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February 14, 2007

The Travel Companion (HP iPaq rx5900)

There is a lot to like about The Travel Companion. It's both a powerful Pocket PC and a wayfinder. It comes with award-winning Tom Tom navigation software pre-installed for the entire United States and Canada.

It caught my attention right away with its horizontal orientation and the snazzy copper-colored band around half the ferruled perimeter. It cuddles up in your hand just fine like a puppy crawling over the rest of the litter to come home with you.

For connectivity, this Windows Mobile 5 device features built-in WLAN (802.11.b/g), and Bluetooth 2.0, both of which I applaud for fast connectivity. It sports a Samsung SC32442 400 MHz processor with 64 MB SDRAM in the main memory with up to 2 GB flash ROM, and an SD expansion card slot. Measuring 4.74x3.0x6.5 inches, it weights 5.99 ounces with the 1700 mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery installed.

It has no camera, which surprises me, and no InfraRed port. Does anyone really use IR? I like the concept, but I don't think it has really caught on yet among the masses.On the other hand, those 1.3 MPX cameras included with most devices are practically worthless anyway. You are far better off with a real camera with some hunk.

The 3.5 inch transmissive QVGA color screen with LED power saving-mode has protective antiglare coating, which is a real plus in the GPS mode.

Buttons on the front include a nine-way navigation switch, Start Menu, and an OK function. The nine-way button has different functions in Windows and navigation modes.

Moving up to the top, we find a recessed reset button, a record button, and the SD card slot. On the left side reside the mini-USB charging/synchronization port for which I am always grateful so that I don't have to pack even more cables and chargers on a trip. In my opinion, every portable device should have a mini-USB connector and no excuses. Above that is a MMCX GPS antenna connector, but note that there is already a built-in antenna onboard that works fine for most purposes. Below the USB port is a 3.5 mm audio jack, which I also appreciate as opposed to those pesky 2.5 mm jacks that nothing fits and you already end up having to use an adapter. To the far right, you can see the top of the stylus nestled in its silo waiting for a red button launch.

On the right side, there is an useful collection of controls. Starting at the bottom is the power switch. Above that are four horizontal chrome bars. The first changes the orientation of the screen. The next invokes Window Media Player. The third puts you into navigation mode. The fourth takes you to a handy launcher screen for the following functions: Today screen, Travel Assistant, Entertainment, Internet, and Navigation. A more useful launcher would also have Programs and Settings.

The backside contains the battery door and speaker. There are no controls on the rolled bottom side of the unit.

In the box, we find the battery, an AC adapter, Mini-USB sync cable, car charger, car holder and windwhiled mount, a nice, padded, black leather slip case, printed manual, and CD with startup programs with as ActiveSync.

The suction cup window mount is industrial strength with handy adjusting knobs. I lament, however that the box does not contain a cradle for use on your desk.

Installed software includes: Word, Excel, Outlook, Calculator, File Explorer, Internet Explorer, Notes, PhotoSmart Mobile, Pocket MSN, PowerPoint Mobile, QuickLaunch, Tasks, WorldMate.

For a travel-oriented machine, WorldMate makes a nice companion because it is as if you had a travel agent in the palm of your hand. It's a world time keeper, map, appointment reconciler, weather bureau, packing list, currency and everything else converter. It will even give you flight schedules and flight delays in the advanced edition, which includes a subscription to the OAG. The version that comes with the Travel Companion appears to be a light version that does not contain all the features of the full-fledged one.

Of course, the on-board navigation aspect of this device is its main attraction. Award winning Tom Tom software bundle enhances its desirability. It's too bad that this device is not also a phone because then you could monitor traffic conditions over the Internet and advice users and reroute accordingly. You would also have the possibility of allowing friends, family, and associates to track your progress on a trip over the Internet.

It is not the purpose of this article to review the Tom Tom software. Suffice it to say that it performs well and offers all the conventions expected of navigation software such as turn by turn routing with voice and graphic prompts. The voice, by the way, is one of the best I've and not a tinny, fake computer sounding rendering. It has a comprehesive database of POIs and allows you to pick waypoints in a variety of ways and specify routing preferences.

I've evaluated many navigation packages for handhelds, and it's such a relief to have a device with all the maps pre-installed, which eliminates the headache of having to create trip segments and port them over to the device continually because of memory constraints.

What a pleasure to plunk the Travel Companion in its mount on the dashboard, turn it on, and just start driving as the device quicky establishes a link with the satellites.

The Travel Companion is a productivity tool as well on the road with all the PIM and computing functionality. Combine it with HP's new portable folding Bluetooth keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse, and you can leave your laptop home.

It's also an awesome entertainment center. You can listen to your favorite MP3s and audiobooks. You can download and watch movies on it. Or install Slingbox and watch live or recorded TV from you home remotely anywhere in the world over the Internet.


If you want a nice Pocket PC with GPS and can live without phone functionality and a camera as part of the bundle, then this is definitely a device worthy of your serious consideration.

On the pricey side, the suggested retail price is $569 after a $30 rebate. Click here to see the iPAQ Travel Companion

Posted by conradb212 at 12:46 AM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2007

Sixth CES Favorite: ago7 UMPC

I think maybe I saved my favorite until last. It's the ago7 UMPC. UMPC stands for Ultra Mobile Personal Computer, which has only recently been unleashed on the market. Code named Origami by Microsoft, the units were supposed to cost about $500 each but were three times that amount when they finally hit the market. What attracted my attention to the ago7 is that is retails for only $799, which is way below the competition.

What you get is a seven-inch touch sensitive screen and a Windows Tablet PC operating system that weighs under two pounds. It's a perfect solution for people who need a small computer but don't want to lug a laptop and need more computing power than a Pocket PC affords. This is a fully functional Windows computer, and you can do anything on it that you can do on your desktop or laptop. It sports 512 MB of RAM and a 40 GB hard drive with 1 GHz processor. It's available in white and black.

It comes with a stand, a stylus, a rollup USB keyboard, and a stereo earplug/microphone set. It has two USB ports but no SD slot, which is unfortunate in my opinion.

I do not think this device will necessarily replace the Pocket PC, but it certainly is a viable alternative to lugging a clunky laptop, especially at this highly competitive price.

Check it out at "" Keep tuned for a full review.

Posted by conradb212 at 06:55 PM | Comments (0)

Fifth CES Favorite: Jabra Bluetooth devices

MP3 players do not come equipped with Bluetooth for your listening pleasure with wireless headphones. To my further disgruntlement, many PDAs are not equipped with the proper Bluetooth codecs for wireless stereo music, which renders them less than perfect music players. But, don't despair. It seems Jabra has heard my call of desperation and come to the rescue like a Saint Bernard in a blizzard.

Jabra makes a nice set of wireless Bluetooth headphones (BT620s) that fit comfortably over your ear. The problem is for some Smartphone and PDA phone toters that while the headphones hook up via Bluetooth, they only work for phone calls, not music. Clever Jabra has come up with a solution, however. The A120s is a nifty, little Bluetooth stereo music adapter. Of course it comes with the standard 3.5 jack, and you will need a 2.5 adapter to use it with a Treo. Why Palm uses the non-standard, smaller jack is a mystery to me. Anyway, with that accommodation, you can now listen to your tunes via Bluetooth on your Treo in stereo. When there is an incoming call, the music automatically stops so that you can talk on the phone through the built-in microphone--if you have paired the phone with the headphones. Tap the headphones, and the music starts again. You can also navigate through your music and adjust the volume with buttons on the headphones.

If you just want to talk on your Treo handsfree, you may wish to consider the super small and light Jabra JX10 Bluetooth headset.

You can wear it on either ear with or without the ear clip. You can just plug this featherweight (less than 1/3 ounce) right into your ear if you wish. It comes with a charging cradle and costs about $85. That's a bit pricey, but it has no peer for stylish design, sound quality, and ear comfort. If you want something a little more economical, Jabra offers other Bluetooth headsets (BT125 and BT160) for as little as $39.95.

Check out these products and more at

Posted by conradb212 at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

Fourth CES Favorite: SanDisk Sansa Connect

One of the problems with MP3 players is that they need to be tethered to a computer to receive content; you can't deliver it on the fly over the air. Now you can with the introduction of the Sansa Connect, which will be available in March, and I'll tell you more about it then. The prototype model at CES was a big hit and even garnered a coveted C/NET Best of CES 2007 award.

The Connect comes with 4 GB of built-in storage, enough for about 1000 tunes. It also has a micro-SD slot for infinite expansion. Its sleek, shiny black case measures 2.05x3.58x0.63 inches, sports a 2.2-inch screen, and will cost $249.

What makes the Connect so special is its fast 802.11g wireless technology that enables it to connect to the Internet at any hotspot to receive data. Now you can download new tunes and listen to Internet radio live, which is a huge step forward in the MP3 world.

In some ways, the unit is a step backwards, however. First, it has a goofy antenna sticking up on the top left that makes it look like a Treo 700 series cousin. It does not have video playback capability, which most other Sansa models feature--what a waste of that nice color screen. It does not have an FM radio tuner either. I suppose that is because you can listen to Internet radio. But, you have to be connected to do that, and you can listen to FM radio anywhere, anytime. I wonder why it only comes with 4 GB. Of yeah, SanDisk is in the business of selling memory cards. Do you suppose that has something to do with it?

One of my chief complaints for all MP3 players including iPods is that they do not have Bluetooth capability, and you have to go around with dangling wires hanging out of your ears. What a nuisance. However, I did discover one MP3 player that will be available in a couple of months. Why haven't other developers figured out this no-brainer feature? I'll let you know about this one in a month or so.

Posted by conradb212 at 06:49 PM | Comments (0)

Third CES Favorite: Treo 750 Smart Device

It is pretty clear that the U.S. market is usually the last to receive innovative telephony products because of all the hoops the FCC and telcos make developers jump through. For instance, I saw some killer devices from HTC that would make anyone drool. However, they are all waiting for telco approval. I wondered when the Palm 750 would be available in this country after its release in Europe first. Well, it's finally here, and it’s about time!

The new Palm 750 is almost identical to the 700w and wx in appearance, except that it has lost that ugly antenna and it has some minor keypad changes. The big difference is that it is Palm’\'s first GSM quad band device, which makes it usable pretty much anywhere in the world.

It still has that silly connector at the bottom of the unit that requires a separate cable for USB sync and another cable for charging. Why not combine the two functions with the use of a standard mini-USB connector as most other machines have these days? This is really a non-issue when virtually all of the machines made by HTC already have such a setup in place. HTC makes the Palm 750 and could have easily added a mini USB connector. Obviously, for some inexplicable reason, Palm didn't want to change its outmoded system.

Perhaps my biggest disappointments are that the screen is still just 240 x 240 pixels, and there is no built-in Wi-Fi. It's almost incomprehensible to me that any Pocket PC would enter the market place without Wi-Fi. It seems obvious that this was probably beyond Palm’s control and a dictate of a greedy telco that wants you to use their pokey network and charge you for it instead of fast, free Wi-Fi. Bah!

Not only does it not have built-in Wi-Fi, it has switched from an SD card slot to a mini-SD card slot, which makes it impossible at this time to use a Wi-Fi card. You will be stuck with Cingular's EDGE network for surfing the Web, which is slower than EVDO used by the 700w ad700wx. At least, you can insert an SD Wi-Fi in the 700s.

The new 750 still uses the 1.3 MPX camera when most of the new Pocket PCs are going to 2.0 and 3.0 MPX.

Here's some good news: the Bluetooth codecs have been upgraded so that you can listen to stereo sound and use wireless Bluetooth headphones. The Samsung 300 MHz processor is a bit slower though.

Anyway, it's a nice unit, and I will give it a complete review when I get my hands on one next week. I am amused that Palm and Cingular are not touting the 750 as a Smartphone because it's not a Smartphone, it's a Pocket PC. Now they are calling it a Smart Device, which makes a lot more sense and avoids confusion as users will no longer try in vain to use Smartphone software on a Pocket PC.

Incidentally, you may be interested to know that I noticed more Palm packers than any other type of phone at CES. I couldn't tell you if they were Palm OS or WM5 because they were usually glued to the owner's ear or ensconced in a case. But, I suspect that the majority were WM5 because of the dominant Microsoft presence at CES.

Look for my full review of the Treo 750 in the April issue of Smartphone & Pocket PC magazine.

Posted by conradb212 at 06:48 PM | Comments (0)

Second CES Favorite: Slingbox

I have to say that my favorite at the Sands Convention Hall was Sling Media's impressive exhibit. For a relatively small company, all the employees really pulled together to put on a great show complete with all their partners including Palm.

I had a nice meeting with Blake Krikorian the CEO and founder of SlingMedia. Krikorian had some real whammies to release at CES. For instance, one new product expected to be ready in the second quarter of 2007 is Clip + Sling, which will enable users to take snippets from a TV show to share with friends. CBS is joining forces with Sling Media to form a YouTube type community using this product.

Sling Media also announced SlingCatcher and SlingProjector. These applications will enable users to project Web content or any content from a computer onto a TV screen, which is the reverse of Slingbox. You don't even need a computer to stream Internet content to a TV screen with SlingProjector. Think of the possibilities. HP is going to pre-install SlingPlayer on its consumer notebooks.

Kirkorian also announced at CES that SlingPlayer and Slingbox have been enhanced and optimized to work seamlessly with the new Microsoft Vista operating system and will take advantage of the new system’s powerful video features.

Perhaps the most momentous announcement from Sling Media was that Slingbox is now available for Palm OS Treos. Previously, Slingbox only worked on Windows Mobile devices. So, that should make you Palmsters out there happy campers, and I recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity.

Sling Media even managed to score an Emmy award during CES for outstanding achievement in advanced media technology for the creation of non-traditional programs or platforms. Clearly, this innovative company has lots to offer and is really going places.

For more information on Slingbox, please read my recent review:

Posted by conradb212 at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

First CES Favorite: Digital Pen

At CES, the entire Hilton Convention Center is consumed by small booths in blocks organized by countries, mostly Asian. Frankly, I found this area a little tedious. All the exhibitors are hopeful that a WalMart or some other big box buyer will stop by and place an order for a million or so units. The endless offerings of MP3 players, headsets and headphones, cables, HDTV screens, and GPS units begin to blur into a numbing sameness.

However, occasionally something new jumps out and grabs you. For instance, WaaWoo offered one of my favorites last year, the WOW MousePen ( has an exciting, new item that blew me away. It's my first CES Favorite.

What if I told you that this digital pen would allow you to write or draw on any surface and that all your strokes were recorded digitally? The recorder is a USB memory stick that does not have to be connected to a computer to record. When you slip it into a USB port, your scribblings will appear on the monitor. You can even convert your writing to text. You can also use the flash memory stick to store any kind of data. This device is slick, compact, and mind bogglingly adaptable to an endless variety of applications. The suggested retail price will be about $100. Be on the lookout for this beauty when it hits the retail market. Meanwhile, just imagine how you might use such an ingenious device.

At the Sands Hotel Convention Center a mile or so south of the main venue, there is another huge space for the overflow. Many of the exhibitors were similar to those at the Hilton--small Asian electronics companies. However, I found several innovative offerings here and a greater variety of products including games, furniture, household appliances such as robotic vacuum cleaners, and a variety of other robots.

Posted by conradb212 at 06:43 PM | Comments (0)

Back from CES

It was a hectic week at CES with teaming hordes from all over the planet surging through the exhibit halls like lemmings without GPS. In case you’ve never attended, this amazing extravaganza, it just about takes over the entire town occupying every square inch of the giant Las Vegas Convention Center and all of its North, Central, and South halls with major players such as Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and more, all strutting their stuff, some with monster exhibits and stage shows, viewing booths, and private meeting rooms.

If any single company dominated the show, it had to be Microsoft with a major presence inside and out touting its products, especially the imminent release of the new Vista operating system and Office companion suite. They even had tents outside the convention center for the overflow.

The North Hall is more or less devoted to automotive technology featuring highly customized vehicles completely filled with speaker systems, GPS, and video screens. I swear, some of those cars could propel themselves with the sound blasting out of them—a possible solution to the energy crisis, but I don’t know how we would contend with the noise pollution. I still have a headache from the penetrating sounds pervading that venue.

Moving farther north, next door, the entire Hilton Convention Center is consumed by small booths in blocks organized by countries, mostly Asian. Frankly, I found this area a little tedious. All the exhibitors are hopeful that a WalMart or some other big box buyer will stop by and place an order for a million or so units. The endless offerings of MP3 players, headsets and headphones, cables, HDTV screens, and GPS units begin to blur into a numbing sameness.

I must say that, as a handheld enthusiast, I was disappointed in the paucity of new offerings at CES. Of course, Palm announced the release of the Treo 750. Samsung dominated the show with giant posters everywhere, on buildings, on buses, on taxis, and throughout the exhibit halls. Both are great units, and I am testing them now for review.

Then too, i-mate announced that it would now market its unlocked PDAL and JAQ3 Windows 5.0 devices in the US. Both are small and handy GSM quad-band Pocket PC phone editions. I expect to have these units for a full review soon too.

My spirits lifted, however, on my last day when I attended a private meeting with HTC to review their current models of Pocket PCs and Smartphones. At this meeting the publicist unveiled four new units that took my breath away. With these exciting, new units on the horizon, things do not look quite so bleak for the introduction of new product.

A mile south of the Las Vegas Convention Center the Sands Convention is also almost entirely consumed by CES with one exception: The Adult Entertainment Industry Convention. That show certainly attracted a different audience with its huge posters and blatant adult content.

Actually, the adult entertainment industry has always been on the cutting edge of digital technology to drive the delivery of its products. As I understand it, they were among the first to figure out how to do online bankcard transactions and how to deliver video content online. Now it seems they are promoting downloads paid for by the minute from which you can select your favorite parts, without having to bother with any foreplay, or whatever pushes your buttons. Of course this content will stream to PDAs and cell phones as well as part of a greater distribution system.

As an archaeologist, I appreciated Qualcomm's creative contribution with the construction of an archeological site complete with partially exposed artifacts in the deposit. Staff decked out as archaeologists discussed the evolution of digital technology with visitors. A treasure map directed visitors from the outmoded technology in the midden to the contemporary iterations in other parts of the massive exhibit. They could have used some pointers from a real archaeologist, however, but it was fun and creative.

If there were any unifying theme to the show, it was the concept that you could have all of your media wherever and whenever you want on integrated devices and wireless distribution systems. I have selected six of my favorite items from CES to share with you, which will follow in subsequent posts. I hope you will not be disappointed at the lack of porn content, however.

Posted by conradb212 at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)