pencil, occasionally highlight text, and use a stylus, this is a handy accessory. The price of this stylus is $19.95.
There are some other styluses available on the PDA Panache Web site. They have cheap plastic stick styluses, good to keep around as spares but which do not fit in the stylus slot of your Pocket PC. A pack of three costs $2.29. They also have a variety of pen/stylus combos and styluses designed to clip in your shirt pocket.
All the PDA Panache styluses come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a lifetime tip warranty. If you ever wear out, deform, contaminate, or damage the writing tip of your PDA Panache stylus in any way, they will repair it for no cost. The styluses can be purchased from the PDA Panache Web site (www.pdapanache.com).
Bluetooth printing kit from Anycom
The Anycom Mobile Printing for Pocket PC Solution Kit provides a complete wireless printing solution for Pocket PC users. The kit includes the Anycom Bluetooth CompactFlash Card with a CF-to-PC-Card adapter, the Anycom Bluetooth Module for your printer, and Anycom PocketPrint software.
The Bluetooth Module attaches to the parallel port of any printer. It is powered by a separate AC power adapter that is included with the kit. The Bluetooth CF card slips into the CompactFlash slot of any Pocket PC. With the included CF-to-PC-Card adapter, it can also be used in the PC Card Expansion Pack of the Compaq iPAQ. The PocketPrint software and a driver for the Bluetooth CF card come on a CD and must be installed on the Pocket PC before the system can be used. The driver alone will allow you to print text files. If you want to print Word and Excel documents, you will need to install the Pocket Print software, which lets you specify paper size, margins, orientation (landscape or portrait), and more.
I printed a Pocket Word document on an HP LaserJet printer using this Bluetooth solution. I was able to do Bluetooth printing within a range of 10 meters. You can use the Bluetooth CompactFlash card to send files to, or receive them from, other Bluetooth devices. You can also use it to interface with a Bluetooth-enabled phone to browse the Internet, send and receive SMS messages, or dial a phone number from your Pocket PC. You can also use it to synchronize files with a Bluetooth-enabled PC. You may need some additional software and accessories to accomplish these tasks.
The Anycom Bluetooth printing solution is great if you need to print documents from your Pocket PC and don't want to connect physically to the printer. It's also a reasonable solution for travelers who need to print documents from a variety of different printers they may encounter.
The Mobile Printing for Pocket PC Solution Kit from Anycom costs $299. You can also buy the components of the kit separately. PocketPrint is a stand-alone printing solution. You can use it to print without using Bluetooth through infrared or by using a wired or wireless network. You can purchase PocketPrint for $39. These products are available from the Anycom Web site (www.Anycom.com).
Toshiba 2 Gb and 5 Gb hard drives
Your Pocket PC is a multimedia powerhouse. You can listen to audible content or music, watch video, do PowerPoint presentations, and more. But all that high-quality content requires a lot of storage space on your Pocket PC. If you want the most possible, check out Toshiba's 2 Gb and 5 Gb PC Card hard drives. All Handheld PCs and some Pocket PCs can accept these drives. The UR There @migo is the only Pocket PC with a built-in PC Card slot. The Compaq iPAQs, Casio E-200, and HP Jornada 560 have PC Card expansion sleds available.
The data transfer rate of these hard drives is 93-125 Mbit/sec; subjectively, it seems as fast as a CompactFlash card. These hard drives are especially useful with graphics-intensive applications like videos and GPS maps. I had a blast with the Toshiba 2 Gb drive, using it to carry a large number of music and video files with me. I could play them whenever I wanted, using my iPAQ Pocket PC equipped with its PC Card Expansion Pack.
The price for the 2 Gb drive is $299; the 5 Gb drive is $399. They can be purchased directly from Toshiba's online store (www.shoptoshiba.com).
NexiCam Digital Camera for the Compaq iPAQ
You can add a variety of hardware capabilities to Compaq Pocket PCs using the iPAQ's unique Expansion Pack design. One of the newest accessories is a digital camera from Nexian. The NexiCam Digital Camera is a slip-on Expansion Pack that adds an SVGA still image and VID video camera, along with a standard Type II CompactFlash slot, to any color-screen iPAQ Pocket PC.
The digital camera's maximum resolution of 800 x 600 pixels captures images good enough to display on the screen of a Pocket PC or desktop PC, but it is not for high-resolution printouts. You can also record up to 45 seconds of VID video with this camera, but no audio. I'd love to see audio capability with the video, but the current Pocket PC processors might not be able to handle that.
The hardware part of the camera does not have a viewfinder or shutter button. Instead, the NexiCam Digital Camera ships with software that you must install on the iPAQ to use the camera. The software operates in two modes: Camera mode lets you capture images and shoot movies. It lets you specify the white balance, brightness, gain, saturation, hue, and exposure for the picture. You can also set a timer for automatically taking a picture after 5, 15, or 20 seconds. Album mode lets you view thumbnails and full views of the images and movies stored on your iPAQ. You can also do a slideshow and specify the time interval between pictures. You can also create new albums and specify their location in the main memory or storage card, and for individual images you can adjust the colors, soften, sharpen, rotate, or delete.
When you have Files checked in ActiveSync's Sync Options screen, any video and picture you take with NexiCam will automatically be transferred to your desktop PC when you synchronize data. Still photos are saved in JPEG format and should be viewable with any desktop PC image viewer. Videos are saved in VID format. When you install the NexiCam software, a VID-to-MOV translator is installed on your desktop PC. Open the VID files in the Nexicam Tool utility installed on your desktop, double click on the VID file, and it will be converted into QuickTime format to be viewed in the Nexicam Tool player or using the popular QuickTime movie player, available for free from Apple Computer (www.apple.com/quicktime/download/).
The NexiCam Digital Camera is priced at $199. This seems a little high since you can get a 2 megapixel digital camera for around the same price. However, the Expansion Pack is lighter than a standalone digital camera and adds a CF slot to the iPAQ. In addition, the NexiCam Digital Camera and iPAQ together are about the same size as a digital camera by itself. Finally, the iPAQ's display is larger and easier to see than most digital cameras. If you already have an iPAQ and are not looking for super-high resolution images, take a look at the NexiCam. It can be purchased directly from the Nexian Web site (www.nexian.com). Nexian is currently working on software that will let you use NexiCam for video conferencing. The software should be available in about two months.
Charge Your Pocket PC with a 9-volt battery
Forget having to call 911 when your Pocket PC battery dies and needs resuscitation! Promax Wireless (www.promaxwireless.com) cleverly designed this modular charger that uses an ordinary 9-volt "transistor" battery to charge up your unit. Just snap a 9-volt battery into the small charger and plug the other end into the power input connector of your Pocket PC and you can charge and use your Pocket PC at the same time. The Emergency Power Charger makes a nice supplemental battery. Having the extra power really comes in handy when using high-power usage devices like a GPS card or Wireless card on those long trips away from the home charger. The charger has red LED light to indicated charging and specially designed circuitry to protect the Pocket PC from overcharging and short-circuiting. The Emergency Power Charger is available for the Audiovox Maestro/Toshiba E550/570, Casio E125, BE300, HP Jornada, and iPAQ. Price to to be announced.
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