Peel Technologies Mini Library of PDA Questions and Answers


Sir: I enjoyed your article in mobolis recounting your tale of Zaurus. Being an electrical engineer as well I particulary appreciated your point of view. I am just about where you were when you bought your Zaurus. I have also eliminated the HP but am trying to decide between Zaurus and Psion (probably between the 5800 vs the 3c) Did you consider the Psion? what was your opinion/experience? I would use iti the same as you except that I have an XT at home. I would also want to do my personal and family butdgeting and expense recording on the PDA. I also value the ability to connect to Compuserve/internet (text only is OK) very highly. Your reply would be appreciated: Fabio G.

Hi Fabio Thank you for the kind words about my Zaurus tale in the mobilis magazine. Yes, I considered the Psion. The features sheet for Psion are impressive and they have a reasonable market share. The single biggest drawback as far as I am concerned is that it is not Pen / Graphical User Interface (GUI)based. It is menu based. When I experienced the Windows type interface on the Zaurus, I liked it instantly. Since it is very similar to MS Windows, it was very easy and natural to use.

You have to understand that I was a die-hard operating system, anti-GUI type person for some time. I used to be of the mind that if you weren't issuing commands from an operating system prompt, such as DOS or CPM or UNIX, then you weren't a real computer person doing real computer things. Once MS Windows became stable and the application programs started really using the GUI, rather than just running a DOS version under a shell, then I became a convert. For me personal productivity is part of what PDA's are about. I strongly believe that personal information management (PIM) applications are more efficient to use in a GUI environment than a menu prompt environment.

With the Zaurus you can use the pen when convenient, but you always can fall back to the keyboard, when that is more efficient. There are some short cut key combinations (ie. '2nd' key followed by 'c' copies a highlighted block to the clipboard) that I use frequently on the Zaurus, rather than the pen commands to accomplish the same thing.

With the pen-touch screen capability, the Zaurus provides a powerful,convenient sketching and handwriting note taking capability. I use this a lot instead of post-it notes, such as during telephone conversations and during meetings. It is faster than typing. My engineering training developed in me the habit of using diagrams to record and explain things. If I want a more permanent record of text then I can enter it later from the keyboard into the appropriate Zaurus application. The scrap book function will shrink to a 1/4 size screen size and stay visible to facilitate this. If I want a copy of my 'intelligent doodles' (sketches) or notes then I can send them to the Laser printer via the infrared port or through the serial cable to my laser printer.

The Zaurus has the concept that all of the applications are up & running simultaneously. The GUI fully supports hopping from one application to another, almost instantly, just by one touch of the pen on the application icon. Each application maintains its place as you do so, including not having to close/save a "file". You can power off and when you power back on, and go to the application it will be where you left off.

The GUI supports drag & drop concepts, which is handy depending on the application that you are in. In the word processor it is great for organizing a document after all the ideas have been put down. My writing style is to do a brain / core dump and then organize it after the flow of info stops.

Having said all those nice things about Zaurus, there is an advantage that Psion has over the Zaurus. You can more easily develop your own totally new custom applications. Also, there are some 3'rd party non-traditional PIM S/W that you can buy for special needs.

For me this was not important, because the rich set of applications built into the Zaurus: activities, database, communications, wordprocessing, spellcheck, faxing, spreadsheet, world time, xfer to the PC, gave me everything that I wanted to do. As well, most of the Zaurus applications can be customized if you want to (but you don't have to). The data file names, number of fields, their type, width can be easily customized to personalize the PDA to your own desires (which I have done quite a bit over the last year, little by little as I tuned it to the way I work and use it). Since I wrote the article, there has been a freeware software developers toolkit (SDK)released by a third party for the Zaurus, if you really have to make up a brand new application. So now, even that programmability argument for the Psion has been somewhat weekened.

I don't remember whether the Psion can do it or not, but the Z's database program allows for image type fields. This is powerful enough to permit a photoId database, or a miniCAD data base or whatever other images/drawings/sketches are important to organize and keep and access. The image resolution is not great and the image format is specific, but it is there and it works fine.

Another neat feature of the Zaurus is it has an area for PC files. You can put digitial stuff in there of any format. The xfer utility and the Zaurus just leaves it alone, bit for bit. Within the limitations of the amount of storage, you can put your favourite PC files in there and take them out at will.

Since writing the mobilis article many people have asked for my advice, usually telling what they want a PDA to do. Almost all have since purchased Zaurus. All of these have sent me followup emails, saying how they now love their Zaurus and how well if fits their needs.

Since I wrote the article I upgraded to a Zaurus 5700 from my Zaurus 5000. The Zaurus 5800 was not out yet, and I didn't want to wait. I really wanted the power of a spreadsheet. I soon transferred some Lotus 123 spreadsheets from my office desktop to the Zaurus. They needed a few minutes of tweeking on the Zaurus, but then worked perfectly. For your budgeting and expense recording the spreadsheet application should be fine. You can create as many spreadsheets as you like. This is just like in the PC world. As you may be aware, the Zaurus even comes with a number of common templates already preprogammed, for those who can't wait to get going or don't have the inclination to set up their own formulae etc. If you have some favorite spreadsheets already, then with the free Zaurus Link Software from Sharp, you could transfer the files, assuming that you are running Windows. I notice that you said you had an XT, so perhaps you are still running DOS. That would be a problem. ZRlink only runs under Windows 3.x or higher.

Now that the 5800 is available, I consider that to be a good choice for what you said you would like to do. The 1.5 Meg of available user data area should hold even the heaviest of users for many months, without having to do any house keeping. I ran a full year on my ZR5000 and only used up 650K. If you are prone to doing PIM things under the stars @ midnight (or other dark secret places), the backlight will allow you to keep right on going.

I am interested to keep in touch. I hope that my note helps you. I am readily available to provide more advice. I am interested to know what path you take and how you get along. Best Regards, Egbert

Hi Egbert Thank you for your reply to my Psion/Zaurus enquiry. You have been most generous in the quantity and quality of your feedback. As per your invitation, I would be glad to keep in touch on the subject of PDA's.

Like your experience, I instantly "took" to the Zaurus whereas the Psion audition was more of a throw-back to DOS days. I pursued my enquiry to you in so far as I thought that maybe the Zaurus's GUI was seductive in the showroom but perhaps lacked depth once put to the test of day-to-day engineering office use. I had read about Psion's "multi-tasking" ability and feared the Zaurus might look and feel great but with limited flexibilty. Clearly your experience proves it'snot the case I am sure GUI is the way to go for me. I firmly believe in the picture worth 1000 words (especially if you have to enter the words one letter at a time on a small keyboard). Is it possible to open more than one "session" of the same application, for example two or more spreadsheets, or documents?

Now that I have decided on the Zaurus I think I will go for the 5800 mostly for its 2M of RAM, though the backlight could be handy too. What about getting a good price?I live in Montreal. The Future Shop quoted me $547 for the 5700 and have a "best price in town" guarantee. Unfortunately, they did not carry the 5800. Where did you get yours? I've checked and found attractive $$ mail-order in the US. Is there duty to pay? I've also heard that Canadian models are a little different (e.g. SHIFT+ access to accents for French). Any comments? I also travel frequently (USA and Europe). Do you know of prices at Duty Free such as at Amsterdam airport?

I have a 486 with Windows 3.1 at the office so backing up will be no problem. Can I print to a file, copy the file to the PC and then print it from the PC? What's your experience with the IRDA? I've read in Compuserve forum's a lot of people complaining that the have little opportunity to use it due to lack of compatible hardware.

Reading back over this letter I hope to not have been overly inquisitive. I look forward to your comments. I plan to purchase my 5800 as soon as I zero in on attractive pricing. Best regards, Fabio G.

Hi Fabio Further to your 2nd email, I can tell you that the more that I worked with my Zaurus the more pleased I became. Now for some answers to your questions.

More than one instance of the same application? No, you can only have one instance of an application running and with only one "file" open simultaneously. All applications can have a file open at the same time. Depending on how you were thinking of using that, the clipboard (cut and paste) is a convenient way of moving/duplicating data or data records from one "file" to another. The spreadsheet, document, notes allow you to have as many individual permanent files as your memory can hold. Contacts and Data files allow 3 "files" / areas each. These 6 can be fully customized, independent of each other.

Where did I buy my Zaurus? I bought my Zaurus at Compucentre in Ottawa. Another competitive store is Battery Plus, if you have them in Montreal. I don't know of specific Zaurus prices in Europe, but a few times that I have priced electronic & computer things there, they have always been more. My advice would be to buy local, even if you have to pay a slight premium. The retail prices around Ottawa are $600 for Z5700 and $800 for Z5800.

Purchase from USA and Duty etc.? I do some commercial consulting part-time in the PDA area, and on occasion have bought from the USA. Usually this was prompted by product introduction delays to Canada. You end up paying GST as it clears customs, and also delivery charges. Unless there is a significant deal, you will end up paying about the same when all is over. I too have heard that US Zaurus are slightly different from the Canadian ones. However, I do not have details of the differences.

Printing? The Zaurus 5700 & 5800 has printer drivers built in for Epson FX-80 & FX-850, LQ Series, IBM Proprinter Series, Canon BJ-10e, HP Laserjet II & III Series. If you buy the Sharp serial cable then you can print out that way. I have a Laserjet 4P that has both a serial and a parallel I/F. The Z prints fine out the serial port to the LJ. If the printers that you have access to, have a serial port, then this is the least expensive way to have direct access to printing. Also, print screen works nicely. Any screen can be dumped to the printer. Another way of printing that I use on occasion is to fax files, using my PCMCIA fax/modem card. You can get low end ones that work for $70. You have to be carefull which one you pick because they don't all work. The dealer can help you with that.

Printing via sending data to a PC and then printing from there? You may have noticed that for documents, the Z supports RTF format, in and out. It works very well. All the word processors support that format. You can send them in ASCII format, but then you lose formatting information. Even the Z's graphic files can be sent to the PC and then you can print from PC Paint etc. Another way of sending data to and fro the PC is the free ZR Link Sharp has. If some how you want more flexibility in transferring data to and fro, then IntelliLink is a good 3rd party program for that.

IRDA? I have also purchased the Sharp IR Parallel Printer module. This works great when hooked up to parallel port printers. It is point and shoot and print; fast & simple. I too see some discussion various places on Internet that Sharp's IRDA doesn't work with all devices. I have no more information on those reported problems. I do know that Z to Z via the infrared port also works well for exchanging with other Z users.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Best Regards, Egbert

Dear Egbert, 1. I have read your December mobilis article. It was a pleasure to read both for its technical content and for your writing style. A future in publishing or authorship perhaps? I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

2. I have not joined the ranks of the Zaurists yet. I have paid close attention to the Nov release of Windows CE to evaluate whether my $$ would be better spent on one of those platforms and to see Sharp's response to this latest development. The upcoming "color Zaurus" is also interesting. I realize that this technology is moving rapidly and the "best choice" would be a different item almost on a monthly basis.

3. Best regards for Xmas & the New Year to you and yours. Fabio G.

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Last modified February 6, 1997