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Compaq's iPAQ is going to be the gadget to have in 2001. But this PDA isn't just for gadget fans - most people will find it useful and easy to use.
In the past PDAs have never done quite enough to make them great value for money. But now the market has evolved. The iPAQ has all the features we've been waiting for. More computing power than you could get for several thousand pounds on a desktop machine a couple of years ago; but it costs under half a grand and you can fit it in your pocket. In addition it comes with mini versions of the familiar Microsoft Office software, plays music and can record voice messages.
Compaq have revolutionised palm computing with a little help from Microsoft's excellent Windows CE operating system. There are several other CE machines available, but non are quite as practical, or as cool as the iPAQ. In particular the wonderful clear screen (Colour on the 3600 series) and the nice metallic finish of the iPAQ make it a pleasure to use, and the neat pop up stylus holder adds that little finishing touch.
The sync facilities are easy to use if you're a Office user, so you can use it in conjunction with your desktop machine - what more can you ask for. Setting up the sync with the cradle should be easy for most non-technical Office users, but iPAQ owners might have more problems getting the infra red link to work with either their PCs or their phones.
My iPAQ is a 3630 and I don't currently have any expansion jackets or cards. I don't find the 32MB of memory to be a constraint (yet). I hope that in the longer term the memory limitation will simply encourage me to delete Apps and Data that I no longer require. This should be easy for users who also have a conventional PC as the iPAQ can simply be used as temporary storage for the data they need to have with them. Don't expect to store loads of MP3 music unless you're prepared to buy some expansion cards. Games, such as Doom, can also take up a lot of space.
The iPAQ comes with a couple of extra software packages. ListPro is my favourite at the moment - I always thought that the features of office were less than suited to keeping lists - project lists, to do lists, shopping lists and the like. ListPro addresses this wonderfully. I also like the AvantGo web caching which users of other CE devices can download for free. Microsoft's Transcriber is also first class - I defy anyone not to be amazed at the handwriting that it can recognise!
A few warnings -
Microsoft reader looks promising - I even bought some electronic books to read on holiday, but it appears that the currently available version of Microsoft Reader for CE won't support the encryption on purchased books. Version 1.5 which is currently available for Windows 98 etc, will eventually be released and this can read encrypted books.
I'd hoped to be able to use my iPAQ on the bus to work and I can just about do so if I'm reading or if I'm playing a game, but I find that handwriting is too tricky when you're not stationary.
Also note that in the UK it's now supplied with a serial cable instead of the more practical (for most users) USB connection - presumably to accommodate the many NT4 machines that can't support USB devices.
Finally, I'd hoped to sync the Microsoft Money on my iPAQ with the Money 2000 on my PC - a feature that I've seen mention of in the specifications for the iPAQ and which I think is fundamentally important if you're already a Money user and you want to keep track on the iPAQ. Well forget it because it only works if you have the $ version of Money - I guess there will be a solution to this, but I've not yet found it.
As a former Palm Pilot user, I can say that I'm very happy with iPAQ and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to get organised.