Over the past 14 weeks, we have explored how to access the Internet and accomplishing many useful tasks using your home PC. This is all very well, but should you wish to work on the move, you are restricted to just a few options: First off, laptop computers. These are reducing in size almost daily, they allow you to perfectly emulate your home PC, unfortunately their battery life is usually too short for long journeys and they still weigh in at around 2½ kilos. The second option is a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), until recently these have been quite primitive and related very little to the PC you would have been using at home, however a new breed of these PDA’s make use of the improving technology in colour displays, handwriting recognition and the Operating System on the device.

For the last couple of weeks, the guys at The Carphone Warehouse have loaned me possibly one of the most state of the art PDA’s on the market, the Compaq iPAQ H3630 for me to play around with and test for review in Click.

The machine is soon ready for use straight out the box. After reading the quick start guide included, I discovered how to activate the iPAQ and then it was just a case of hitting the on button to get started as the machine was already fully charged. The colour screen lit up and an obvious Windows dialog box appeared asking me to check the settings so that the machine could be personalised, this only took around a minute and then I was allowed in to the main menu. As I stated above, the machine uses an Operating System very much like the version of Windows that you will find on your home PC, because somewhat unsurprisingly, the software that powers the iPAQ happens to be Microsoft Windows CE (Compact Edition). This means that many of you that have used a Windows machine before should have no problems getting the hang of this little device. The only stumbling point that I had was the lack of any real manual to accompany the machine to fully explain features like the handwriting recognition which take a bit of getting used to. This isn’t a major point, as help is available over the Internet, on the CD provided with the machine or through the help files loaded onto the Compaq iPAQ however it still would have been nice to have a comprehensive source of reference.

To look closer into the handwriting recognition, once explained the system becomes extremely easy to use; I wouldn’t like to write a novel using it, but then again, I wouldn’t want to write a novel using pen and paper either. For quick e-mails and letters it is perfect as it means that the machine doesn’t have to be unnecessary large to accommodate a QWERTY keyboard.
The iPAQ includes an Infra Red port that allows it to communicate wirelessly with another compatible device such as an Infra Red printer or a mobile phone if you want to get onto the Internet using the machine. This would be done by simply selecting connect and then your mobile will automatically dial up your Internet Provider and communicate the data effortlessly back to the PDA.

Other features include a Dictaphone for taking memos that can be stored on the machine or sent via e-mail. Should you wish to play back your memo, an extremely clear but small speaker is embedded in one of the larger control buttons. Additionally, to conserve battery power the backlight is automatically controlled by the PDA so that if you are in a light area it is deactivated, and in contrast if you enter a completely dark room, the backlight will be set to its maximum setting.

A cradle to attach to your home computer is provided in the package so that at any time the PDA can be docked and all information can be backed up off of it, or even information sent to it from the main computer. The cradle also acts as a charger.

Software included in the package consists of the standard Windows CD features such as solitaire, notepad, media player, calendar etc., but the system also includes the pocket versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook.

To summarise, the main plus point for anybody who is thinking about buying this machine is, as you have probably gathered by now, its incredibly small size - To think that they have managed to construct a complete Windows CE machine equipped with all the features and technology that I have detailed above into a package that weighs just 170g and is around the same size as an empty wallet, is, to me simply amazing.

What is the downside? Well, the machine costs £449.99. This includes everything that I have detailed above such as the docking cradle. You also get a protective leather case and a tough plastic protective cover for your money - the package is comprehensive. This price however may be too high for people who may just be looking for an organiser. The Carphone Warehouse will however match prices off the Internet (conditions apply) and so I would suggest that if you are considering purchasing one that you try it out first in their store on Union Street, Torquay.

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