Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Presents For Self

I've been disconnected from the blogosphere for a few days. It is a refreshing switch to be elsewhere in the multi-verse that constitutes our global information continuum. Apart from work and some overdue reading, including the new Michael Crichton, which shall be reviewed herein soon, I've been salivating over the prospect, and now the reality of my new e-toy - a spanking new Dell Axim X50 PDA.

While I have owned a Palm PDA before, I've been considering a Windows-based Portable PC (PPC) for a while, mainly to take advantage of the compatibility of programs I use all the time. My shortlist included the Dell Axim X30 line, as well as the HP iPaq PDAs. The recent models of the iPaq somehow do not quite have the elegance of older models.

The new line of Dell Axim X50 PPCs is designed by the designers of the old iPaqs. Their influence is clear in the sleek styling and decor. Most importantly, the price point is a couple of hundred dollars below the iPaqs, even at list prices. Couple this with the Dell coupons that abound, and this is a sweet deal indeed.

The X50 comes in three models. The entry level device is slower and does not come with wifi support built in. It also has half the ROM of the other models. The mid-level model, the X50 Mid, as it is known, runs at 520 MHz, supports both Bluetooth and wifi, and has 128 MB ROM & 64 MB RAM, besides both CompactFlash & Secure Digital expansion slots, enabling enhancements like GPS, microdrives and cameras. The screen is the traditional color QVGA screen, with quite bright and clear images and text. The high-end model, the X50V, sports the first VGA screen (640x480) in a PPC, as well as an Intel Marathon Graphics Accelerator for powerful multimedia. All models come with Windows Media Player 10.

I chose the mid-level device for two reasons - battery life and compatibility of older programs with the new VGA screen. The standard battery is 1100mAh and tests have shown that it does not last more than 3 hours on the Axim X50V with video et al. The X50 Mid is relatively better, and one can get about 5 hours from the charge. Additionally, since Windows Mobile 2003 uses pixel doubling to draw the screen contents on the VGA device, many older applications appear distorted if they were not designed for this detail.

I've transferred quite a few books for easy reading on the commute - currently all in the Microsoft Reader format. The fonts are clear and crisp. Windows Media Player 10's Sync List feature enables me to set up songs on my PC and sync them to the device easily. A little hacking has enabled me to specify my CompactFlash card as the location for all my files, rather than main memory.

The wifi was easy enough to set up, once I figured out a few quirks of the Funk Odyssey client provided. Streaming music and video plays well, not as clear as the VGA model, though.

Task management and writing is also very easy, particularly because of a new feature in handwriting recognition on Windows Mobile 2003, called the Transcriber that allows you to scrawl entire phrases and sentences on the screen with the stylus, and then interprets them to text, reasonably accurately, given my cursive skills.

I've also found a great forum for Axim owners, aximsite, that is choc-a-bloc with information, FAQs and discussions. I'm also realising how few sites think about pda-friendliness - one that does is instapundit. The Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) included with the Axim X50 shows that Microsoft can get things right if they want to - this version offers three display modes - the standard, landscape and a one-column mode which alleviates horizontal scrolling.

Update: People note that the first PDA to have a VGA display was the Sharp SL-C700, introduced in Nov 2002. Also, a software program, betaPlayer allows playing of movies using the 2700g graphics processor and not the CPU which allows 4+ hours of VGA movie playback.

Pictures coming...

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader