Category Archives: Psion

Postings relating to Psion

Garmin or TomTom

I guess I was an early adopter of satellite navigation. Over ten years ago I had a navigation package from TomTom (or Palmtop as they were then called) installed on my Psion 5mx and through a complicated series of cables hooked it up to a Garmin eTrex and powered the whole thing in the car. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit clunky, had no voice instructions, took an age to recalculate if you went off route, and had a number of mapping errors – Micheldever Station was marked on a railway bridge half a mile from the station for example.

From there I progressed onto stand alone units, sticking with Garmin as my handheld GPS units were Garmin’s and could share desktop software and maps. Currently I’m running a Garmin Nuvi with full maps of both Europe and North America and an FM traffic receiver, and that has served us fine.

Last week it turned out that both Beth and myself needed the satnav as both of us were going to be going to unfamiliar places. Obviously we didn’t need a second satnav, but since my iPhone has a nice little GPS on it I thought I’d take a look at the options. Conveniently PCPro have just done a group test of satnav applications, and TomTom came out top of the pile. Since one of my biggest bugbears with the Garmin Nuvi is the fact that the FM traffic often reports traffic jams when it’s too late to avoid them and I’d heard good things about the TomTom Live Traffic service I thought I’d go for the TomTom application despite it being one of the premium priced satnav products in the app store.

First off, it is a nice little app, slightly confusing to navigate around until you get used to it, but fine on the road. The Live Traffic service is impressive, and indicated traffic pretty consistently, and the routing based on actual road speeds certainly allowed it to pick routes which matched much more closely with short cuts I knew about rather than the more obvious routes the Garmin would take.

However there is a really big problem, even ten years later, there are still problems with the TomTom maps. Whilst Micheldever Station is now in the right place, other things aren’t. For example a local petrol station whilst close to the right spot is the wrong side of a road junction, speed limits are wrong, and whereas my Garmin will guide me right to my front door, even saying on which side of the street it is the TomTom app can only manage to get me to the street.

There are more serious problems too. We live adjacent to a military base, and whilst there are roads that go across, they are closed with security guards on the gates – the TomTom map doesn’t reflect this. The map is also just plain wrong in places, a major example being around the Atrium in Camberley.

Below are three screenshots from my iPhone. The left hand one is from the Maps application showing an up to date satellite picture of Southern Road down the side of the Atrium. The second shot is from TomTom, the only app of the three that costs any money. The third is from Waze, the community navigation app that is a free download.

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Looking at it you’ll see that the TomTom version is very inaccurate. It incorrectly shows Southern Road running all the way to Southwell Park Road, and running all the way to the A30 at the other end – it doesn’t. Instead it is blocked at both ends with an access road a short way down. There is also an entire roundabout missing which in the TomTom version is replaced by a pair of junctions. Whilst the Atrium is pretty new, it’s been built for a number of years, and the road layout TomTom has doesn’t bear much relation to what is there now, nor to what was removed when the Atrium was built. The third screen shot shows the layout according to Waze which is correct, and the layout is also correct on my Garmin Nuvi.

It is fair to say I’m not impressed. TomTom, much like Waze has the ability to report map errors, but with Waze I’m not paying a premium price. Garmin have up to date maps, is it too much to expect that TomTom could do the same? Suffice to say my experience with TomTom is not going to have me switching. Whilst I am impressed with the Live Traffic it is pretty fundamental to have accurate maps, having found a number of errors locally where I know the area, how can I have the confidence travelling in a strange area that the TomTom is correct?

ASUS eeePC

ASUS eeePC with Evesham Laptop

Ever since Psion pulled out of the PDA market I’ve been on the look-out for a device that gave me the calendar/diary functionality that I had with my Series 5, but allowed me to work on the move without having to lug a laptop around. With the PDA market heading in the direction of portrait orientation touch screens, although I’ve been able to get calendar and diary functionality, there has never been a keyboard equipped device that has really met my needs, such that my Series 5 periodically gets dusted off when I need something small on which to type.

The big issue with carrying on with just the Series 5 however has been the lack of communication options. It has neither Bluetooth or Wi-Fi functionality, so getting the kind of web and e-mail access I can get even from a device like an iPod Touch.

Just before Christmas, ASUS, a Tiwanese technology company better known for producing components rather than whole devices came out with a new sub-notebook called the eeePC – the name coming from their slogan that it is “Easy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to playâ€? with the device. In a slight bit of irony, some are classing the computer into a new category called Netbooks – one of the last Psion products was the Psion Netbook a sub-notebook of similar size to the eeePC that once again pre-empts many of the ideas that the wider market is now exploring many years before they became fashionable.

The eeePC is pretty limited by modern standards, coming with a relatively slow processor, limited RAM, and a solid-state drive that varies between 2Gb and 8Gb depending on the model. Operating system wise it ships with a version of Xandros Linux, but it does include full instructions and the relevant drivers to allow Windows XP to be installed. However the switch to Windows XP would bring a serious nose-dive in terms of the performance of the device. The other compromise in terms of design is the screen, which is a small 7“ screen that displays only 800480 pixels.

The target market for the device is apparently education, certainly indicated by the choice of RM as a distributor in the UK. The units are very much built to a price, are intended to be robust – the only moving part is a small fan to keep it cool – but that doesn’t need to run often. Out of the box the suite of software includes a modern web browser in the form of Firefox, and also an install of OpenOffice an open source office application suite that can quite happily cope with the various standard document formats. Alongside this it has Skype support – including video on the webcam equipped models with the latest software updates – and can hook up to most IM networks. It even has a copy of Kontact to provide PIM functionality. There are a few educational applications, but it is targeted primarily as a small, easy to use device for producing documents and browsing the internet.

Having said that, they are also being sold to consumers, ASUS seeing that such a device might be popular outside education circles. With a retail price of £250 for the mid-range 4Gb model, they have been flying off the shelves, with resellers often warning that availability was difficult.

Evesham, ASUS eeePC and Psion 5mx

After the initial rush though, and with a new higher spec model about to appear, the demand has slowed somewhat, such that I could just walk into our local PCWorld in Reading yesterday and pick one up. They didn’t have the full range of colours however – although Expansys, RM and Clove list anything other than the black or white as delayed or unavailable – so I couldn’t get a black one. However when I asked they did have the blue and green units that seem to be like gold dust everywhere else. More than that when I enquired further, the assistant said that they had 26 of the blue, and similar numbers of the green. Certainly if you’re in the market for an eeePC, especially if you want a coloured model, it might be worth checking out your local PCWorld rather than going for one of the internet retailers.

So what’s it like in use? The keyboard is a little cramped, but has more space than my Series 5. Screen wise some of the websites don’t quite fit in, but generally it’s a nice little machine. I had no trouble hooking it up to my router either via a wire or wirelessly. It even quite happily read the memory card out of my camera in the built in reader. There are some more things to try however. It has an external VGA port, so can apparently drive a full size screen or projector. It also includes three USB ports so it will be interesting to try some USB devices (some of the 3G USB modems apparently do work). It’s nowhere near the size of the Series 5, however as a small, easily portable device for reading e-mails, writing documents and browsing the web on the go it is great, and an absolute bargain for £250.

Stephen Fry – Devices and Desires

I blogged a couple of years ago about an article about Stephen Fry that appeared in Mac Format and about his addiction to the Mac platform stretching back twenty years.

Recently Stephen has started a blog and the topic of his first posting – Devices and Desires – which discusses another technological addiction, mobile devices and Smartphones. Not surprisingly he has an iPhone, but this looks at the competition, most of which he has tried.

Style wise this is a bit different from your usual technical article – very Stephen Fry (so it does have a couple of more adult comments) – but it is a great read, and pretty funny in places. Incidentally as an example of the quirkiness, the title of the article is taken from the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer (“I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heartâ€?)- not a common point of reference for a computer article, but somewhat appropriate!

Looking at his history, it seems he is a Psion 3 fan whereas I only came in when the Psion 5 was launched. He’s tried Palm devices, but is very frustrated with the way they seem to regularly try to commit corporate suicide. He is particularly damning about the Palm Foleo, a mobile device even he did not want.

As an aside he also mentioned Markspace Missing Sync as a good way to synchronise a PocketPC with a Mac – not surprisingly after my nightmare with the product I can’t agree. Despite it’s numerous updates over recent months, I’m still not sure I actually trust it not to scramble my diary!

According to the article, he has tried a number of Symbian smartphones, and has some harsh words for Sony Ericsson:

What a crushing, lowering, fury-inducing disappointment. Just how dumb are the software engineers, designers and marketeers at Sony E?

On the other hand, he seems to quite like the latest Nokia offerings.

Moving on to the iPhone, he has many of the same criticisms as other techies and industry commentators – but again like quite a few in the US he is using the phone anyway.

What is quite impressive is that for a blog with only one article, Stephen Fry has so far had 140 comments – hopefully that will persuade him to write more as I for one will certainly be reading.

Birthdays

There are a couple of significant computing anniversaries this year. Firstly, it is twenty years since version 1.0 of Powerpoint was released – initially only for the Apple Mac, the PC version came along a few years later once Microsoft bought out the original company. Presentation Zen not surprisingly has an article on the anniversary linking off to a Wall Street Journal interview with the original developers who ponder what their creation has become and the effects it has had on business. This quote from Robert Gaskins is particularly telling:

“A lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don’t like the intellectual rigour of actually doing the work.”

The other anniversary is that this week marks ten years since the Psion 5 was launched. The Register have done a great article telling the story of Psion and the people involved from the birth of the Psion 5 until the present day. What is amazing is how many ex-Psion staff have gone on to be part of market leading companies working on gadgets that Psion weren’t able to produce themselves. There is also a good deal of discussion as to the reasons that Psion ultimately withdrew from market, which in part seems to be blamed on existing customers who stuck with their Psion 3’s. Interestingly although Psion may be gone from the the PDA market, it is interesting to note that their belief in their operating system, Symbian was well founded. It does sort of leave you wondering how things might have been different if Psion had the finances to produce all the gadgets they had ideas for.

Redesign the Psion 5mx

Mobility Guru recently posted an article proposing producing a redesign of the Psion 5mx. For much the same reasons as I discussed a couple of months ago they like the small form factor, however they then list the OS, EPOC as a flaw and propose that a new Psion 5mx should use Windows Mobile, or even Windows XP instead!

The fact is that my Psion 5mx running EPOC is still the most stable computer I own, and compared to the number of times I have to reset my Windows Mobile PDA over the average day, I wouldn’t be keen on trading in the Psion for a Windows Mobile replacement. Give me a Psion 5mx running EPOC, Symbian, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and I’ll be happy…

Repairs

PsiXPDA Box

This weekend we’ve had a couple of repairs.

Firstly there was the Focus Bulb change, which started off somewhat stressful when we arrived at the dealer to be told that they were only planning to asses the work that was needed, not actually do it. At this point I said that I had told them over the phone exactly what needed doing, at which point they said that they didn’t order parts in ahead of time – remember that all that needed doing was the replacement of a bulb which they could get at the Halfords round the corner. At this point, the service manager clarified exactly what the problem was, and it seems that the person who had taken the booking had written down that I wanted the whole headlight unit changed, rather than just the bulb. Perhaps the only saving grace this time round was that they did it slightly cheaper due to less time – I assume because the dealer is getting well practised at changing Ford Focus bulbs. Having said that it is still massively more expensive than the cost for doing the same job on my VW Golf – a task I can do myself in minutes.

Secondly, I also got my venerable Psion 5mx back after a visit to POS Ltd for a service and to sort out a problem with the sliding keyboard mechanism not shutting smoothly. The keyboard is held in place by a metal spring, this is held in place by a couple of small plastic lugs, and it seems one of these had broken, so POS took the old case off and replaced it with a new one. The new case is the same colour, aside from around the external voice recorder buttons, where the surround is now silver rather than black. The finish also feels slightly different, compared to the older plastic that remains around the screen. However the interesting thing, was the packaging in which it was returned – a box for a PsiXPDA, a machine that has a website, and is described on the POS site, but that doesn’t seem to be available. Looking at the spec on the box, the machine is essentially a classic Psion 5mx but with the manufacturer logo changed. I’m thinking that perhaps I’ll keep the box, as quite apart for being just the right size to pack a Psion 5, maybe if the PsiXPDA never sees the light of day it will be a bit of a collectors piece.

A Writers Recommendation

As you may have gathered, recent events have had me blowing the dust off my old Psion 5mx, so much so that it’s back in service, primarily keeping track of the house move stuff. Whilst the Dell Axim can open up the spreadsheets that I’m using, it is a pain playing with figures without a keyboard. Anyway, today I came across a glowing recommendation from a writer who loves his Psion 5.