A Review of the Casio
E-115 and Pocket PC
I borrowed a friend's E-115 then bought my own Casio E-115. As you all know I was very vocal that I thought this version of Windows CE OS 3.0 will still fail to PalmOS but that was then and this is now. Here is my early review of my Pocket PC experience with some good and some bad points thrown in. For those who don't already know I have owned and used a Pilot 5000, PalmPilot Professional, Palm V, Palm IIIc, Casio E-11, and Velo 500.
Screen Quality / Unit Size
The first thing you notice is the size of the unit. I had the chance to see the HP 545 in the store at the same time as I bought the Casio E-115, and although the unit looked quite nice and much smaller there is no way I could have considered it since it had no joypad and the screen in my opinion was unacceptable. Many Palm people say "the screen is such as step up from my Palm" that they can tolerate the screen but frankly my Palm IIIc had a much nicer, brighter screen that was easier to read than the HP 545. On the other hand the best screen of any PDA is the Casio E-115's. The Casio screen was and even after many days of looking at it still IS stunning. The Casio is big, too big. No question about that but I can barely accept the size since I know the CF I/II slot is included (I changed my mind on the iPAQ since I realized I would want to use CF cards all the time and that would make the unit the same size and weight as the Casio but with a dimmer 12 bit color screen which defeats the iPAQ's advantages) and I always pack it in my flight case (I am an airline pilot) so it doesn't go in my pocket. The plastic is cheap and reminds me of my old creaking Pilot 5000 with battery doors that flex, don't fit quite perfect etc. The CF door is junk but all you Casio E-10x users know that. The unit is also very square which makes it seem even larger and more unwieldy to hold but I still am convinced at least among the first big three units of Pocket PC to be released that it is the best choice. Let me also say again the largest Palm, the IIIc model is smaller and slimmer than the HP 545 or Casio, much lighter, and only .01 thicker but still less long than the iPAQ. Pocket PC hardware units still have a way to go until they compete with Palm in size factor and comfort (and please don't tell me about the Aero 1550 because that is so much slower than Palm as to defeat the instant PDA ideal Palm users have grown used to and demand.)
General OS Comments / Today / Contacts / Calendar
Well what about the OS? There are tons of pluses and minuses. Don't be fooled, it is still slower than the Palm and a lot slower if you aren't constantly managing the memory by closing apps after you use them (which is still a big pain.) Microsoft still has yet to find a way to balance the elegance of multithreading (something Palm can't do) with the need to keep the PDA a fast running machine (something a Palm ALWAYS does.) To be fair the biggest improvements in speed seem to be with the Today screen, Calendar, and Contacts applications which people like me use the most. The Today screen is terrific and I love the look (simple, colorful) that gives me a lot of useful information quickly. Palm has no stock equivalent (although as with almost everything Pocket PC can do, there are freeware, shareware, and commercial apps that do most or all of it on a Palm) and Pocket PC is really slick with this feature. The Contacts application is also MUCH nicer than the Palm's. I love being able to put in multiple addresses, TONS of phone numbers etc. without having to pick and choose what fits. With my Palm often I had to decide what numbers to leave out if there were too many or else put them in notes and that was not a very nice thing to have to do. I think it was also very intelligent to allow each contact to be assigned multiple categories (again something a stock Palm doesn't do) and to pick which type of phone number is displayed in the list view for each and every contact (Palm only allows you pick one type so in the list view it will show only work numbers, home numbers etc. no mix and match.) Disappointing is the fact that when viewing an individual contact although Microsoft wisely left out blank fields (a bad thing in OS 2.11) they do not word wrap to the next line when a data field is long. Instead there is something like this... "Category: Family, Personal, Wo...." and you are forced to tap into the edit feature to see the rest. Very counter intuitive and something the Palm does better. In all though the Contact app is excellent, the sync with Outlook 2000 is perfect, and better in almost all ways than the Palm app. The Calendar app is a BIG letdown in my eyes. The best thing about it is the Agenda view that lists your entire schedule for the day in text without showing open time. Very easy to see and interpret. The day view is ok and similar to Outlook but still a little confusing. For some reason I find the week view VERY confusing and hard to interpret compared to the Palm view of the week. Also the week view is nothing like the very clear to understand Outlook 2000 view which the popular Datebk3 and Datebk4 apps for Palm support so very well. I would think a version on the Pocket PC of this view would be even better but it just isn't there. Disappointing. THE WORST part for me though is the month view. Like most PDAs including Palm it shows with a small icon if you have events scheduled in the morning or evening of a given day. So far, so good. However unlike almost any other PDA (including Palm) it does NOT show an all day event you have marked as "free time." This includes Outlook 2000 Holidays, Birthdays etc. I LOVE to be able to look at the month view and at a glance see all the holiday and birthday events, and now to do that I would have to falsely mark the time as "busy" thereby creating false schedule conflicts in my other views. Other big minuses include the lack of small icons to change views in the Calendar app. To change views (from day, to week, to month, to agenda) in the calendar app you either have to go to the View menu (multiple taps) or use the hardware button (wasting time cycling through views you didn't need). On the Palm there is wisely 3 tiny small icons representing day, week, and month views ON every view of the Calendar making switching faster and more intuitive. Clearly the Calendar application is inferior to the Palm unless you make heavy use of using multiple categories for your appointments or like the ability to mark the time as tentative, free, busy etc. things the Palm can't do with their stock Calendar applications.
Start Menu / Folder Scheme
What about other features of the OS? Well the Start menu is still the Start menu but it is nice not to have the cascading menus anymore, how confusing and slow on a PDA was that! You still need to go to "Start/Programs" via the menu and then go into subfolders to get to some of the other less used programs. On a Palm you can just click the permanent Applications launcher button and see everything the device has to offer right there right now. If you feel so inclined on the Pocket PC there is even a File Explorer which allows you to create tons of nested subfolders for documents etc. but again this encourages a confused file structure and it seems Pocket PC can't decide if it wants to be advanced (use the file explorer and created nested folders) or easy (don't use file explorer and have no nested files, oops unless applications install themselves in nested folders, haha.) There is no way Microsoft can say this isn't more confusing, I am not saying HARD but it sure will require soccer mom's and people not technically inclined a lot more grief when figuring out where programs and files are. Some people will scream bloody murder at me for saying it but Microsoft will have to eventually realize that tons of nested folders, system folders, file explorers and My Document folders on a PDA are an added complexity MOST (I know not all) people don't want.
Dialogue Boxes / Memory Management / Closing Applications
Other things about the OS... the dialogue boxes don't offer a cancel button so if you accidentally hit New on a menu etc. and then hit "ok" (the only button in the dialogue boxes) SOMETIMES depending on the application it creates a new schedule, contact, note etc. Also the "ok" button doubles as a save button etc. and it is hard to understand what it does in various situations. Microsoft is trying to make things simpler than before by only allowing the "ok" button but if every application (including Microsoft's own) use it for different things it is hard to figure out just what it WILL do in a given situation. Applications still don't close or offer a close button and after just a few are open everything bogs down and makes it hard for me, a Palm user to tolerate. To close them is easier but still time consuming. Click the Start menu, click settings, click system, click memory, click running programs, click close all. 6 clicks!!!! Not acceptable. See but Palm isn't that bad. They offer cancel buttons in dialogue boxes and when you switch programs since there is no multithreading it automatically closes and saves data, seamlessly but because Pocket PC has chosen multithreading (which is a nice thing don't get me wrong) they have to be willing to accept the added complexity of close buttons etc. but it appears Microsoft won't do that. I downloaded a nice application, TaskPro by DeveloperOne and it has improved this by allowing me to close all apps or the current app from the upper blue bar of all screens but it caused two freezes (I had to hit reset) and sometimes it just won't close certain apps or folders for reasons of file safety (this is good) but then later it shows that they closed on their own. I suppose this is fine and Windows CE 3.0 is doing its job but it feels like you have no control over your own system. Many argue that there is no reason to manage open programs and I shouldn't ever bother closing them, but let me make this clear… on a Casio E-115 if I open Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft Reader, or Windows Media Player the formerly instant responding Contacts and Calendar applications I praised so highly will NOT run instantly. You must be prepared to manage program memory on the Pocket PC if you want to keep a fast running PDA.
Pocket Internet Explorer / AvantGo
What about Pocket Internet Explorer? I like it; it is very, very nice. I have it set to download AvantGo channels and the built in functionality is excellent to do this. I like the big improvement in AvantGo readability and the amount of text on the screen compared to the Palm version. I have also downloaded some real web pages and PIE shows them nicely (if a bit slow bringing them up) and does a surprising excellent job if I ask it to shrink them to fit the screen (even the graphics don't get too distorted with the squeeze), which was very nice. I intend to get a modem so will be able to use PIE even more then, but it is a great little piece of software no question. Just remember to do the horrible 6-click memory close maneuver after using it or your whole PDA will bog down (shame on you Microsoft again, sorry but it must be said.)
Pocket Word / Pocket Excel / Notes / Tasks
I have goofed around with notes very briefly and I like how you can easily mix text, drawing, and voice notes, which the Palm can't do. I haven't synced this with Outlook 2000 but I imagine it is a good feature. I haven't used Inbox yet and don't intend to until I get a modem as I don't like the whole sync your email with the desktop routine (which the Palm can do as well) but to each his own. I am sure the program is fine although long emails would be tiresome to write. Tasks are tasks and work well on the Pocket PC or the Palm. Pocket Word opened some documents I have with little effort although I did shrink the font size so I didn't have to constantly scroll so much. 12 point on your PC looks like 36 point on a PDA! J I didn't have a chance to use Pocket Excel but I am sure like Pocket Word it would be very good for viewing or modifying (not necessarily creating) documents from your PC or as email attachments. Palm can't do any of this seamlessly and this is a nice advantage for Pocket PC.
Character Recognition / Text Input
What about the character recognition? I barely tried the lowercase system of writing that replaces Jot on the Pocket PC. It seemed ok but I am a Palm guy so I mainly set it to the uppercase mode, which mimics graffiti and used that. It worked very well and was easy to adapt to. It is nice to see your letters as you write them in the box. While I agree with having a system that uses the entire screen when not inputting text and then having an input box appear when you need it (compared to the permanent graffiti area on the Palm that makes the real screen small and square) there is no question this makes the unit more confusing sometimes or annoying at least. More clicking is required to bring up the input screen and then remove it down so you can see what the heck you are doing while on a Palm the screen is the screen and you never need to click to input text, you just write. I still think the advantages of the Pocket PC system easily weigh out the disadvantages. I tried the transcriber program on the ActiveSync CD-ROM and it worked surprising well allowing me to write in cursive or print anywhere on the screen, and the keyboard option is the keyboard what can I say. I like the fact Microsoft provided many options but again this works well for power users but sometimes this "free choice" might prove confusing to non-power users.
Windows Media Player
Windows Media Player. It works great... sorta. I downloaded several MP3's to my unit and the Windows Media Player is a champ at playing them, the speaker doesn't even sound half bad and with headphones it is excellent. It does kill battery life at an unspeakable rate though. On my Casio I get 2 ½ hours of battery life from full to dead while playing MP3s but perhaps I can improve this by downloading a utility to blank the screen. As I understand it the HP 545/48 and iPAQ have this feature built in and it helps a lot. Playing these MP3's really taxes the CPU and if you try to use any other application other than contacts and calendar it will be painfully slow. When in other applications with Windows Media Player at work sometimes the PDA wouldn't respond to my taps, or select something different than I tapped, sometimes the music even paused. The only exception is if you were patient enough to wait for the very long load times of Microsoft Reader or PIE with AvantGo while WMP is running, you could browse a page without much difficulty. Just don't try to create new events, use menus, etc. or it will be really slow. This surprised me but I guess I could live with it. Perhaps the fast ARM processor in the iPAQ will help somewhat, you can't always have it all and WMP is a great feature Palm doesn't have.
Microsoft Reader? Well its ok. The ClearType technology works well but it isn't the miracle some have claimed it is. Maybe it is better with the vertical striping color screen on the HP but on the Casio it isn't "as good as paper" by any means. Also it takes quite a long time to load but once you get to your book you can flip the pages rather quickly. I just hope that in the future Microsoft allows this to read other public e-book standards (even without ClearType would be fine) and that many books and newspapers incorporate the .lit standard with ClearType as right now only old classic tales are available. I still don't know if I could sit back and read a whole book on a PDA with this (although I will have a go at one of my favorites, Wuthering Heights) but if AvantGo incorporated ClearType that would be amazing :-) maybe next time.
The find feature is excellent and as fast as a Palm now. Thank God!
What about battery life? Well as I understand the Casio E-115 I own is the worst of the offenders. I get about 5-7 hours heavy use (games, mix of Media Player thrown in) but I bet you could get 8 hours if you use it mainly for the Personal Information functions. I HP 548 is supposed to get 8 hours and be a little better with the battery than the Casio, and the upcoming iPAQ is claiming 12 hours. Take the 12 hour claim with a grain of salt as the backlight turns on and off with the iPAQ and inside sources have stated with the backlight on full at all times the battery only lasts 4-6 hours. It is true that a black and white Palm with 2 AA's lasts 50+ hours and the Palm V lasts 12 hours or so. I would say my Palm IIIc with screen full bright would last 10 hours and as much as 14 with the backlighting turned down some. The Pocket PCs are close but don't beat Palm yet, but then again look at how much more they have to do.
Summary / Personal View of the Palm vs. Pocket PC competition
I haven't used many of the features of my Pocket PC yet but I wanted to give a first impression. Hopefully I haven't been to long winded. In all I find it an excellent PDA for the PDA buff, someone willing to deal with more complexity in exchange for multimedia features. At least the OS is not so slow and stupid as just to frustrate and WinCE OS 2.11 did for me. If Microsoft wants this to be a big success commercially though, they have another thing coming. This IS more complex than Palm for doing basic Person Information Manager functions and it is slower. Non-techy people will not tolerate this. They won't tolerate having to use 6 clicks to close a program, having buttons do different things in different apps, and using a hierarchal folder scheme appropriate to a desktop OS like Windows 98 but not a tiny handheld. The price I paid is the highest I have ever spent on a handheld PDA and to fully use the advantages of Pocket PC I will need to spend at least $200 more on modem and CF storage cards. People just won't do this unless they love this stuff because for this money I could get a 36 inch TV, a new computer, or even a laptop if I wanted! My personal guess is the improvements in this version of Pocket PC will not allow Microsoft to gain market share against Palm, only hold their current level steady without losing more market share. Either Microsoft will have to completely change the goal of these units in the future (I doubt it) or they will agree to be a niche player ala MacOS (Maybe...) or eventually Palm will do the impossible and defeat and eliminate Microsoft from a market segment (Maybe...)
I do not say these things to anger people in this group, to rip on Pocket PC, or promote Palm. I love my little Casio E-115 and I like the OS but I am sane enough to know I am different (as are most of the people on this newsgroup) than 95% of PDA users or potential users who will not tolerate the things I will in order to get increased functionality.