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Techtalk - October 1999

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Dave Moss
reviews the HP Jornada 820, the Jornada 420 and the HP Capshare 910.

I don’t think it unfair to say that at least two of the three Hewlett-Packard items that I’ll be talking about this month could be regarded as items that many now carry about as a matter of course. The first of these is the HP Jornada 820, a Windows CE Handheld PC with a 640x480 display, that switches on and off at the tap of an <Esc> key, and weighs the square root of not a lot – especially when compared to some of the so-called portable monsters that we tend to lug about. The next item is the HP Jornada 420, a chunky palm-size CE device, displaying its wares in colour, and capable of being carried comfortably in any bag, although it has to be said that your pockets might stretch a bit. Lastly, a device touted as being the ideal companion to a Jornada, the HP Capshare 910, completed the ensemble.

First impressions of the 820 were excellent. I liked the weight, a mere 2.5lbs, and I liked the size, and I liked the way I could just hit the <Esc> key and be right back into the application I had just been working on, or just hit the <Esc> key and have it descend into instant sleep. The applications were familiar, and the keyboard was extremely easy to get on with, not something I usually find to be the case with any sort of portable device, to be frank. Yes, granted there’s no CD, and no floppy, but then this is a Handheld PC, not some portable trying to masquerade as a desktop, and it’s very important to recognise the difference.I found it invaluable for taking notes during the many sessions and meetings I attended at Tech Ed, and while the screen can seem quite bright in a darkened hall, you can always tone it down if you like. The easy on/off capability just made it perfect for this sort of environment, and meant that you knew the two rows behind you weren’t forever straining to see just what it was you were writing whenever you used it.

The Jornada 420 is a newer version of my old beast, and I was looking forward to trying it out as it was in colour, and I do find greyscale to be a tad boring after a while. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the looks, which are of the rugged, chunky type, and I noted that it was a big beast too. The flap to protect the screen was excellent however, and would have saved one of my old devices had it been there at the time. My only problem with it was that I couldn’t get beyond the stylus recognition phase, which is just about the first thing you do when you get your device and fire it up for the first time. HP immediately sent me a new device, which I discovered was no better than the first. Worried that I was misreading the perfectly plain instructions, a call to HP technical support brought instant relief. The instructions say to tap on the screen. Don’t bother. You actually need to press firmly when doing this setup, and hold the pressure until the machine accepts the input. For obvious reasons don’t press too hard otherwise you’ll be forking out for a new one because you’ve broken the screen, but you will need to apply a firm steady pressure rather than tapping the point.

Once I was flying, I was comfortably into the machine as it had all the software I was already used to. My big disappointment was the colour screen. No matter what I did to the settings, it was just too washed out and it was worse the higher up the screen it went, but I checked out one at Tech Ed, and it wasn’t much better. A mere 256 colours in 8-bit don’t do the business at all.

However, if you are the owner of one of these beasts and want to try and fix that, a visit to the URL below, will give you access to a 65,536 colour 32-bit driver, and that just improves the whole shooting match no end. You can even switch between the two colour formats once the upgrade is installed.

Turning to the Capshare 910, I have to admit to mixed feelings. It is a handheld scanner basically, and you can carry it about with you, merrily scanning documents when you feel like it, and they get stored in memory on the scanner. When you wish to do so, you can point the Capshare at your Jornada 820, for example, and fire the captured documents onto it via the infra red connection.

That is neat, and it works well. What I am less convinced about is the quality of the captured documents, which always seemed blocky to me, and the way you have to use it when capturing documents that are wider than the Capshare’s capture area. The device stands upright when you scan, and to capture large documents, you simply drag it down one side of the document, along the bottom, and then up the other side. The Capshare takes care of stitching the two sides together, something it does quite superbly.

My problem was that I could never get the Capshare to remain straight so that the captured document didn’t come out at a slight angle. I am reasonably sure that the necessity to keep holding the scan button down while dragging the Capshare along the document has something to do with that.

That said, it certainly does the job it is designed to do, and if you want high-quality scans you will almost certainly have a better scanner somewhere else anyway. For capturing on the road the Capshare fits the bill, and I would have to say that it isn’t a bad companion to have around if you need to do a quick capture. Just don’t expect any OCR software to perform with any great certainty on the results, but you should be able to read the captured file’s contents without too much difficulty.

Stars and Gripes

On a star rating front, I’m awarding the Jornada 820 4.5 stars, because I thought it was just great, but only 2.5 stars to the Jornada 420 as it comes out of the box. I found it somewhat too large to carry comfortably in a pocket, and it needs that colour upgrade to make the screen useable in all but the darkest areas.The Capshare 910 gets 2 stars. I think the ergonomics need a little work, and the capture quality might not be all it should be, but it is extremely portable, and it has excellent data transfer capability. It is however quite expensive too. I would recommend going along and testing it first before ordering one on spec.

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