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Device History:   HTC Kaiser | HTC Wizard | HTC Blue Angel | HP iPAQ 3970 | Sony Clie T615C | Philips Nino 320

Last updated 2/12/2004 - This page has been permanently archived and will never be updated again.

Jump to:   Hardware | Software | E-Books | Websites

Mobile Computing Page: HP iPAQ 3970

iPaq 3970This is my current handheld computer, an HP iPAQ 3970, which I use in conjunction with a Sony Ericcson T616 Mobile Phone with Bluetooth technology. Prior to acquiring the T616 I was not fully utilizing the capabilities of the 3970. The page describing the state of my device at that time is archived here.

I have decided to devote this little section of my website to PDAs because of the importance I place on "extensions" of the human persona. Just as the home is an extension of the body and soul, and the automobile is an extension of our mobility, the computer (or the sketchbook, or the blank canvas, etc.) is an extension of the mind. Because of its design, the hand-held is an extraordinarily appropriate human-scaled manifestation of the computer.

Before getting into how I use my PDA, it's important to step back and look at the big picture for a moment: I've found that PDAs and other organizational tools don't really help you get long-term goals done, and long-term goals are most important. PDAs are better for short-term organization and tasks. No system/device/etc. can make you stop putting things off and get to the substance of any matter. It won't help you do the "important, but not urgent" things, if you don't have the desire within you to do those things already.

If you spend all your time handling the urgent, and never take the time to get to the important, you run the risk of living a reactionary professional (and perhaps personal) life. I believe that many "heavy" users of PDAs (or any other type of organizational system for that matter), because of their fascination with the technology or the system, run the risk of putting too much importance on tasks, and not enough importance on goals.


That said, I use the PDA-phone system to organize my life, keep track of nearly everything, browse the internet, check email, read ebooks and other documents, write, edit spreadsheets, read the news, keep reference materials handy, view meaningful photographs and video clips, play games, play music and more. I use it instead of a laptop. I use it as a replacement for paper--most of the time.

It is very important that the device adapt to me, rather than I to it. A tool should serve and enhance your work/lifestyle. If it doesn't, why bother? Rapid, efficient, easy use is what I demand. I don't want to think too much or put out too much effort, on the spot, when I need information. I want to be able to access the device while walking down the street, with little effort, and get the information I need within a few seconds. If I can't do that, the device is of little value to me.

Device Use
Share of Use Time
PIM/email/time management
Etext/web/reference reader
Word processing
Photo/map/video viewer

The purpose of this page is to describe some of the applications, system extensions, configurations and hardware that I find extremely useful, with the hope that this information can be of some help to others. I love to optimize (i.e., tweak) the tools I use heavily in my life. So I figure that as long as I've put that effort into it, I might as well share my experiences.

My Hardware

In December of 2002, I changed PDA platforms; indeed, I jumped ship from the PalmOS over to PocketPC. You see, my current employer's IT department only supports two brands of devices: Palm and HP. Thus, my Clie became contraband. I had to choose between the Palm Tungsten T and the HP iPAQ 3970--I picked the 3970 (aka 3975). It seems to have a great set of features, but it's a bit bigger than I'd like. My wife is the recipient of my old Clie 615--she's quite happy.

HP iPAQ 3970 (link) - Tethered to SE T616 Bluetooth phone; see below. I'm generally very happy with the power and versatility of this device. I wish the body (but not the screen) was just a bit smaller and thinner.

I always like to show how my hardware buttons are mapped, so here goes:

Button Label
Pocket Informant 4 (PI4) Calendar
PI4 Contacts
Inbox (built-in)
iTask (built-in)
Voice Recorder/Notes

Here are my comments on this device so far:

  • I found the built-in calendar application unacceptable, prompting me to almost immdiately download Pocket Informant. This is a great program, and highly customizable. Only problem is, the input-response feedback is a little slow. Funny how a 400MHz processor runs PIM apps slower than my old 33MHz Sony Clie (although, I admit, they are more feature-rich programs). I found the remainder of the built-in PIM apps to be functionally quite sufficient, and fast, too. Pocket Inbox in nice.
  • The screen is amazing--the best backlighting and color rendition I've ever seen. The resolution, 320x240, is lower than that of my Sony (320x320), but I find the screen to be much more usable--largely because of its size. The problem I always had with my Sony screen (besides the less-than-ample backlight) was that the pixel density was so high that small text was nearly unreadable. There is a limit to how small any display can be before it becomes a strain to use.
  • The built-in voice recorder is VERY handy...
  • The speaker is high-quality, and LOUD, as it needs to be. No more missed alarms.
  • The PPC OS is a little clunky. I've found myself downloading a number of "system extentions" to make it more usable. Of course, I did this on my Palm OS device, too, so I can't be too critical.
  • Games for the PPC are amazing--much better than those on the Palm OS. You can't even compare the two operating systems on this front.
  • My iPAQ 3970 is a bit large for my taste--I loved the form/size of my Sony T615. However, the size does bring with it some strong benefits (big screen); the ability to comfortably use a full-screen, horizontally-oriented thumb-board (SPB Full-Screen Keyboard) for example.
  • Not having to worry about silly Palm OS4 limitations, such as the 4k maximum for memos, has been nice.
  • File storage and transfer between the device and my PC is a no-brainer; much easier than with a PalmOS device. I find myself using the "Pocket PC My Documents" folder extensively to keep certain files at all locations (mobile, home, work). However, the fact that a richly-formatted MS Word document can't survive a PC-PPC-PC round trip fully intact is reprehensible.
  • Battery life, while still not a long as I'd like, is better than my Sony 615, and this is a more powerful device. Further, I have a high level of trust in the battery level indicator. When the device reads 63%, it's really at 63% (my Sony was not as reliable). The device also has a standard 75 hours of standby time after low-battery shutoff. I can probably make it to a charger within 75 hours!
  • Now that I access the internet from anywhere using GPRS, I *love* the Pocket Inbox that came with PPC 2002. I was already happy with how well ActiveSync synchronized my mail from home, but Inbox also works very well as a mobile dial-up POP3 client. Very, very happy with this.

Sony Ericsson T616 (link) - Because I was locked in to a Verizon contract, I was unable to migrate to a Bluetooth phone when I acquired my 3970. (I am still amazed at Verizon's unwillingness to offer BT phones.) This was quite unfortunate, because now that I have the T616 I'm amazed at how well Bluetooth works. Bonding devices is easy, and checking email/web-surfing is effortless and pretty fast. It's also extraordinarily easy to share files, contacts, etc.--all without wires of course. I have found that there is almost no learning curve with BT. Further, pairing the 3970 with a BT phone at least doubles the utility of the device--I cannot emphasize enough how important this type of wireless connectivity is. It now becomes truly possible to leave the laptop at the office/home when you're on the road. The biggest drawback so far: I use battery power at least 1.5x faster than I did before. Gotta remember to always bring those power cables with me...

256 MB Secure Digital Card - Even more essential on a PocketPC than a PalmOS because the programs take up so much memory...

HP Foldable Keyboard (link) - This is the same keyboard I bought for my Sony Clie. I like it because it's small, simple and it does the job. Key size could be bigger, but that would also make the entire unit bigger. Very thin, light and sturdy.

Rhino Skin Leather Flip Case with Belt Clip (link) - Yes it's geeky, but boy it sure does make using the PDA with a Bluetooth phone easy... This is one case where function definitely trumps fashion.

Brando Screen Protector (link) - This is the best screen protector ever made. It's a thick, sturdy, non-disposable screen protector that reduces glare and has a nice, semi-rough writing surface.


These are the programs that make my 3970 work well for me ("F" means free!):

Pocket Informant ($20 - link) - The first program I committed to buy for the PPC.

Double Launcher ($10 - link) - The second program I committed to buy for the PPC. Absolutely necessary for me--this little "system extension" greatly increases the speed with which I can access frequently-used programs and data.

SPB Full-Screen Keyboard ($10 - link) - Lets me pretend my iPAQ is a Treo. Actually, this is working quite well, and serves my purposes well when I don't have my foldable keyboard. Love it!

(F) uBook (link) - That's "MICRO-book" to you! This program has taken the place of DeepReader, my favorite reader for the PalmOS. I use this program for my free Project Gutenberg downloads.

(F) AudioNote (link) - This little Today Screen add-in lets you know when you have audio notes! It helps you get the most use out of your voice recorder by not letting you forget about your voice notes. For example, I record voice notes on the run, then transcribe them at the first available opportunity. Then, I delete the old audio notes and start over. It's a great system.

(F) PHM PPC Power Toys (link) - (Replaced Today's Info) This is a great set of FREE tools that increases the functionality of the PPC. In addition to the power/memory meter (which you shouldn't pay for!), I love the "External Keyboard" input panel that keeps the SIP from popping up when using my foldable keyboard! Many other tools & shortcuts as well.

(F) Launcher (link) - Again, don't pay for this plug-in...several pay versions of it exist, and they function no better. Launcher allows you to create shortcuts on the Today screen to whatever apps you choose. Courtesy of Scott Seligman.

(F) Clear Temp (link) - Another great little free app from Scott Seligman. Clear Temp performs the simple but valuable task of deleting all files in the windows/temp folder upon startup.

(F) Magic Button (link) - A task switcher, small, simple, quick, free. It does the trick, and it does it well!

(F) NfPencil (link) - Here's a handy little sketch program (free!) that let's you create drawings that really look like they were drawn on a sketchpad in pencil. Along with the Brando Screen Protector, you've got a "close-to-pencil" experience! I must say, this is the best drawing program I've seen so far for a mobile device.

(F) AvantGo (link) - Updated web content every time you sync. I use it to read news every morning. This has almost completely replaced the newspaper's role in my life. Sometimes I still buy a Sunday New York Times or a Friday Wall Street Journal, just to feel the rough, crinkly paper. Incidentally, I've created a mobile version of that works great with AvantGo.

FlexWallet ($20 - link) - Secure digital wallet. Keep all your personal information *securely* in one place. Syncs with a desktop computer interface. I used "SplashID" on the PalmOS.

TomeRaider ($25 - link) - A simple reference database reader, valuable because of the large library of free reference material available for it.

Pocket 12C ($13 - link) - Everyone's favorite Reverse Polish Notation financial calculator. I use this one a lot--love the horizontal format!

Pocket Streets ($40 - link) - Just a simple mapping program that works really well. I use it with MS Streets & Trips.

(F) Acrobat Reader 1.0 (link) - Really extends the functionality of the PPC--just drag a .PDF to the SD card and go! It's that simple! I could never get Reader to work properly on my Sony. And while it's stil a bit slow on the PPC, it works quite well. However, RepliGo is really what I want. RepliGo blows Reader out of the water's expensive, and not universal...what to do?

(F) PocketTV (link) - Pretty cool! Play MPEGs on your PPC, and it's free. Supplements Microsoft's Media Player, which only plays MP3, WMV, WMA and ASF. What doesn't Media Player play MPEG video? That's my question... Anyway, download the Tsunami-MPEG-Encoder, and you'll be all set.

(F) MetrO (link) - Find the shortest public transit route in cities all over the world. I've used this app on the run and it works well! Accurate and free. I was happy when I learned that this was available for the PocketPC platform as well as the PalmOS.

(F) FTP View (link) - A simple, free FTP client and file explorer for PPC. Drag and drop functionality.

(F) IGT Editor (link) - A basic, free HTML editor for PPC.

NetFront ($20 - link) - A great web browser for the PPC; allows multiple windows, Javascript, and more...

(F) Team One Unzip (link) - A free program that handles .ZIP files on your PPC.

E-Books   [TOP]

I do a significant amount of reading on my PDA. I have used Microsoft Reader (clunky), Palm Reader (good, but not the best), but when it comes to reading seriously on a PDA there is only one way to go: uBook uBook uBook! This program remindes me of DeepReader on the PalmOS. Also check out my Reading page, and the old E-Book section on my 615 page...

Useful Websites   [TOP]

Pocket PC Thoughts - My favorite PPC news site. I'm user "onesix18".

Writing On Your Palm - Good discussions of handheld computer usability. One of the best mobile computing sites out there...

Keen PDA - David Keener has put together a concise and excellent site that discusses effective time-management using PDAs. His comments were very useful to me--I encourage you to read the whole thing!

PDA Corps - My second-favorite PPC news site.

Pocket PC Addict - Also my second-favorite PPC news site.

Dale Coffing's Pocket PC Passion - He's a bit obsessed, but hey, I guess he spends his time thinking about this stuff so I don't have to. Great site.

The Gadgeteer - My favorite source for reviews of mobile technology.

The Brando Workshop, Hong Kong - Their screen protectors are the best, and they offer a number of other great accessories for several PDA models.

My Mobile Portal - Where I keep my PDA-friendly links for mobile browsing. I copied the script from this guy (he told me I could!).


Email me with corrections, or to let me know that I'm full of hot air...


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