Handheld-based Sudoku Generators

I turned a friend of mine on to Sudoku awhile ago, but why pay for Sudoku books when there are free Sudoku generators for both the Palm and Pocket PC platform?

For the Palm, there is Sudoku 1.2 which is very thorough considering its freeware (the author does include a button on the webpage to PayPal him donations if you are so inclined).

For the Pocket PC, there is Sudoku Solver 1.1.

Dell Axim X30 Review

I have a reputation at work as the gadget guy — I’m always showing up at meetings with some new gadget that I’ve purchased or am demo-ing. My view is that life is short, and anything that can help me finish more tasks in less time is always worth a try.

Last March I bought an IPAQ 4155. Between my experiences with my HP laptop and then this latest HP IPAQ, I’m forgoing all HP products from now on. It’s just not worth the hassle. Besides which, companies (including HP) recently began releasing PDAs based on the new Intel 624mhz XScale processor. Since I rely on my PDA to help manage remotely located equipment, it was time to move on from the IPAQ 4155.

So I convinced the boss to spring for the Dell Axim X30. I thought about the Axim X50, but I really need something that I can carry with me comfortably on my belt clip pretty much 24/7 without getting in the way too much.

This week, the X30 finally arrived. Overall, it is a big improvement over the IPAQ 4155.

The X30 is quite a bit bigger and bulkier than the 4155, but it is still pretty small. Dell still uses a very rectangular design which makes the PDA feel a bit like a small paperback book. That suits me fine, but users who absolutely must have the smallest, thinnest PDA available will probably want to stick with the IPAQs.

I didn’t do any benchmarks, but it feels significantly faster than the 400mhz XScale that the 4155 uses. 80 percent of my time on my PDA is using Agenda Fusion to sort and filter the thousands of “to-do” tasks I have going on at any moment. Filtering those on the 4155 would frequently bring up the Pocket PC version of the hourglass, but I’ve yet to see such slowdowns when performing similar operations on the new PDA.

I do a lot of work with audio and video, and am impressed by the combination of the faster processor along with Windows Mobile 2003’s audio/video options. Obviously you’re not going to get DVD-quality video on a 320×240 screen, but I’ve played around with a few clips that would be more than adequate to show clients using just the X30. It’s not something I will use often, but it’s nice to know the option is there.

The X30 nicely implements the improvements in Windows Mobile 2003. The single biggest improvement there is the ability to switch between portrait and landscape mode. The Axim X30 allows me to set a button to toggle back and forth between the two modes, though novice users would be hard-pressed to figure out exactly where they would need to make that change and how they’d go about making it. I read a lot of novels, technical documents, and other materials on my PDA, so having landscape display baked into the OS was reason enough to justify an upgrade.

I complained earlier this year about how difficult it was to properly configure the IPAQ 4155’s wireless features — in fact I have had a number of people bring me their 4155’s to configure their WiFi because it’s a bit too difficult even for relatively advanced users. The Axim X30 is much better, though still a bit difficult, I suspect, for novices. The problem remains that to successfully configure WiFi on PDAs, you need to know all sorts of networking jargon. Maybe it’s just a problem that can’t be configured for easy install, but I suspect that some enterprising interface company could come up with a better solution. The X30 also supports bluetooth for those who care.

One additional caveat — I tend to wear 3-4 gadgets on my belt at any given moment, depending on what I’m going to be doing during the day, so I have no problem coming across as unfashionably geeky. Those not so inclined, however, shoudl be aware that the engineers at Dell apparently have a thing for lights, blinking and otherwise. The X30 has a very small external antenna which lights up blue when activated. The power button starts blinking red when the battery runs low. Depending on the battery status and WiFi connection, the X30 can look like a Christmas tree at times. Some reviewers have complained that this might be a downside for business users.

With a 624mhz processor and WiFi options, the X30’s only downside is the short battery life. Setting the processor to full speed, turning on WiFi, and turning the brightness all the way up, I barely achieved 3 hours worth of battery life. Turning off the WiFi helped a little, but I still received less than 4 hours of battery life. Like I said, I do a lot of reading on my PDA, and it was a bit annoying to read a novel during a three hour trip and worry that the battery was going to run out before reaching my destination.

Dell does sell an extended-life 1800mAh battery, which I did order. The problem is that the battery sticks out about 1/4 inch from the rear of the X30 which then renders the PDA incompatible with all of the cases for it. It also means you can’t lay the PDA flat on a surface for reading or other task. I’ll probably end up carrying mine around solely for emergencies or breaking down and buying another 900mAh.

Speaking of charging the X30, the folks at Dell skimp and leave out a cradle for the X30. I don’t really use cradles, since I don’t sync my PDA and rarely take it out of its RhinoSkin case, but for people who do want to sync/charge with a cradle, that’s going to be an extra cost (Dell does include a sync/charge USB cable which works fine).

Clearly PDAs with 4″ screens and 640×480 resolutions are the future, but I’d prefer to wait another 8-12 months to see more options there and perhaps even faster processors (from my personal testing and reviews, the 624mhz processor is still a bit sluggish pushing around the pixels required for a 640×480 display). Until then, the X30 is an excellent alternative that will more than fit the bill until the VGA PDAs come down in price a bit.

Massive Avantgo Breakage

Yikes. Avantgo is about to create massive breakage in its custom channels. According to Tom’s Hardware reports that businesses — including several large companies — were uusing the custom channels for enterprise use rather than paying upwards of $10,000 for the dedicated server that Avantgo wanted to sell them.

Avantgo’s solution — any custom channel with more than eight subscribers will have to pay a minimum of $1,000 per year. Over 100 subscribers? Try a minimum of $4,000 per year.

Of course a lot of hobbyist-type web sites use Avantgo for custom feeds and those are about to disappear. As Tom’s Hardware puts it,

But what about antagonising users? Capping readers for each custom channels at eight seems generous: tomorrow thousands of Avantgo subscribers will see links to their custom channels break. Avantgo advises users to email custom channels, asking them to provide a full subscriber service, but if the content providers don’t play ball, the service becomes somewhat less necessary.

This apparently doesn’t impact full channels, but it would seem like only a matter of time before folks there with thousands of subscribers are asked to pay up as well.

Personally I don’t think it is unreasonable to charge for this sort of service, but I think Avantgo is targeting the wrong market when restricting itself entirely to large corporate clients who may (or may not) be willing to pay $4,000 – $10,000 per year for their service. They’d do well to consider a second tier service at more reasonable prices for smaller web sites.

And long term, both Microsoft and Palm should build this sort of functionality into the OS. I should be able to set up an XML file on my site and then go to my Palm or Pocket PC, enter the URL for the XML file, and then have my PDA update automatically every time I synchronize based on the parameters in the XML file.

Further Proof that Palm Doesn’t Get It

CNET reports that Palm unleashed its lawyers on Palm-related fan web sites. A letter sent to the operator of one such site, for example, said,

Palm Inc. is proud to have a positive and productive relationship with Web sites promoting the Palm OS. We do not in any way want this relationship to deteriorate. However, we must insist that you work with us to re-brand your Web site in a manner that does not infringe Palm’s trademark rights.

Rebranding? They want such sites to stop using the term “Palm”, especially in domain names, in favor of “Palm OS.”

This is beyond bizarre. Apparently it is part of some broader marketing strategy by Palm to include Palm OS devices such as the Sony Clie and the Handspring Visor (which sounds about right — that’s the sort of idiotic result that comes about whenever you get an internal focus group together within a sizable corporation).

This is especially stupid for Palm because it means all new domain names for the best known Palm-related web sites, which means that for many users finding Palm related web sites will become somewhat more difficult in the short term.

At least two of the sites hit by the letters asking for a name change went out and registered domain names with “Pocket” in them, alluding to Microsoft’s handheld OS.

Just another small indication that Palm no longer has a clue.

What Is Going On With Palm/Handspring?

Is anybody else as mystified as I am about the moves (or lack thereof) being made by Palm and Handspring? I am a very heavy user of my Palm IIIxe and it is one of the few high-tech gadgets I’ve ever purchased that I actually used on a daily basis. I don’t leave home without it. But when it’s time to buy a new PDA, I’m almost certainly going with a PocketPC model, probably an iPaq.

The problems with the Palm OS models are evident in a recent announcement by Handspring of a couple new models (Don Larson originally pointed this out to me).

Gee whiz — for $299 and $199 respectively I can buy yet another greyscale PDA that uses proprietary technology for expandability.

I’d prefer color and a compact flash slot. There are several Palm PDA models that include one or the other, but none to my knowledge that features both. Which is why I doubt I’ll ever buy another Palm PDA.

Someday there aren’t going to be any Palm PDAs and the usual suspects will claim that Microsoft killed Palm with underhanded tactics. In reality, at the moment Palm and Handspring seem intent on committing suicide.

More Proof that Palm is Doomed

I can’t believe that Palm is counting on Blue Tooth to rescue their rapidly sinking ship. First they tried wireless in the Palm V that nobody wanted, now they’re going to let it all ride on Blue Tooth… maybe the third time will be the charm and they’ll ship a Palm with 802.11b built in. Even then, they’re falling so far behind what Compaq and other PocketPC manufacturers are doing (and I am stunned at that), the entire Palm platform risks being relegated to obscurity in a few years if it doesn’t play its cards right.