Product Review

April 30, 1999

Neil Cameron is an independent legal technology consultant andmember of the SCL Council.

Windows CE and Palmtops

I have maintained for some years that Paul Brenells and I are probably theonly people on the planet ever to buy and use the Microsoft/Timex data watch. Ihave always been keen to have as much relevant information as possible with meat any time and that seemed the best way to do it. I have resisted the plauditsof committed Psion users (especially Harry Small and Richard Susskind) over manyyears – they just seemed too big and too proprietary for me. The only thing Ihad against my watch was that it did not allow any direct data entry, all itsinformation was entered from Microsoft Outlook when you held it in front of thescreen and the wavy lines downloaded your appointments, reminders, tasks andcontact telephone numbers – it was almost worth it just to see the expression onpeople’s faces the first time they saw this working. It then beeped X minutes(25 in my case) before each appointment and then reminded you what it was. Apartfrom this I had my trusty Toshiba Portege laptop which, despite being thesmallest available in 1996, was starting to look bigger and bigger.

The only other thing that I found tempting in recent years was not the Psion,but the PalmPilot – however, it too was proprietary and it was very fussy aboutthe type of handwriting it was willing to recognise.

I was not interested in the so-called Windows CE hand-held PCs (HP haveseveral models); they seemed too big to put in your pocket easily, and toolimited as machines. Similarly, the Toshiba Libretto – while good competitionfor both traditional laptops and Psions – was too big for my needs.

What I wanted was a good excuse not to have to carry my laptop around Londonunless I had a presentation to give, or needed to do a lot of text entry. What Idid want was the entire contents of my Microsoft Outlook, I wanted to be able tochange them, I wanted the ability to check my e-mail – and I wanted to put it ina suit or shirt pocket without a second thought.

When the first Windows CE machines came out I took a closer look, and wasvery tempted – but it was only at Christmas that I felt emboldened to pursue theidea further. In the New Year sales Dixons were selling the 4Mb version of theCasio Cassiopeia E-10 for £199, so I went in for a closer look. The salesmandid not know the machine (this was Dixons after all), it had a screen full oferror messages he could not get rid of and on top of that they had lost themanuals and software – I didn’t buy it. But it looked nice and it was a turningpoint.

I then turned to the Web for more information – particularly Craig Peacock’svery informative pages at that time there were really only three proven Windows CE PalmTop PCs: thePhilips Nino, the Casio and the Everex Freestyle.

The Casio was considered to be good, with a good display very brightback-light and somewhat more stylish than the others – it was 5.5 oz, and withdimensions of 4.9″ x 3.2″ x 0.72″ .

The Nino was, and is, too big – 7.33 oz and 5.25″ x 3.41″ x 0.87″ ; it fails the pocket test.

The Everex Freestyle had been the first machine released, at Easter 1998, butit had originally been criticised for screen quality. On the other hand it isthe smallest and lightest Windows CE PC – it weighs in at only 4.8 oz, and is acompact 4.8″ x 3.18″ x 0.64″. They had also,apparently, just improved the screen display. Finally, it had a docking station(as with the other machines) but this one had its own batteries, an optionalmodem and when on mains power it re-charged the Nickel Metal Hydride batterypack in the main unit itself – none of the others do this.

So that decided it, I went to the Everex Web site ( and was eventually diverted to Elonex in the UK for ordering online. I orderedan 8Mb version without the modem in the cradle for £299. [I was going to putthe Web link here, but it’s disappeared and now you get referred to someonecalled FIC U.K. instead of Elonex, contact details of (phone): 44 1895 252427,fax: 44 1895 810814 and (e-mail) checking reveals that the Freestyle is still offered on the Elonex Website though – www. – and they’ve since knocked £100 off the price!The model I bought is now £193.88 – typical!]

However, it was between Christmas and NewYear and I got no feedback when Ichecked the status of the order electronically a few days later. Having no senseof deferred gratification and getting impatient, I cancelled the order and droveto Allders (the only physical retail outlet in the UK) in Ilford to buy one. Itook it home and set it up in its cradle to charge the batteries for therecommended eight hours for the first charge, manfully resisting the temptationto play with it during that period.

First Impressions

While I was waiting for the battery pack to charge I inspected my new toy. Ithas four buttons at the bottom of the display – one with a calendar icon, onefor tasks, one for contacts and one for `NoteTaker’ – a basic text editor. Abovethe screen is a small microphone and indicator light.

On the left side are four more buttons: back-light, contrast and voicedictation; as well as a small jack for a combined microphone and earpiece. Atthe bottom is the main battery access. On the right side there is the on/offswitch, an `Action’ button with combined up and down `rocker’ buttons, as wellas an exit button. At the back there is a small loudspeaker, a reset button andthe backup battery access. Finally, at the top there is a plastic stylus in itsholster, the infra-red port and the compact-flash slot.

Having charged the battery pack I started it up. The first thing that happensis that you are asked to calibrate the stylus by `tapping’ on movingcross-hairs, then you’re off.

Unless you want to start populating the system from scratch the next thingyou want to do is set up the synchronisation to your main desktop or laptop PC.To do this you load the `services for Windows CE’ CD-ROM and this sets up arange of facilities on your main PC.

One of these is a folder called `Mobile Devices’, which sits there waitingfor you to plug in your PalmTop. When you do (via a provided proprietary serialcable), they automatically establish a connection and you are asked to establisha`profile’ for the current CE device – you can have multiple profiles anddevices. One point to note is that the default connection is at the low speed of19,200 baud so you have to change it manually to 115,200. If you have a PC withan infra-red port, of course, you will have all this up and running at fullspeed in no time.

The next bit is pure magic; it takes the entire content of your desktopOutlook and squirts it all into the Palmtop. Pretty much instantaneously yournew device is stuffed full of your familiar data. This greatly enhances yourability to do useful things with it – you’re off and running.

There are a number of synchronisation options you can set, such as:

  • what it will synchronise – it can be any or all of tasks, messages, contacts, documents, calendar or mobile channels (more on this below)
  • how often it will synchronise – automatically on connection, automatically when the data changes, or manually.

Software and Features

So what does it do? Well, you get PalmTop (or `Pocket’) versions of the mainOutlook tools, such as the Calendar, which work broadly the same way as before,only in miniature – unlike the Palm Pilot, for example, which takes the samedata but puts it into its own distinctive interface.

The text editor is called NoteTaker, and is not so much a cut-down version ofWord but a very basic editor. The good thing is that as the resulting`documents’ are synchronised with your desktop they are automatically convertedto, or from, Word format and placed into a special folder on the desktop. Thisis very useful for meeting notes; as soon as you get back to the office you cane-mail your record of the meeting to the participants in Word format.

So how do you operate and enter text into Palmtops?

Windows CE is very much like Windows in operation. There is a Taskbar at thebottom of the screen (which can be set to AutoHide) with a Start button withoptions behind it. Instead of moving a mouse and pressing a mouse button youmove your stylus over the screen and then touch it gently (in Windows CEparlance this is a`tap’): one tap equates to one mouse click and two equates totwo. It is as simple, and effective, as it sounds.

Windows CE Palmtops come with two methods of text entry:

  • there is a virtual `keyboard’ option – at the bottom portion of a screen a small keyboard pops up which you operate with the stylus
  • there is a cut down version of the `Jot’ handwriting recognition software – if you select this option a special `pad’ opens up with three areas for single character recognition of lower case characters, upper case characters and numbers.

Both of these options are better than the Palm Pilot alternative for avariety of reasons. Firstly, the character recognition area is not permanent -it appears only when it is in use. On the PalmPilot it always occupies aboutone-third of the bottom of the screen. Secondly, after you have entered twocharacters the Windows CE device will offer you a choice of viable words fromits internal dictionary – in my experience the word you want is often there.

There are also a number of third-party software add-ons to assist in textentry. There is Jot Professional which does not restrict you to a text entryWindow, but rather allows you to write anywhere on the screen, but it stillrecognises only single characters. I prefer Calligrapher from Paragraph software(a $50 download from internetink/calligrapher),which allows you to write anywhere on the screen, and, most importantly, in`joined-up’ handwriting. Not only that, but you can also tailor the handwritingrecognition to your own style of handwriting. It works pretty well too, you cancover the entire screen in text and then pause and it will recognise it all inone go.

Other software it comes with includes:

  • Mobile Channels – which allow you to download web content for off-line reading.
  • Voice Dictation – for taking quick voice notes, even when the device is switched o°
  • Pocket Streets – Microsoft provides free a copy of its Pocket Streets program with zoomable street maps for major US cities (not London yet), packed full of street addresses, shopping and (most importantly) restaurant information.

All of the CE devices have alarms that will turn on the system and make anoise, but the Everex Freestyle also has a Vibration Alert which vibrates inyour pocket as well.

The battery is supposed to last seven hours before a recharge, but mine hasonly done this once – more usually only lasting about four hours, although thismay be something to do with my Compact Flash Card.

I had bought a machine with 16Mb RAM of which only 2Mb was used, but I am acautious soul so I ordered a 32Mb Compact Flash Card from Kingston for £95. Itdidn’t work.

All that happened when I put it in was an error message and a demand for adevice driver. I put in urgent help calls to Everex and Kingston, and leftsuitably desperate messages on three Internet forums. None of them came backsooner than my realisation that I had inserted the card the wrong way round! Iturned it over and re-inserted it and gained 32Mb extra storage.

It is important to remember that the base 16Mb is shared between runningprograms and storing data. You can vary the split manually with a system tool insetup.

So, what have I used my16Mb for? On it at the moment I have a number ofinteresting things to read when bored at airports, including the full text of:

  • the amendments to the Constitution of the United States
  • the Starr report
  • the script of Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  • the Iliad
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • the script of Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride
  • Tom Sawyer

with plenty of space for many more.

The next thing was to get myself connected and I had several options here:

  • buy the docking station with built-in modem – that approach assumes the use of a land line and I wanted to use my mobile phone
  • buy a Compact Flash GSM modem – but they are not available yet, would eat battery power, and would entail removing the memory card every time I used it
  • get a software-only GSM modem.

Luckily, TDK had just released Global- Pulse – a software-only GSM modem forWindows and for Windows CE!

I blagged a review copy, installed it, connected the Everex to my OrangeNokia 6150e and tried it. It didn’t work. Does that sound familiar?

It dialled – but would not establish a connection. I tried it 30 times overthree days. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Alistair Bell of TDK UK.I went down to their Harrow offices (once I managed to find them) plugged it into show Alistair my problem, and tried it again – it worked first time!

It turned out that most Orange base stations (except those next to TDK) wereemulating ISDN lines, and I needed to add a short configuration string in theGlobalPulse setup. After that it worked, and has worked fine since.

I wish I could think of some exciting things to say about GlobalPulse, but itjust works. It is as fast as a GSM data connection can be (ie 9600 – not veryfast at all) but it works very reliably, doesn’t kill my PalmTop batteries, andallows me to collect e-mails speedily and conveniently both in the UK and abroadwith the minimum of kit. For details of GlobalPulse, see

Due to the connection speed, I have disabled the download of attachments andset it to download only the first 100 lines of e-mails – if you find somethingvery exciting you can tell it to go and get the full attachment and/or message.There is a bit of a `gotcha’ on attachments anyway. Even if you did downloadthem you couldn’t view or read them – as the converter for Word, Excel, etcresides on the desktop PC. This is supposed to be resolved in the next versionof Windows CE.

There is another small `gotcha’ with e-mail. I should say that while it worksfine with Demon, as it will with most other mail services, it will not collectMicrosoft’s own MSN e-mail, as Windows CE does not support Secure (encrypted)Password Authentication that MSN requires.

However, most of my business e-mail comes via Demon, so this means that Inormally have no need to lug my laptop around with me all day. All I need is theFreestyle, my Orange Nokia 6150e phone and (at the moment) two large unwieldycables to join them together; they are supposed to be releasing short tailoredcables very soon, however.

While investigating such cables I came across a specialist supplier calledGreenwich Instruments, who have developed a range of cables for Psion, PalmPilotand Windows CE Palmtop and Handheld users to connect their devices to printers,phones and so on: see

Naturally, I also started looking around for other software to download toput on the Freestyle. I tried a few utilities before finding one that does whatall the others did separately, with more besides. This is called StarTap, and itprovides a finger-friendly customisable interface (so you can do things withouteven having to get your stylus out) as well as an Explorer program, a method ofclosing programs (many PalmTop programs have no `Close’ option as you’resupposed to be able to run many at once), battery monitoring, task switcher -and much more. It costs $10!

StarTap is fromThumb’s Up Software at

The other useful thing I have found is `Conversions In Hand’, a handyconversion calculator for distances, weights, volumes, speed, etc – but mostimportantly for currencies. Even better is the fact that it automaticallydownloads updated currency conversion rates from the Web every time the PalmTopis synchronised. CIH is $20 from

I won’t mention the games in detail – but I have Chess, Golf, Solitaire andWinMine.

Niggles and Gotchas

Nothing is perfect, and there are a number of niggles – some withworkarounds, some not.

I’ve already mentioned the unwieldy cables, the inability to deal with e-mailattachments, and the inability to collect MSN mail.

The stylus that comes with the Freestyle is rather light, in contrast to therather nice new-style PalmPilot III stylus which has some metal content to makeit heavier, which helps in use somewhat. One way round this is to order specialPalmTop stylus inserts for ball pens from do inserts for many types of pens, including Cross pens and my trusty Lamymultipen.

The synchronisation of messages from the Outlook Inbox occasionally takesages, and in some cases fails altogether. Apparently the PalmTop tries toresolve each e-mail address in each e-mail online. This means that when you aresynchronising it will make your PC dial your ISP, occasionally more than once.Why it needs to do this escapes me entirely.

There is a Windows CE back-up facility which can be used to back-up theentire PalmTop contents – very handy. What they don’t tell you is that if youchange the default system language on the Palm-Top from US English to BritishEnglish and then suffer a PalmTop failure (which resets the language back to thedefault US), it won’t restore unless you first change the language back to thestate it was in when you backed up. Sounds like a small thing, but it cost meone day’s labour.

In Pocket Outlook Contact you can’t always see the contacts full phone numberin the preview panel without opening up the contact’s details in full. This is apain when you’re in a hurry in a taxi to make a call and balancing the PalmTopon your knee-cap.

I also have a problem with the system misreporting the volume of space thatthe Mobile Channels are taking up that I still haven’t resolved.

Finally, I want a longer battery life!

Competition and Futures

Similar Windows CE devices are available from Casio, Philips and a range ofother suppliers: for a full list see

They are all fairly similar. Some are actually direct clones of the Everex,which remains the smallest and lightest.

Don’t forget the Windows CE hand-helds, like the HP machines – which arelarger, but which run Pocket Office in full and will therefore allow you to readattachments, present PowerPoint and which have keyboards. They are altogethertoo big for me but some users love them. For details of suppliers and devices,see

Alternatively there are very small full Windows portables, such as the tinyToshiba Libretto, see David Thorpe’s review of his Libretto and his experienceswith all manner of small similar devices in the past. David also writes abouthis RexPro. That is a PC-Card device with a screen and buttons – effectivelyit’s the smallest device which can take all your Outlook data.

The next step is colour PalmTops. Everex and HP are about to release newcolour Windows CE Palm-size machines – a bit heavier, both in your hand and onbatteries, but still desirable. Second-hand Everex Freestyle anyone?


Despite a few moans, I love it to death, find it invaluable and take iteverywhere with me. 80% of this article was written on it in spare moments atairports, in taxis and on trains.