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Eight Tips for Using Your Pocket PC

by Wei-Meng Lee

Whenever I ask people what they do with their Pocket PCs, the most frequent answers are for taking notes and keeping track of their time schedules and contacts. These are logical responses since the PDA was first invented for such purposes.

But if you think about it, isn't it very expensive to buy a $500 gadget just to keep track of your notes, schedules, and phone numbers? I could do the same with a $5 notebook. And that is precisely what happened to most PDA buyers. After the excitement of buying a new gadget dies off, they find their PDAs gathering dust in the drawer To be honest, I am one of the victims, starting in the early days of my first Palm IIIe.

Surely there must be more interesting uses for these devices. And, indeed, today's Pocket PC runs at a whopping 400Mhz, although nothing compared to your blazingly fast 2.4Ghz desktop. Pocket PCs have gotten faster, more colorful, and come loaded with more memory. With this improved capability, you can now do more on your Pocket PC than ever imagined before. In this article, I will show you some cool ways to fully utilize your Pocket PC and how it can make your life, well, more meaningful.

I'll show you how to:

My Gear: The iPAQ 3870 and the Dual-Slot PC Card Expansion Pack

My gear consists of a Compaq iPaq 3870 running Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 and a dual-slot PC Card Expansion pack (also from Compaq).

iPaq 3870 Dual-Slot PC Card Expansion Pack
Figure 1. The iPaq 3870 and the Dual-Slot PC Card Expansion Pack

The iPaq 3870 comes with built-in Bluetooth support, and hence there is no need to add any cards/adapters to it for Bluetooth usage. (For iPaq 36xx series users, Compaq sells the Bluetooth Wireless Pack with CF Card Slot. Check out Compaq's Web site for more details). For expansion options, I got a dual-slot PC card expansion pack from Compaq. The expansion pack contains two PC card slots. Using these two slots, I can add in an 1GB IBM Microdrive (using a CF/CF+ adapter) and a Socket Low Power WLAN 802.11b card:

Socket Low Power WLAN Card IBM Microdrive
Figure 2. The Socket Low Power WLAN card and IBM Microdrive

At this moment, vendors selling 802.11b wireless cards include D-Link and Symbol.

Harmony 802.11b CompactFlash Card Symbol Wireless Networker D-Link DCF-650W SMC SMC2642W
Harmony 802.11b CompactFlash Card Symbol Wireless NetworkerTM CompactFlashTM Card for Pocket PC PDAs D-Link DCF-650W Wireless Compact Flash Adapter SMC SMC2642W 11Mbps Wireless CompactFlash Card
Figure 3. The various makes of 802.11b wireless network card

You can also reuse your existing PCMCIA 802.11b Wireless Network card on your Pocket PC, provided you have the PC slots jacket like the one described earlier.

Surfing the Web Wirelessly via 802.11b

Two competing wireless technologies today are battling for consumer adoption. In one camp you have vendors building Bluetooth support right onto the PDA, like Compaq, and in the other camp, you have vendors supporting 802.11b. Toshiba is one such company. It is betting on the 802.11b going mainstream. With the increasing number of hotspots in public places like airports, schools, etc, it's not difficult to understand why Toshiba is betting on the success of 802.11b with its latest e740 Pocket PC 2002 PDA.

Toshiba e740
Figure 4. The Toshiba e740 with 802.11b built-in

The most distinctive feature of the Toshiba e740 is the built-in support for 802.11b wireless networking. There is no need for you to buy an additional 801.11b CF card anymore; it comes ready to connect right out of the box.

With 802.11b equipped on your Pocket PC, you can surf the Web using the Pocket Internet Explorer. Although most sites today are not Pocket PC friendly, if you take your time to hunt for it, you can find some specially designed Web sites catering to the small screen real estate of your Pocket PC.

Pocket PC Magazine Microsoft Pocket PC website
Figure 5. Using Pocket Internet Explorer to surf the Web

One of my favorites is to check my emails when on the road, especially at airports where wireless access is getting more and more common. Using Pocket Internet Explorer, you can access many Web-based email applications like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.

Surfing the Web via Bluetooth Through Phone or Access Point

If you don't have access to a wireless network, you still have two other options to log on the Internet. If your Pocket PC is equipped with Bluetooth, you can use it to access the Internet through a computer equipped with a Bluetooth adapter or Bluetooth Access Point.

Billionton USB Bluetooth adapter
Figure 6. The Billionton USB Bluetooth adapter

For this article, I used the Billionton USB Bluetooth adapter and plugged it into my desktop. Alternatively, your desktop (or office) can also be equipped with Bluetooth Access Points. A Bluetooth Access Point allows multiple Bluetooth devices to connect to it and access the Internet, much like an 802.11b access point. At the moment, there are a dozen of vendors offering Bluetooth access points including PicoBlue and Widcomm.

Axis 9010 PicoBlue Widcomm BlueGate 2100 Siemens Blue2net
Axis 9010 Bluetooth Access Point PicoBlue Bluetooth Internet Access Point Widcomm BlueGate 2100 Access Point Siemens Blue2net Bluetooth LAN Access Point
Figure 7. The various Bluetooth Access Points available in the market today

To use the Bluetooth connection for syncing purpose, simply configure ActiveSync to listen to a particular serial port (that the Bluetooth adapter is using as a serial port) and start ActiveSync on your Pocket PC.

ActiveSync Screenshot 1 ActiveSync Screenshot 2
Figure 8. Configuring ActiveSync to use a serial port for Bluetooth access

Once ActiveSync is configured on the desktop, simply turn on the Bluetooth radio on your Pocket PC and select ActiveSync.

Figure 9. Using Bluetooth for ActiveSync

You can now surf the Web using Pocket Internet Explorer.

Alternatively, if you are on the road and you have no computers to link up to, you can use your Bluetooth-enabled phone, such as the Ericsson T68i to connect to the Internet:

Ericsson T68i
Figure 10. The Ericsson T68i

The Ericsson T68i comes with built-in Bluetooth support, and you can configure your Pocket PC to use it as a Bluetooth Dialup Modem (from the Bluetooth Manager on your Pocket PC).

T68i as a Bluetooth dialup modem
Figure 11. Using the T68i as a Bluetooth dialup modem

You would also need to configure your phone to dialup to the ISP.

Listening to Music on Your Pocket PC

While proud Mac users are enjoying their iPod, Pocket PC users need not feel left out.

Figure 12. Apple's iPod

Pocket PC users, too, can enjoy their favorite music on their Pocket PC. All you need to have is a pair of earphones and, for additional storage, a SD/CF memory card or IBM Microdrive will suffice.

IBM 1GB Microdrive Compaq SD memory cards Compaq Compact Flash memory cards
IBM's 1GB Microdrive Compaq's SD memory card/td> Compaq Compact Flash Memory Card/td>
Figure 13. Multiple ways exist to increase the memory capacity of your Pocket PC

With my iPaq 3870, I can download music from my music CD (or MPG3 files) into my Pocket PC using the Windows Media Player.

This is how you do it. In Windows Media Player, select Media Library, and add a new playlist to My Playlists:

Windows Media Player
Figure 14. Creating a new playlist and drop all the songs that you want to synchronize into it

Drag and drop all music files, including those from Audio CDs, that you want to download into our Pocket PC into the new playlist.

To download the files onto the Pocket PC, click on Portable Device and select the playlist that your want to download. You should now see the Pocket PC on the right side of the playlist. Depending on the storage devices available on the Pocket PC, you can select the storage medium on your Pocket PC to store your music. My iPaq 3870 has a portion of the Flash ROM (about 6.6MB) dedicated for storage. The special portion of Flash ROM is known as iPaq File Store. The iPaq File Store does not wipe out the data in the event the iPaq crashes. In my case, I am going to copy my music files to the iPaq File Store. Click on the Copy Music button to start the copying.

Windows Media Player
Figure 15. Copying the songs in my playlist to my iPaq File Store

Depending on the synchronization method, either using syncing cable/cradle or Bluetooth, it took me about four minutes to transfer a 1.87MB file (a 4.02-minute song) using Bluetooth. It will definitely be faster if you use a syncing cable. But it works pretty well using Bluetooth. I just hate wires.

Once it is copied to your iPaq, you can now listen to your songs using Windows Media Player on the Pocket PC:

Windows Media Player (Pocket PC)
Figure 16. Playing the downloaded song using Windows Media Player (on the Pocket PC)

Since my iPaq File Store is quite limited in capacity, it does not allow me to store more than three songs, but you can either store it in the RAM or some external storage devices as shown in Figure 13. I now have one more reason to bring my Pocket PC along with me when I go traveling.

Watching Movies Using PocketTV

Who says you can't have fun on your Pocket PC? You can now watch movies on your Pocket PC using the PocketTV MPEG Movie Player from MpegTV. You can download a free copy (free for personal use) of the PocketTV from: http://www.mpegtv.com/wince/pockettv/.

Figure 17. Watching a MPEG movie using the PocketTV

Once you have downloaded and installed the player, you can head to http://www.pocketmovies.net/ for some movie samples. You can play movies either in 240x184 or 320x240 resolution (you have to turn your Pocket PC horizontally).

PocketTV plays MPEG files. If you want to convert your existing AVI, MOV, VCD or DVD movies into MPEG files optimized for PocketTV, check out this URL for tools and guidelines: http://www.mpegtv.com/wince/pockettv/encoding.html

Using Your Pocket PC as a Backup Device

Just like the Apple's iPod, you can double up your Pocket PC as a backup device. If you have the IBM Microdrive, or in fact any kind of storage, you can treat your Pocket PC like a portable hard disk.

In ActiveSync, click on the Explore button to display the directory structure of your Pocket PC:

Figure 18. ActiveSync allows you to explore the directory structure of your Pocket PC

To copy your files into the Pocket PC, you then simply drag and drop files into the Mobile Device folder:

PocketPC Directory Structure
Figure 19. The Pocket PC directory structure looks similar to Windows explorer

Your Pocket PC now doubles up as a portable hard disk.

Connecting to Windows Servers Using Terminal Services

You can use your Pocket PC as a Terminal Server client to connect to a Windows Server running Terminal Server. I find this feature useful when I need to do some quick tuning on my Web server.

The Terminal Services Client is available for download (for those Pocket PC 2000 users) from: http://www.microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/downloads/terminalservices/default.asp

Pocket PC 2002 users already have the program installed in their Pocket PC.

Terminal Services Terminal Services
Figure 20. Using Terminal Services Client to connect to a Windows Server running Terminal Server

Of course, don't expect to use this for too long, as you will soon get very irritated with the constant scrolling of windows. Like I always say, use it only in an emergency.

Changing the Theme of Your Pocket PC

Grown tired of the way your Pocket PC looks? How about changing some background pictures? Now you can do so with the Pocket PC 2002 Theme Generator from Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/downloads/themegenerator.asp

Theme Generator A New Theme
Figure 21. Using the Theme Generator to change the theme in my Pocket PC

The Theme Generator allows you to customize your own background images. Or if you simply want to download some ready-made themes from Microsoft, you can download them from: http://www.microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/downloads/themes.asp

Theme Theme Theme
Figure 22. More themes available for download from Microsoft

Themes from a third party are also available. For a list of themes, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/club/links.asp#themes

Projecting the Pocket PC Screen onto the Desktop

Another tool that I find indispensable is the Remote Display for Pocket PC. Basically this tool projects whatever is on your Pocket PC to the desktop, through TCP/IP. I use ActiveSync, either through the cradle or Bluetooth connection, and it works like a charm. In fact, all the screen captures in this article were taken from the Remote Display. It is also a great tool during presentation where you want to show the output of your Pocket PC to the audience. You also have the option to enlarge the display up to three times its original size and, best of all, you can control your Pocket PC using your mouse.

You can download the Remote Display from: http://www.microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/downloads/powertoys.asp

The only gripe I have about Remote Display is that the refresh rate is not fast enough when I am using Bluetooth. This setup is very useful when doing a presentation and you would like to walk about holding the Pocket PC in your hands and not connected to the syncing cable.


Now that you have seen some cool uses of Pocket PC, let me know what other uses you have for your Pocket PC. I am particularly keen to know how it has mobilized your life, and I'd also like to see your wish for the ideal Pocket PC. Use the TalkBacks below to share your comments.

Windows XP Unwired

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By Wei-Meng Lee

Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.