This article was originally published in 1997. Updated comments from December 2003 are in RED.
You're on the road but you just can't live without your computer. What can you do? Well, those clever people at IBM, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard, Psion have recently been churning out a new breed of portable computer, the palmtop.
Six years has changed the marketplace somewhat. There are two main types of backpackable computer, the Palmtop or PDA. Palmtops are very small computers, usually running a version of Windows or Linux and PDAs (Pesonal Digital Assitant, a term coined by Apple on the launch of the long gone, Newton) which run Symbian (originally the Psion operating system, now designed for convergant PDA/Phone devices), PalmOS, PocketPC (used to be WinCE) and finally Linux.
A lightweight computer to fit in the palm of your hand. You can get your email and play a few games, but are all palmtop's created equally?
Not on your life! For the wimp user, the decision is clear, one of the many breeds of WinCE (read PocketPC from now on) machines. WinCE /PocketPC is the name of the operating system, written by Microsoft so you can guarentee that it will look reasonable but will make sure you can't do anything productive, that runs on the little beastie. You can connect to the Web and you can read your email. There are some games around and a WinCE machine is generally okay, but do you really want one? In the United Kingdom, PocketPC based phones are quite popular and are driving sales of PocketPC devices.
Most people will be happy with a Psion palmtop. The 3x versions are really cheap now and have stacks of software, so games to while away those dreary coach journey's are ten-a-penny. The new Series 5 is a real cracker, Email, web, the lot. However, it's not easy to connect to more advance equipment, like a digital camera or even a satellite phone.
Things have changed. Psion has pulled out of the market, replaced by manufacturers using the Symbian operating for their phones. SonyEricsson and Nokia are the main players in this arena, with Samsung bringing out devices as well. These machines are primariloy phones (with the exception of the Nokia N-Guage which is a gameboy like device which also operates as a phone). All modern Symbian devices have Bluetooth allowing wireless connectivity.
So, you really want power. You want to be the top man (or woman) on your block. What do you choose. Well, if you have stupid amounts of money to burn and you can't live without all those Windows95 games, then you want a Libretto. If you have modest amounts of money to burn then go for the IBM PC110. Both machines are powerfull. They are both Desktop machines in the body of mice (okay, mouse for the PC110, rat for the Libretto). The PC110 is the smallest, the Libretto the quickest. These babies can plug into digital cameras, satellite phones, flatbed scanners, solar power arrays, they have sound cards, colour screens and play Doom like there's no tomorrow. Why would you want anything else? You wouldn't. This is as good as it gets, these are the top dogs, the big cheese, they are the best.
Well, in 1997 they were the best. Now, there is a new breed of Libretto that is small and portable, but the front-runner is without question Sony. I have been using a Sony PCG-U1 as my main computer for the last year. In addition to a the Windows operating system (Windows 2000/2003/XP Pro - you decide which) you have extra bits the old palmtops did not have. The U1 and its' more recent siblings have an external monitor connector with dual screen functionality, a firewire port, two USB ports, Ethernet and a Memory Stick reader with gobs of memory and disk space.
So, what do I travel with? Well, my favorite is the IBM PC110 palmtop. It's small, light and has some great PIM software (though I did have to convert it from Japanese into English). I'm actually writing this article on my PC110 sitting in a basement bar in the Marco Polo rest house in Budapest, Hungary. As you can tell, it travels well. As noted above, I now use the Sony PCG-U1 as my main machine. It has travelled with me all over Europe and the USA, working flawlessly.
If you are to get your email from the remotest of areas of the world, you will always do well by using the most powerfull machine you can. My current setup on this machine is running Windows 3.1, using Microsoft Explorer for my POP3 email package and IBM GlobalNet for my access provider. I am striving for the perfect combination of software, this is my current setup only.
Currently, my Sony PCG-U1 is running Windows XP with Ameol for email and a free local provider that I look up before I go abroad. In Europe, especially Eastern Europe, I found that most Internet cafes were happy for me to connect via ethernet.
It's not just software that matters, I need to connect to a telephone, but there are so many types of telephone plugs out there, you need to carry a whole briefcase of equipment to combat every combination. In China, there isn't even a definate standard, so plugs change from location to location. To counter this, you use an acoustic coupler. Gone are the days when these things were big and bulky, they are now slimline and can work at high connection speeds. My favourite is the TeleFast adaptor from TeleAdapt. Nothing has changes here. I still use the same acoustic coupler as I did back in 1997.
By Seamus Waldron (c)1997 and (c)2003