In Praise of the Handheld PC Pro

Friends, mobile users, tech-heads: Lend me your ears! I come to praise the Handheld PC Pro, not to bury it!

Okay, sorry for the riff on The Bard, but I just couldn't resist, and Shakespeare could write a comedy—no, maybe a tragedy—about the topic at hand. Among the many Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) I've used, the Handheld PC Professional (H/PC Pro) tops them all. This Windows CE-based device overloads a pocket, but it's much smaller and lighter (and cheaper!) than Windows Me or Windows 2000-powered notebook PCs. I've used an NEC MobilePro 780 for more than 2 years now, and I can't give it up—it's so useful!

The MobilePro, like most other H/PC Pro devices, is a clamshell-cased unit that resembles a very small notebook PC. It opens to reveal a nearly full-sized keyboard that's great for touch-typing, and a half-sized VGA LCD display but no trackball, track pad, joy bar, or mouse. To enter data, you tap on the display with a stylus, much as you do on a conventional, pocket-sized Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). The MobilePro's removable battery runs for at least 6 hours on a charge, or several days when used intermittently.

The case's right side features a modular jack for the built-in 33.6 Kbps modem. The left side's proprietary connectors (the curse of all CE-based devices) provide a parallel port for synchronizing with desktop PCs and a VGA output for use with the built-in Pocket Powerpoint. The MobilePro uses built-in software similar to the Pocket PC's, such as Pocket Office and Pocket Outlook.

Note two important software exceptions, however: H/PCs lack both Microsoft's Reader eBook software and the Windows Media player. Microsoft says that H/PCs, as business devices, don't need this software. I disagree. I've pounded out many pages of business writing on the big, friendly, keyboard of my MobilePro—in airports, on airliners, and in hotel rooms—and I'd be delighted to have the Media Player to provide background audio. And the MobilePro's big display accommodates reading (unlike the tiny Pocket PC displays) so Reader eBook seems a natural addition. (Perhaps it's just my eyes: As I write this, I'm wearing my first pair of bifocals).

Why do I bring this up? Last month, Microsoft introduced an upgraded version of Media Player for Pocket PCs. Version 7.1 has an improved user interface and provides more support for building and editing playlists on-the-fly. If you have a Pocket PC, you can download it from:

But if you use the H/PC, don't bother. That's particularly irritating since H/PCs *do* have built-in sound hardware; they support the same voice-recording feature as Pocket PCs. Surely Media Player could use it, too!

Windows CE got its start with the H/PC form-factor (I still have my original Casio A-10 Cassiopeia somewhere), and devices such as the MobilePro and the slightly smaller Hewlett-Packard (HP) Jornada 680/690 perfected it. I've carried these devices all over the world and, for a writer, they're a dream come true. If your work demands a keyboard, give the H/PC a look. I think it's still the best PDA form-factor around!

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