A beginner's guide to the latest generation of Windows CE devices

For years, Microsoft has tried to break into the PDA market by developing software that runs on PDAs. In the mid-1990s, Redmond introduced the small-footprint, portable, embedded Windows CE OS for use in small, clamshell-cased PDAs with keyboards called handheld PCs (H/PCs). However, in a market already dominated by players such as 3Com, consumer response was underwhelming. The OS went through several revisions, and the devices evolved as well, gaining features but remaining a minor part of the PDA market.

About 2 years later, Microsoft introduced a version of Windows CE aimed at shirt-pocket—sized devices, initially called palm-sized PCs. Consumers saw a larger, heavier, more expensive alternative to Palm's Pilot and stayed away in droves. Still, Microsoft and its hardware partners kept trying, adding bright color displays, faster processors, and more memory while increasing battery life. The result was the Pocket PC.

Two vendors—Casio and Compaq—broke from the pack, offering unique features that began to redefine the category. Casio introduced a 16-bit-per-pixel screen capable of displaying digital images and even video; Compaq added a 206MHz Intel StrongARM processor and put the OS in flash memory to make the device field-upgradable. Last year, Microsoft made these features standard in the OS and added new connectivity options, including built-in network drivers, VPN support, and even a Windows Terminal Services client. The result, Pocket PC 2002 is the most powerful class of shirt-pocket PDA ever offered for personal or business use.

In general, Pocket PC 2002 devices fall into one of two categories: general business devices and rugged industrial models. Devices in the first category, from Audiovox, Casio, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Toshiba, are shirt-pocket size—typically about 5" long, 3" wide, and a bit more than 0.5" deep—and weigh about 6 ounces. These units have bright, transreflective color LCDs that rival notebook PC screens in clarity (the screens actually are easier to see outdoors in direct sunlight than notebook PCs' screens) but offer a relatively low display resolution of 320 x 240 pixels.

The second group of devices, which Intermec Technologies and Symbol Technologies make, are very different. They're larger—from 7" to 8.4" long, more than 3" wide, and at least 1" deep—and heavier, weighing from 10 ounces to 16 ounces. That extra size and weight buys you a device that, depending on the model, might include internal expansion slots (e.g., for wireless NICs), an integrated barcode scanner, and a physical numeric keypad on the front panel.

Whereas earlier Pocket PCs used a StrongARM, MIPS Technologies R4x00, or Hitachi SH-3 CPU, all Pocket PC 2002 devices use a processor from Intel's StrongARM family (all the current models run at 206MHz). Pocket PC 2002 devices are also field-upgradable: The OS and built-in applications reside in flash memory. Again, this feature contrasts with earlier models, many of which either required physically replacing the ROM to upgrade the device or weren't upgradable at all.

All Pocket PCs use a touch screen and stylus to input text through an onscreen keyboard or handwriting-recognition software. Pocket PC 2002 devices have dispensed with Communication Intelligence Corporation's (CIC's) Jot recognizer, which Microsoft licensed for earlier PDAs, but include two other character recognizers: Block Recognizer, which emulates the Grafitti system that Palm PDAs made popular, and Microsoft Transcriber, which Microsoft licensed from the developer of the recognizer that Apple Computer used on its Newton PDA. Transcriber can recognize neatly written script as well as printed characters.

Users also use the stylus to select from menus and press buttons. Stylus use required modifications to the typical Windows UI conventions—for example, instead of right-clicking to bring up a context-sensitive menu, users tap and hold the stylus on the display. Microsoft radically simplified the Windows UI for early Pocket PCs and has continued that process with Pocket PC 2002 devices, although operations still typically require more stylus taps than Palm's environment does.

Hardware buttons on the device's front panel and sides complement the touch screen. The buttons typically include an on-off switch, as many as four programmable application buttons, and some form of up-down control with which users can select menu items and scroll through lists. Casio, HP, and Compaq provide a front-panel control, similar to that on an alphanumeric pager, for up-down—left-right cursor movement. Game software is the primary user of this control. A Record button activates the built-in voice-recording application, which uses a built-in microphone. Pocket PCs also have a built-in speaker. For the best sound, you can plug stereo headphones into the built-in headphone jack.

You can use a Pocket PC's infrared (IR) port for data synchronization with an IR-equipped PC or to "beam" data to other PDA users. In early models, IR data transfer worked only between devices running Windows CE, unless you used third-party software. However, Pocket PC 2002 devices can exchange data with Palm OS—based PDAs. Pocket PC 2002 devices include one or two LEDs that indicate battery charging or alert the user when a notification or system message appears.

All Pocket PCs have a connector on the base of the unit. In early models, the connector was a serial port; in Pocket PC 2002 devices, it can also function as a USB port. Unfortunately, this connector isn't based on a common standard, and vendors persist in using proprietary—and incompatible—connector designs. Another connector lets you attach an AC adaptor to charge the device's built-in battery—typically a lithium-ion or lithium-polymer unit. Vendors quote a battery life ranging from 8 hours to 14 hours per charge. In practice, because most Pocket PC use is intermittent, you can expect to operate a device for a full day on one charge. Microsoft's specifications require all Pocket PC 2002 devices to retain their memory state for at least 72 hours after low-battery shutdown and—on devices that allow battery removal—at least 30 minutes after the main battery is removed.

Typically, Pocket PCs recharge the battery while sitting in a sync cradle that attaches to the proprietary connector on the unit's base. The cradle connects to a USB port on the user's PC (early models attached to a serial port). A CD-ROM that contains Microsoft ActiveSync 3.5 and Outlook 2002 accompanies all Pocket PC 2002 devices. The devices are also compatible with Outlook 2000 and Outlook 98. When you place the device in the cradle, synchronization occurs automatically. By default, the synchronization software synchronizes the user's Outlook address book, appointments, and tasks. You can also configure the software to synchronize selected email folders and files. Synchronizing with other desktop personal information manager (PIM) or email software requires one of several third-party add-ons, most commonly Pumatech's Intellisync.

Organizations that have both Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Mobile Information Server 2002 can configure ActiveSync to provide server-based synchronization for Pocket PC 2002 devices without using the sync cradle—the device to be synced requires only a live network connection (wired or wireless). Third-party solutions can provide server-based synchronization between earlier Pocket PCs and either Exchange or Lotus Notes.

All Pocket PC 2002 devices are expandable. Most have a built-in CompactFlash (CF) slot. Some also have a smaller Secure Digital (SD) slot, and several have adapters that support a PC Card slot. Flash memory is available in both the CF and SD formats; various wired and wireless modems and network adapters are available in the CF and PC Card formats. Intermec and Symbol devices have internal PC Card slots that aren't end-user accessible; these slots typically hold wireless modems or factory-installed NICs.

The first time you turn on a Pocket PC, it goes through a brief screen-alignment procedure and displays online Help for new users. The subsequent default screen, called Today, shows the date and time, messages, tasks, and upcoming appointments. Users can configure the Today screen to use one of several predefined themes or a transparent background image. Users can also decide which items are displayed and in what order. To provide security, users can enable either a four-digit PIN code or a long alphanumeric password that must be entered on startup.

Pocket PCs come with built-in software—including Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Inbox—collectively known as Pocket Outlook. As I mentioned earlier, these applications can synchronize with Outlook (but not Outlook Express) on the user's desktop or, using additional software, with an Exchange server or third-party PIM. Users can determine which items are synchronized in each application and how the applications are displayed. Unlike Inbox on early Pocket PCs, the Pocket PC 2002 version of Inbox lets users specify which folders are synchronized.

The Notes application lets users input information by drawing (aka inking) or writing on the screen with the stylus. Notes also works in conjunction with the microphone to record voice notes, which users can attach to email messages. Users can use Pocket Word and Pocket Excel (together called Pocket Office) to read Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel files received as email attachments. Pocket Word and Pocket Excel have considerably fewer features than their PC counterparts—lacking, for example, macro capabilities—but they provide basic capabilities and are quite sufficient to view files.

Pocket PC 2002 devices include a Web browser derived from Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0 that can browse HTML and Wireless Markup Language (WML) content. To try to compensate for the display's small size, the browser includes user-selectable text size and a fit-to-screen view option that scales graphics and moves text as necessary to cram a whole page onto the display. Nonetheless, using a Pocket PC to browse Web pages designed for PC displays can be frustrating.

A version of MSN Messenger, a VPN client compatible with Microsoft's PPTP, and a Terminal Services client come on Pocket PC 2002 devices. A file explorer lets users browse network shares. The devices have built-in drivers for NE2000-compatible NICs; some vendors supply additional drivers as well.

Some entertainment applications are included either in the device's ROM or on the companion CD-ROM. The two most significant are Windows Media Player (WMP) 8 for Pocket PC and Microsoft Reader 2.0. WMP 8 can play digital audio through either the built-in speaker or stereo headphones. Reader, an e-book viewer, introduces the proprietary ClearType technology, which smoothes screen fonts and dramatically improves the readability of text on the small Pocket PC display. Users can easily enable ClearType for use with all other Pocket PC applications, such as Word and Excel. Pocket PCs also come with a version of Solitaire.

Many vendors add third-party applications. One of the most popular of these is LandWare's OmniSolve, which emulates a programmable calculator. OmniSolve is quite a bit more capable than the basic four-function calculator that Microsoft provides by default.

The Products
Pocket PC 2002 devices are available in the United States from Casio, Compaq, HP, Toshiba, Audiovox, Intermec, and Symbol. Table 1 summarizes the basic features of the available devices.

E-200 Cassiopeia Pocket PC 2002. Casio offers a full line of PDAs. The low-end models, although based on Windows CE, aren't Pocket PCs. However, Casio's E-200 Cassiopeia Pocket PC 2002, at the high end of the line, is. In addition to the standard Pocket PC 2002 features, this device offers both Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card (SD/MMC) and CF slots, as well as an add-on adapter for PC Cards that includes an additional battery, useful for power-hungry PC Card devices. Casio offers a variety of CF and PC Card wireless modems, as well as a cable for connecting the E-200 to a cell phone. The E-200 can also function as a host for USB devices such as external keyboards, printers, CD-ROMs, mouse devices, and video projectors.

E-200 Cassiopeia Pocket PC 2002
Contact: Casio * 973-361-5400 or 800-836-8580
Web: http://www.casio.com
Price: $599>

iPAQ Pocket PC H3700 Series and iPAQ Pocket PC H3800 Series. Compaq's original iPAQ was easily the most popular of the original Pocket PCs, pioneering features—including use of the StrongARM processor and storing the OS in flash memory—that are now standard. The iPAQ Pocket PC H3700 Series was the high-end model of the original iPAQ line and remains available with Pocket PC 2002 software in ROM. The new iPAQ Pocket PC H3800 Series, which should be shipping by the time you read this, can display more colors than the H3700 can and includes built-in SD and CF expansion slots. Like the H3700, the H3800 can accept PC Card devices with an adapter. You can also add integrated Bluetooth proximity networking to the H3800. This device includes file storage, backup/restore, self-test, and auto-run software. Bundled third-party software includes voice-command software licensed from IBM, file-encryption software from F-Secure, iPresentation Mobile PowerPoint conversion software from Presenter, Insignia Solutions' Jeode Embedded Virtual Machine, Sega virtual game gear, and Jasc Software's Quick View Plus file-viewing software.

iPAQ Pocket PC H3700 Series and iPAQ Pocket PC H3800 Series
Contact: Compaq * 281-518-1442 or 800-345-1518
Web: http://www.compaq.com/handhelds
Price: $499 (H3700); $599 (H3800)

HP Jornada 565 and HP Jornada 568. The HP Jornada 565 and HP Jornada 568 differ only in the amount of built-in RAM they have (32MB and 64MB, respectively). These devices offer the longest advertised battery life of any current Pocket PCs—about 14 hours—and are the only Pocket PC 2002 devices that still use a separate replaceable coin cell backup battery. HP bundles a variety of add-on software with both models, including OmniSolve, Developer One's CodeWallet Pro, Certicom's movianVPN (which supports non-Microsoft VPN servers), and the Java-compatible HP Chai and HP MicroChai applications.

HP Jornada 565 and HP Jornada 568
Contact: Hewlett-Packard * 208-323-2551 or 800-752-0900
Web: http://www.hp.com/jornada
Price: $599 (Jornada 565); $649 (Jornada 568)

Pocket PC e570 and Maestro Pocket PC. The Toshiba Pocket PC e570 offers both SD and CF slots. Toshiba sells add-on memory in the SD format and an 802.11b wireless Ethernet card in CF format and plans to offer a Bluetooth card in SD format. Audiovox sells a Relabeled variant of the same device with less memory under the name Maestro Pocket PC, which is bundled with a cell phone and cable and sold through Verizon Wireless stores.

Toshiba Pocket PC e570
Contact: Toshiba * 949-583-3000 or 800-867-4422
Web: http://www.pda.toshiba.com
Price: $599 (Jornada 565); $649 (Jornada 568)
Maestro Pocket PC
Contact: Audiovox * 631-233-3300 or 800-229-1235
Web: http://www.audiovox.com
Price: Contact vendor

Intermec 700 Series. The Intermec 700 Series is significantly larger and heavier than most Pocket PCs. The device provides a grayscale display and has a physical numeric keypad on the front panel. The vendor can configure the internal PC Card slot with an 802.11b wireless Ethernet Card (Intermec expects to offer several WAN options and Bluetooth support soon). The 700 Series can operate at temperatures from —20 to +60 degrees Celsius and can withstand a 4' drop onto a hard surface. Available accessories include barcode scanners, vehicle mounts, and a multidevice docking station. Intermec also offers a suite of management tools for remote device installation and configuration and sells complete solutions combining hardware and software for a variety of industrial applications.

Intermec 700 Series
Contact: Intermec Technologies * 425-348-2726 or 800-934-3163
Web: http://www.intermec.com
Price: Contact vendor

PPT 2800 Series Portable Pen Terminal and PDT 8100 Series Portable Data Terminal. Symbol offers two Pocket PC 2002 devices, each very different from conventional PDAs. The PPT 2800 Series Portable Pen Terminal has a magnetic card stripe reader and 12 front-panel buttons and can be equipped with a laser barcode scanner. The larger PDT 8100 Series Portable Data Terminal has a numeric keypad. Both have internal PC Card slots, which are typically devoted to wireless NICs. Both devices are sealed to IP54 standards and can survive multiple 4' drops onto hard surfaces. Symbol, which is a leader in wireless LAN/WAN development, offers a wide range of peripherals, accessories, and services for enterprise customers.

PPT 2800 Series Portable Pen Terminal and PDT 8100 Series Portable Data Terminal
Contact: Symbol Technologies * 631-738-5200 or 800-722-6234
Web: http://www.symbol.com
Price: Contact vendor

Coming Attractions
Microsoft continues to improve the Pocket PC. For example, Microsoft is working to develop Pocket PCs with wireless-data and cell phone functionality (this effort is different from the company's Stinger project, which aims to develop high-end cell phones that will offer PDA functions). In the near future, more vendors, including Acer, Fujitsu, and NEC, will sell Pocket PC 2002 devices.

For the enterprise user, the most glaring omission in the current offering of Pocket PC 2002 devices is the absence of central administration and management tools. Microsoft and most Pocket PC vendors have ignored this shortcoming (Intermec and Symbol, which sell industrial models to large organizations, are notable exceptions). Rumor has it that Microsoft's new version of Systems Management Server (SMS) will address this omission when the company releases it later this year. In the meantime, Pocket PC 2002 devices, although not perfect, offer a tremendous amount of power in a shirt-pocket—sized package.