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HP iPaq h4350 Begins Shipping
A few keys short of a winning thumbboard

HP iPaq h4355
The thumbboard-enabled HP iPaq h4350 that we told you about some time ago finally began shipping as of a few days ago, and PDAGeek's palmsolo  put together a nice, but brief, mini-review of HP's newest Pocket PC.  Between the added size and a thumbboard which is missing some important functionality over the recently released thumbboard accessory for the h2215 and h4150, he seems to conclude that the h2215/thumbboard combo is probably a better overall package.

On a related note...I recently was able to procure an h4155 at a really great price and will post a review of that soon.  I'm eyeing HP's snap-on thumbboard as a great addition to the h4155.  It's interesting jumping head-first into the world of the Pocket PC OS again and, as I knew going into it, not an entirely pleasant experience.
First Zodiac Shipments Arrive
She ain't heavy, she's my gaming PDA

According to the blinking text on Tapwave's home page, the Zodiac is "now shipping!" and "your wait is over!"  Neither of which are quite accurate, it seems.  Deeper within their web site, if you know just where to click, you'll learn that there's actually about a ten business day turnaround from when you order it till the time it will ship out.  For the lucky early adopters who ordered their Zodiacs the day Tapwave first opened its store, Tapwave first started shipping them out on October 31st, and the first real user impressions have begun to appear.

Our sister-site Tapland has several photos to offer from two of the early buyers, including photos of the web browser and numerous pics comparing the Zodiac to other PDAs.  While the Zodiac is certainly not among the ultra-small PDAs that have become more common these days, it's larger size is by design, offering a large screen, huge battery capacity, and well sized and placed gaming controls.
Nokia Announces New Mobile Devices
But, alas, no new Communicator yet

At Nokia's Mobile Internet Conference in Nice, France on Tuesday, Nokia announced several new cell phones, but the rumored update to their Series 80 Communicator was not among them.  One might think that the new Series 90 7700 "Media Device" might be the replacement for that model but, thankfully, Nokia reps hinted that an actual Communicator replacement is still in the works.  While Microsoft and PalmSource licensees work feverishly to release yesterday's technology tomorrow, Nokia casually walks towards smartphone Nirvana at a leisurely pace.
Green Lights For Everyone!
Nothing good can come from this

And then Scott said, "Let there be green light."
The other day while driving to church, my wife and I got to discussing what one is supposed to do when approaching a yellow light.  Her opinion is cut and dry: slow down and stop.  In my opinion, like a traffic light, there are many shades and every situation is unique.  Then today I come across this story about a $300 gadget for your car that can change traffic lights from red to green.  The technology has apparently been in use by fire trucks for a while now, though only busier intersections seem to have the necessary wiring, and even then it's unclear just how widespread the technology is deployed.

You probably won't find the $300 gadget at your local Wal-Mart anytime soon.  It's being sold online by companies who, wink wink, are really just interested in selling them to small town fire departments for legitimate use.  As you can imagine, law enforcement personnel are concerned.  Because the technology uses infrared, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a police car right next to you to detect if you were using one.  To some degree, that's a moot point right now since using the technology is not currently illegal, something which will no doubt change soon.

It would indeed be a nightmare if everyone had one of these things installed.  But here's an idea which could even help state budgets: What if you could change the traffic light for $1 per use?  Most days when you're not in a hurry, you can sit at the red lights.  But if you're in a huge hurry one day, you pay a few bucks to get through a few lights, and the money gets used to support your local infrastructure.  This is America, after all.
Toshiba Releases High-Res PPC
Tacked-on 480x640 good enough for geeks

Toshiba e800 series
Toshiba officially announced two new PDAs running Microsoft's Pocket PC 2003 OS today.  The Toshiba e400/405 is a slim model that looks pretty much like any other PPC you've seen.  Thanks to Microsoft's recent relaxation of their strict guidelines for licensees using the Pocket PC OS, Toshiba was able to offer this PDA in a color other than silver.  It features a 3.5" diagonal transflective screen, 300MHz XScale PXA261 CPU, 64MB of RAM, and some intriguing voice command software.  It's 5.1 ounces and costs $300, pitting it against HP's Bluetooth-equipped h1945.

But you don't care about that.  That's boring.  What's interesting is Toshiba's other new model, the e800/805.  What makes the e800 so interesting is that it features a 480x640 resolution 4" diagonal screen.  Of course, you'll have to take my word for it (and the pics at PDAfrance to prove it), because finding this spec listed on their site will require a magnifying glass, because for whatever reason, they're not touting that as a primary feature.  Huh?  Earth to Toshiba: That is the feature on the e800.  Sure, it's got 128MB of RAM, built-in Wi-Fi, a healthy 1320mAh user-replaceable battery, USB host support, and both a Compact Flash and SDIO slot.  But at $600, it would still be considered rather pricey compared to HP's recently released h4150 which may lack the e800's CF slot, extra 64MB of RAM, and larger battery, but is priced at a much more reasonable $450.

Did you find the fine print that mentions the 480x640 resolution yet?  Well, you better hold on to that magnifying glass, because you'll probably need to carry it with the e800.  Unlike the higher-resolution modes used on the Palm OS, the Toshiba's high-res mode doesn't appear nearly as well thought out.  On the Palm OS, title bars, menus, buttons, scroll bars, and other UI widgets are "pixel doubled" making them the same physical size as they would be if they were on an older 160x160 Palm OS device.  That means that they're just as easy to see and tap on with your stylus.  On this Toshiba, however, those "widgets" aren't pixel-doubled, resulting in very small text and buttons.  Reading and tapping on these things could be an excercise in frustration.  What's more, in what looks like an effort of trying to run before they've learned to walk, there still doesn't appear to be native support for landscape mode.

So $600 for a device with tacked-on support for high-res from a company whose support for their PDA products has a bad reputation among geeks.  Who will buy this thing?  Those very same geeks, that's who.  Geeks are a fickle bunch, after all, and they do love their gadgets.  Who cares how well it's implemented or which company is making it.  Just check out that high-res 480x640 screen!
Son Of Stinger Released In US
Tag! Motorola's it.

No, this isn't a dream.  The first phone featuring Microsoft's Smartphone OS (the OS formerly known as Stinger) has finally arrived in the US in the form of Motorola's MPx200 available with AT&T.  Microsoft first annouced their phone-optimized OS over three years ago, amid much pomp and circumstance.  It was to be released "soon" back then.  One year passed.  No Stinger.  Another year passed.  Still no stinger.  But it's coming really soon this time.  Believe us.  Then, another year passed.  You get the idea.  

Can you say 3D gaming? Can you say really crappy 3D gaming?
Well, as we forewarned you last month (check there for all the specs), its day in the sun has finally arrived.  Did Microsoft finally find a US carrier that could appreciate the value of its Smartphone OS?  Or perhaps they found some compromising photos of Motorola's CEO?  We may never know.  All that matters is that Motorola's phone, while not terribly "smart" (lacking both a camera and Bluetooth), is available today and isn't half-bad.  Leaving the pros and cons of the Smartphone OS out of the discussion for the time being, and focusing strictly on the price and features offered, the bottom line is that you can get a compact flip-phone capable of MP3 playback and Outlook syncing for $150 from Amazon (after rebates and committing to a one-year AT&T contract).  Not bad.

I'd stop short of recommending this for more intensive PDA purposes.  The lack of a touch-screen or thumbboard, and the reliance on AT&T who doesn't offer an affordable unlimited data plan, would make that sort of use pattern both difficult and expensive.  But if you're the type of person who enters most of your PIM data at your desk, and the idea of listening to MP3's interests you, this could be an attractive choice.
The Gadgets In Our Closets
Like new in box. No reserve!

Katie Hafner of the NY Times, recently wrote an article about the lure of our gadgets.  We buy these gadgets to improve our lives but, for whatever reason, so many of them end up getting stuffed in a drawer, hidden in a closet, or (when we're smart) resold on eBay.

The reasons vary greatly from product to product and person to person but it usually boils down to them being more trouble than they're worth.  There are usability issues, configuration headaches, the issue of "another gadget to have to carry around," and the problem of having to keep all of these things charged up.  This last reason is why I'm thinking that the Treo 600 may be a good fit for my wife.  Although I'd love to sell her on the idea of a two-piece Bluetooth solution, I know that at least one of them would end up with a dead battery before long.

I make it my policy to criticize products for the slightest usability issues, but even the most usable products will end up in a closet if they don't meet a particular person's need or lifestyle.  I bought my relatively small (at the time, at least) Digital 8mm camcorder years ago with the vision of making interesting short films, but it largely stays in my closet instead.  Even with a good reason to use it (my five-year-old daughter), I just find it too much of a chore to charge it up and haul it with me on a regular basis.  Yet I've known others who had no trouble doing even back when they were still using those VHS behemoths that had to be rested on your shoulder.  Your level of passion for a particular utility really will determine whether these things get used, or just end up collecting dust.

Getting around that issue are the new breed of convergence devices.  When manufacturers merge a device you'd like to have with you (e.g. - a digital camera) into a device you need to have with you (e.g. - a cellphone), and the usability and quality are implemented reasonably well, you'll take advantage of it.  For now, most of the current convergence devices don't quite meet my standards for usability or quality, but they're getting better.  In preparation, I better start selling some of my "good as new" stuff on eBay while it's still worth something.
Rumors Of Bluetooth's Death Greatly Exaggerated
Americans don't "get it." Carriers don't "offer it."

Various hot topics seem to go around in spurts around the internet.  A week or two ago the web was abuzz over whether or not the Pocket PC had become boring.  Prior to that, there was discussion and disagreement about whether PDAs will be supplanted by smartphones (in the generic sense, not Microsoft's specific implementation of it).  These debates continue to rage on.  The "story of the week" this week seems to be whether Bluetooth is on the way or out, or just starting to thrive.

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