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Well, I did it. I went against everyone’s advice and purchased a PocketPC as my personal digital assistant (PDA) instead of a Palm. The Palm die-hards thought I was crazy — why would I pay extra for a color screen, video and music capabilities, e-mail access, and extra storage capacity? I said … why not? IS THAT A PC IN YOUR POCKET? By way of background, the PocketPC is the name for the latest version of the WindowsCEoperating system for PDAs, currently Version 3.0. PocketPC is brought to us by Microsoft. Palm PDAs use their own proprietary operating system that has dominated the PDA market with good reason — it’s functional, clean, and efficient. PocketPCs are usually bulkier than Palms and cost a little more, but offer more bells and whistles. The Casio Cassiopeia EM-500 is a fairly recent addition to the Cassiopeia family, and signifies Casio’s grab for the eye-candy computer market (a reference to the five available color choices for the device). I opted personally for the Yellow EM-500, and I’m tickled pink. The other models currently available from Casio include the E-115 and E-125, and the industrial strength EG-800. THE BOTTOM (PRICE) LINE The EM-500 currently retails for around $400. PCWorld.com has a good chartthat shows you how PDAs stack up against each other price-wise. I also keep tabs on EM-500 pricesthrough the CNET Shopper. At the beginning of this year, Casio was offering a $100 rebate on the EM-500. While that offer has expired, you still might be able to find a place that has some overstock featuring the discounted price. Several places are also bundling an extra memory card with the purchase of an EM-500 which is a good investment considering the memory limitations are the biggest gripe on the EM-500 so far. FROM THE QUICK START GUIDE TO THE BUNDLED SOFTWARE Casio provides a Quick Start Guide along with the EM-500 that does a great job of providing important information on properly installing batteries, charging the device, and explaining the functions of the various buttons. My EM-500 also came with some yellow warning sheets of paper that instructed me to install some updated software fixes before using the device. These fixes are included on the CD-ROM, which incorporates a user-friendly menu and easy instructions. The EM-500 comes pre-loaded with a good number of programs. A lot of people, including myself, have to get used to the idea that these pre-loaded programs are “burned-in” to the ROMof the device. This basically means that you can’t un-install them. For instance, I’m not an AOL subscriber and I had no use for the AOL Application that was included. Attempting to delete this file was futile. But don’t let this discourage you — the EM-500 contains a ton of applications such as Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket Outlook, Casio’s own address book and calendar, and even Windows Media Player. Yes, the Pocket Word, Excel, and Outlook are mini-versions of the programs that we all know and love, which is a big appeal for the PocketPC. Indeed, the whole device operates very similarly to the desktop PC version of Windows and even includes the familiar start menu. For some reason, Casio created their own versions of a calendar and address book that you can choose to use instead of the PocketPC versions. Casio’s versions add a little more pizzazz and functionality, but I’ve found myself venturing out to a third-party information manager. But even though I don’t use the PocketPC or the Casio programs, I cannot un-install or delete them. Just like for the Palm, there are a ton of sites on the Internet where you can find additional software for the PocketPC. Microsoft’s own PocketPC.comis a great starting point, as well as Dale Coffing’s pocketPCpassion.comand Chris De Herrera’s CEWindows.net. A few of my favorite programs so far are: An all-in-one personal information manager called Pocket Informant 2.5from Web Information Solutions; a PDF file viewer called Primer 2.3from Ansyr; and an MPEG Movie Player PocketTVfrom MpegTV. A SCREEN OF MANY COLORS The touch screen on the EM-500 measures 240×320 pixels and can show 64,000 colors. Needless to say, the screen is capable of producing great looking pictures, movies, and easy readability with the included Microsoft Reader software. My one major complaint is that the screen can be difficult to read in direct sunlight. Just remember to leave the Casio home when you visit Hawaii. I strongly recommend purchasing screen protectors for your EM-500. Screen protectors are commonly just simple pieces of plastic or clear film that lay on top of your screen. I’ve used a screen protector from the very beginning, and seeing what one looks like after about three weeks of use, I wouldn’t dare use my stylus on a raw screen. I purchased the Casio-specific screen protectors, but there are articles on PocketPCPassionand The Gadgeteerthat describe cheaper alternatives and how to make your own protectors. A BUTTON HERE, A BUTTON THERE … There are several ways that you can interact with your EM-500. First, you can just “stick” with the included stylus and tap your way around your device, just like clicking with a mouse. I find this the easiest and usually the quickest way to get the job done. On the left side of the device, a small, black “action rocker” wheel/button allows you to use your thumb to scroll up or down in a program, as well as select something by pressing in on the button. Lastly, the round thing on the front of the device is a “joypad” which also allows you to move around in a program. The other three buttons on the front are shortcut buttons that you can program to initiate a particular program when pressed. To input information into the EM-500, you can choose to have a small keyboard pop up from the bottom of the screen and tap out your info with the stylus. Alternatively, you can choose the character recognition option and input information by scrawling each individual letter — much like the Palm. A big advantage over the Palm is that with the PocketPC, you can hide the character recognition area to create a larger viewing area. Last but not least, the EM-500 has a record button on its left side. The EM-500 can serve as a digital voice recorder. Some people have found this button hard to operate because of its position, but I have no problem when I use my right hand and right thumb to press it. I’m right-handed so the EM-500 usually sits in my left while I use the stylus with my right. The microphone is on top of the EM-500 and I’ve used the recorder function many a time for short notes to myself. MEM’ RIES … The EM-500 comes with only 16 megabytes of memory. This may sound like a lot compared to the 2-4 megs of the Palms, but 16 meg can run out quickly when you’re filling it up with pictures and movies. The other issue is that 16 meg is ALL you get — for programs AND for storage. In other words, all the programs that are pre-loaded are using up their share of the 16 meg. The EM-500 normally apportions 8 meg for storage and 8 meg for running programs, although you can adjust this in the Settings menu. This means that if you want more capacity for storing contacts, e-mail, Web pages, and pictures, you’ll need to look into getting a multimedia card. The EM-500 is the only PDA right now that uses the multimedia card as opposed to other memory cards like compact flash. The multimedia card is about the size of a postage stamp and it easily pops into a slot on the top of the EM-500. I recommend purchasing at least a 16 meg multimedia card with your EM-500 just so you’ll have some extra space. IT KEEPS GOING, AND GOING … I’ve never had any problem with battery power on the EM-500 but I usually try to charge it overnight. That said, I’ve had the EM-500 go for three days of normal use without sucking the battery dry. Among your options for conserving battery power are auto-dimming the screen after several seconds of inactivity, or having the device shut down after a minute of non-use. SYNCHRONICITY The EM-500 comes with a USB cable for connecting the device to your desktop PC. Obviously you’ll need to make sure you have a free USB port when you want to sync-up with your PocketPC. The process is called “synching” because you can literally synchronize your EM-500 with the calendar, inbox, and task list on your desktop computer. PocketPCs come with Microsoft’s ActiveSync software to perform this trick, and I found the program a snap to use. Microsoft also provides a stand-alone copy of Outlook 2000 on the same CD-ROM. ActiveSync also allows you to navigate through your EM-500 just as you do in Windows Explorer so that you can transfer files (Word documents, pictures, etc.) from your desktop PC to your PocketPC. The USB cable plugs into a slot on the bottom of the EM-500. There’s only a little plastic tab covering the slot — I mention this because the tab is not attached to the device, and it can be easily lost if you’re not careful (although I’m not sure that it’s all that necessary to hold on to). My latest fascination is synching up AvantGochannels so I can read Web pages on the go. THE POWER OF THE POCKETPC The EM-500 is literally a small, portable computer. Its processor is faster than the first laptop I owned and has a better screen as well. A reset button on the back of the EM-500 will get you out of just about any hiccup that the device might encounter — it’s similar to a warm reboot on a desktop PC. For some reason, Microsoft decided that any program that was opened on a PocketPC could simply stay open. In other words, you’re not able to click “close” or “exit” on a program when you’re finished with it — you just hit the start button and go to the next program of your choosing. However, you can go to the settings menu and stop all running programs whenever you feel the device getting a little sluggish. Casio includes a small pouch for the EM-500 which, as far as I can tell, is two pieces of cardboard covered in a synthetic canvas material. It might be a good idea to consider investing in a sturdier case. I’ve used the slipcase so far, but I’ve got my eye on a flip-up case since I use the buttons on the side of the device so often. All-in-all, I couldn’t be happier with my EM-500, and I’ve made it a point to show it off to all my Palm-proselytizing friends — they’re impressed. Brett Burney lives and works near Akron, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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