July 18, 2005

Pocket Tunes plays subscription music

Filed under: — 12:12 pm

Pocket Tunes A while back I wrote about Yahoo Music and their subscription program. I was very happy with the subscription service, but unable to use it with a portable device since it only supports certain non-iPod devices.

Today there is good news—thanks to a $30 software download, my Treo 650 can play subscription music from Yahoo, Napster, and the rest. Version 3.1 of Pocket Tunes Deluxe, released today, supports Microsoft’s Janus/PlaysForSure DRM and I’m pleased to report that it plays Yahoo subscription music just fine.

I’ve been using Pocket Tunes for a couple of weeks already, since it beats Realplayer for playing MP3s on the Palm. It supports multiple folders on the SD card and can play an album in order, so I can use the same card with the Treo and with my car stereo.

The transfer process is a bit of a pain. Normally I would just pop the SD card into my computer’s card reader and copy the music files to it, but to support subscription music I have to put the card in the Palm, hook up its USB cable, and use the Yahoo Music application to transfer the music. The transfer takes a bit longer than copying using the card reader.

Once the files are there, though, it works well and sounds amazing. Now I can play music at home or wherever I go for $5 a month—I’m not sure if there’s any reason to buy an album again. Well, unless I want to play it on the iPod, the car stereo, or a CD player. You can’t have everything…

Two minor issues: there’s a delay (presumably DRM-related) of a second or two before playing each song, and a minor glitch skipping between tracks. Nevertheless, this is groundbreaking for a $30 shareware program.

April 23, 2005

Tapwave Zodiac customer service problems

Filed under: — 9:40 am

My wife, Laura, has been using a Tapwave Zodiac as her PDA for a few months now. It’s an interesting device—they tried to mold the PalmOS platform into a gaming system, which didn’t really take off, but ended up creating a nice, ergonomic PDA with a better screen than the current Palm offerings.

Unfortunately, Tapwave’s customer service leaves something to be desired. Back in March, the analog joystick started acting up. After a couple of frustrating calls describing the symptoms to their obviously outsourced customer service, we received an RMA number. They said they’d try to fix it, and if it wasn’t easy to fix they’d ship a replacement within 24 hours.

Laura shipped the Zodiac and Fedex tracking said Tapwave received it on March 30th. A week later, Tapwave sent an email acknowledging that they received it. Twenty-four hours later… nothing happened. A week or so went by with no communication, then Laura called them—as near as the customer service people can tell, they’re trying to ship a replacement but they’re out of stock. They say shipping replacements isn’t really their department—they’re in India, and Tapwave’s office is in the US—but as far as we can tell there’s no way to call the US office.

It has now been nearly a month since we shipped it, and still no sign of a replacement. It’s a great PDA and we would recommend it to others, but this situation tempts us to replace it with a PDA from a company we can trust. Some comments at PC Magazine’s review have similar complaints. I’ll update this if the situation changes.

Update: We finally received a replacement Zodiac yesterday, May 3rd, and it works fine. It’s hardly the 24-hour service we were promised, but it’s better than nothing. In other news, they may be taking the Zodiac off the market soon, which may explain the trouble getting a replacement.

April 21, 2005

Treo 650 first impressions, Part II

Filed under: — 7:47 pm

Continuing from Part I, here are a few more notes I’ve made about various features of the Treo 650 smartphone:

Treo 650 picture taken at Lake Mead, NV

  • Camera: Yes, the Treo 650 has a camera. I’m not a big cameraphone user, but I suppose it’s there if I have any unexpected encounters with aliens or celebrities. It’s only 640 x 480 (VGA) resolution, which is good enough to take pictures to display on the Treo’s screen or maybe for a web page. The quality is decent for its size. The picture at left is cropped (unprocessed) from this VGA photo taken on the Treo. It can also take videos (320 x 240 with audio) and play them back on the screen. Getting photos from the Palm to a PC is easy—it syncs them automatically to the Media page in Palm Desktop, or you can use an SD card, email, or Bluetooth.
  • Sync Cable: The included sync cable is pretty minimal. One end connects to the computer’s USB port, the other connects to the Treo. I would prefer a cradle, but I haven’t had any trouble syncing.
  • PC Software: The big improvement I noticed in Palm Desktop is that Palm now offers their own software for syncing with Microsoft Outlook, rather than relying on PocketMirror. The new Outlook sync is much more reliable.
  • Web browser: The Treo includes the latest Blazer browser, which is the best browser I’ve seen on a Palm device so far. It renders pages well, and you can choose to display them in a Palm-optimized mode or in an unoptimized mode that requires lots of horizontal scrolling, but matches the layout on a bigger screen pretty well. One caveat: for some reason, this browser is unable to access the Paypal website, which is unfortunately one I access frequently while travelling. I installed a third-party browser, xiino, which has no trouble with Paypal’s site.
  • PCS Vision: Sprint’s data service, PCS Vision, is much better than the “Wireless Web” they used to offer. It’s consistently faster than T-Mobile, and available for a flat rate. The latency is much better too—with T-Mobile I had many long pauses while loading pages, and this rarely happens with Sprint.
  • Dial-up Networking: Officially, the Sprint Treo 650 does not support dial-up networking (DUN) via Bluetooth, which means you can’t use it to get your laptop online. Sprint is supposed to be adding that feature with an update “relatively soon”, but in the meantime there’s a clever hack that enables DUN. It’s not perfect, but it works, and I can get my iBook online through Bluetooth. This has come in handy while camping and when my cable internet was down at home.

See Part I for more Treo 650 notes. I’ll combine both parts into a full review at The Gadgets Page soon.

April 20, 2005

Treo 650 first impressions, Part I

Filed under: — 3:54 pm

Treo 650 Recently I replaced my Palm Tungsten T3 and my cheap cellphone with a Treo 650 with SprintPCS service. My wife and I both switched from T-Mobile back to Sprint, because we had terrible signal quality from T-Mobile at our house, and our cell phones are our only phones. The signal was great everywhere else, but not being able to make and receive calls at home was a wee bit inconvenient.

I’ve been very happy with the Treo 650 so far. It’s the first combined PDA/phone that doesn’t feel like a compromise. I’ll write a detailed review later, but here are some impressions after using the Treo for a month:

  • As a phone: The Treo has a nice substantial feel when talking, unlike the tiny cellphone it replaced. Voice quality is good. There are a couple of minor annoyances: a delay when dialing (sometimes as long as a second or two) and you have to dial with on-screen buttons or with the tiny keyboard buttons. But it’s quite usable as a phone, and having access to my PDA contact list makes up for any deficiencies.
  • As a Palm PDA: The Treo seems a bit faster than the T3, probably because it uses a newer version of PalmOS. It’s a bit short on memory (32MB), and worse yet, due to the way the flash memory is organized into blocks, it holds less than any other 32MB Palm device. Fortunately, Palm just released a software update that seems to fix that problem, and they sent me a free 128 MB SD card for my trouble, so I’m not complaining.
  • The Screen: The screen is only 320 x 320, and I do miss the large screen on the T3, but it’s otherwise very nice. The screen is small, making the pixels tiny and the fonts beautiful. It also has the brightest backlight I’ve ever seen on a Palm device. I can easily use it in sunlight.
  • The keyboard: I didn’t even consider a Treo for a long time because the keyboard has such tiny keys, and I have large fingers. I played with one at the SprintPCS store and was surprised to find that I could type with reasonable accuracy despite this. It turns out that the Treo’s software is designed to watch for and correct multiple keypresses, compensating for my clumsiness nearly 100%. I can already get data into this device about twice as fast as I could with the Fitaly keyboard on my old Palm, and don’t even ask me about Graffiti. I’ve found that I almost never use the stylus—between the keyboard and the five-way navigator, I can do just about everything without it.
  • Battery Life: As with any smartphone, the battery life isn’t as good as that of a PDA-only device. Nevertheless, I can usually go a few days without charging, unless I spend a few hours talking on the phone. Unlike other Palm devices, it has a removable rechargable battery, so if battery life is ever an issue I can buy a spare one.

All in all, I’m very happy with the Treo 650, and with Sprint’s service. This turned out to be a long post, so I’ll save my comments about the Treo’s camera and Internet features for Part II.

Update: see Part II for more of my notes about the Treo 650.

January 10, 2005

Fitaly Keyboard for Palm

Filed under: — 7:37 pm

I’ve always loved the Palm platform for handheld computers, but I never really learned to like the Graffiti writing system. It was always a struggle, scribbling a character then erasing it then trying again. And when I finally became slightly proficient at Graffiti, they replaced it with Graffiti 2 in my new Palm.

So I’m very happy there’s the fitaly keyboard from Textware Solutions. They’ve designed a layout of “keys” to work optimally with a stylus. I don’t know how optimal it is, but I do know that after very little practice, I can type 25 wpm on the palm with Fitaly. My speed with Graffiti was somewhere in the single digits at best, and you should have seen me try to type the letter Q or an @ symbol.


They make stick-on keyboard templates that cover the Graffiti area on most palms. For my Tungsten T3, I use FitalyVirtual, a soft version of the keyboard that pops up instead of the virtual Graffiti area. It’s easy to switch back to Graffiti, but in the three months since installing FitalyVirtual I haven’t found that necessary.

October 1, 2004

SSH options for PalmOS

Filed under: — 1:44 pm

I’ve been setting up my new Palm Tungsten T3 and I noticed there are three different SSH (secure shell) applications for PalmOS:

  • Top Gun SSH is the original SSH for palm, and I relied on it for years with my old Palm. It’s limited to SSH version 1, but it works on ancient devices.
  • TuSSH works on PalmOS 4 or later and supports SSH 1 and 2. I haven’t tried this one yet.
  • pssh is for PalmOS 5 only, and supports SSH 2. This is my current favorite. It remembers server names and ports so I don’t have to re-enter them every time, and it looks great on a hi-res screen.

Last week my wife and I were camping at Lake Mead and I was able to restart an overloaded Web server from my Palm while sitting around the campfire. That has to be some kind of techno-Nirvana.

June 18, 2004

Bonsai: Outliner for Palm and Windows

Filed under: — 4:23 am

I’m trying to make more use of my PalmOS smartphone, so I’ve been looking at Palm software again. My favorite discovery at the moment is Bonsai from Natara software. Bonsai is an outliner, planner, and to-do list. I like to use outlines to manage projects, tasks, and for brainstorming, and until recently used Microsoft OneNote for the purpose.

Bonsai is a bit limited compared to OneNote–your outline can contain only text, and no formatting like boldface or fancy fonts–but it does what I need it to do. More importantly, Bonsai includes nearly-identical versions for Windows and PalmOS that synchronize perfectly. I’ve moved most of my project planning to Bonsai and it’s really nice to be able to glance at my outlines right on my phone, or add to them.

I’m always a bit reluctant to use software from a small company–it might not be supported in the future. But the desktop version of Bonsai can export outlines in text, CSV, HTML, and even XML formats, so if I ever need to change outline programs, it will be a simple transition.

March 21, 2001

New Palm Handhelds Coming Soon

Filed under: — 9:14 pm

I’ve always said I’ll buy a Palm handheld when they combine the color screen of the Palm IIIC, the size of the Palm V, and the wireless access of the Palm VII. The new Palm m505 has two out of three… (more…)

(c) 2001-2007 Michael Moncur. All rights reserved, but feel free to quote me.
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