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The new multimedia PocketPCs are terrific if you have money to burn and don't mind living within a Windows-only box. Neither applies to me.
Palms, on the other hand, have powerful PIM applications; can be synced with Mac, Linux, and Windows platforms; and are available for as little as $149.
But if digital pictures (maybe from your new digital camera?) are part of the information that you want to carry with you, do you have to chuck your Visor in the trash and shell out $500 for a Casio EM 500, HP Jornada 545, or Compaq iPaq 3650?
There's a nifty Palm application that allows you to easily port your digital images to your trusty PDA. You can add metadata to the pictures (providing searchable captions), then you can beam the images to other Palm users. And best of all, you can start using it today without spending a penny.
When I discovered AlbumToGo, I was expecting to see one of those $19.95 price tags that we usually encounter with sophisticated Palm applications. After all, this isn't just another checklist program. AlbumToGo allows me to view JPEGs on my Palm device, attach notes to those images, display them individually or in a slide show with selectable transitions, beam pictures to other Palm users, and sync with both Macs and PCs. That's quite an array of features for absolutely no cost.
As an editorial aside, this application represents one of the good things about the Palm platform -- there's a broad developer base creating innovative applications and making them available at reasonable prices ... sometimes for no cost at all. I really enjoy discovering these gems, and I admire the folks who create them.
AlbumToGo is a good example of this type of innovation. There's a color version for the Palm IIIc and gray-scale downloads for the monochrome Palms. Here's a complete list of compatible devices:
The download includes the "AlbumToGo.prc" file (52k), the "AlbumToGo" desktop companion application (580k), and a few sample images (16k each). You simply upload the .prc file via HotSync to your Palm, then launch the desktop application on your host computer. Now you're ready to prepare your first picture for PDA display.
On your desktop computer, drag a JPEG and drop it on the AlbumToGo application. You can use a photo from a digital camera or a scan -- it doesn't matter. AlbumToGo launches and converts your picture to a 16-level gray-scale image and displays it in the preview window.
The AlbumToGo desktop application provides cropping, brightness, and contrast controls. It cleverly converts your JPEGs to .prc files for display on your Palm device.
You can, if you want, preview images with just 4 levels of gray to see how they'll look on Palms with the older Dragon CPU. Personally, I think they look terrible in comparison to the much smoother, sharper 16 levels that you get with most of the current monochrome displays. Once you have the image displayed in the preview window (which represents the same proportions as a Palm screen), you can position it using the vertical and horizontal scroll bars. This is how you crop the picture. You can also adjust the brightness and contrast.
Now your picture is ready for uploading. Hit the Save button and AlbumToGo creates a .prc file that you can add to your Palm with the next HotSync.
When you open AlbumToGo on your Palm device, you're greeted with a list of photos you've previously uploaded. You can either view them individually or show them off in a slide show. Amazingly, there are seven transitions to choose from, and you can activate pictures for the slide show by checking the box next to the image title.
The photos are amazingly sharp with a pleasing gray-scale palette. According to Club Photo, the creators of AlbumToGo, the images are automatically dithered using an error diffusion method to provide the highest possible image quality for any given screen. Their technology works surprisingly well. I viewed one of my test photos on both a Visor and a Palm V -- the image looked identical on both.
Of course we're talking about a Palm monochrome screen here, and not a TFT display with thousands of colors. As with most monochrome Palms, the quality of the image display varies with environmental lighting conditions. So if you want to show off the family album, I suggest you don't do it outside in the bright sun. If color is important, then take a look at the Palm IIIc.
I discovered that I could improve results by cropping my JPEGs beforehand in Photoshop and saving them a little oversized, such as 400 x 400 pixels. Then I'd adjust the levels and sharpen the images before moving them over to AlbumToGo.
You can also beam photos to other Palm users. First you need to send the receiver the AlbumToGo application. Club Photo warns that if the receiving device has any existing AlbumToGo image files, they will be overwritten when you upload the app. I'm not sure why anyone would have images without the app, but now you've been warned too. Once the receiver has AlbumToGo, you can send individual photos from within the application. It's really quite fun.
You might be so excited about being able to display your pictures on your monochrome PDA that you overlook the clever metadata functionality of AlbumToGo. By opening the Note tab on the desktop application, you can enter caption information, copyright notice, and keywords. The text can be read on the Palm by clicking on the note icon that accompanies the file name. This information stays with the photo as it's beamed from one device to the next.
You can attach metadata to your images by entering text in the Note field.
What's really cool is that all of that data is searchable via the Find button on the Palm. If you receive a photo that doesn't contain any metadata, you can add it yourself by switching to "Notes" mode within AlbumToGo and entering the text. Since I put copyright info with every photo I share, users can pull up a listing of all my images by simply searching on my name.
AlbumToGo isn't designed to show landscape pictures from your recent vacation (unless you have a color Palm IIIc). But it does do a good job of displaying people and things. There are real practical uses for the road warrior who needs to show a picture or two without lugging around a laptop or a product portfolio.
When using this application, be sure to crop your pictures tightly, bump up their contrast, and sharpen them as needed. By doing so, you'll be able to enjoy the benefits of this nifty application and expand the capability of your existing PDA.
You can download AlbumToGo for free at the Club Photo web site. They offer all sorts of interesting digital imaging solutions in addition to this terrific Palm application.
Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.
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