Compaq's iPAQ PocketPC: The Multi-Purpose Multimedia Handheld
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Windows Media Player

The Windows Media Player (WMP) allows the iPAQ to function as a portable audio player. It plays MP3 files and also supports a Microsoft format known as WMA. This format uses a different compression codec and generates a smaller file size than MP3.

Once you start the Media Player, it will continue to play in the background even if you go on to use other applications. Windows Media Manager for the PocketPC is available on the ActiveSync CD in the Extras folder; it can also be downloaded from Microsoft.

Screen shot of Windows Media Manager

Screen shot of Windows Media Manager (click to enlarge).

I began with several MP3 files which we produce for the Open Source Audio Roundtable. I successfully moved a 1.9 MB file to the iPAQ, and the Windows Media Player successfully played it. I moved two larger MP3 files (6.5 MB and 9.2MB) to the iPAQ but, while they were recognized as MP3 files, the player would not play them. I converted one of the files to the WMA format, reducing the 9.2 MB file to 4.6 MB in size, and it played well. My supposition is that there are undocumented restrictions on either file size or encoding formats for the Windows Media Player on the PocketPC. Nonetheless, the WMA format achieved a significant reduction in file size for these recorded conversations.

I downloaded the Windows Media Player 7.0, which is also an encoder. I was pleased to see a button labeled "Portable Device." That opens a view of the MP3 or WMA files on the iPAQ, and provides the ability to copy files from the PC or from the CD to the iPAQ. Anyone who has struggled with the Rio's software will be happy to see the integration of downloading files from the Internet or ripping files from a CD and moving them to a portable player all integrated in one software interface.

Space is limited on the iPAQ, once you have added your programs and such. To carry around a lot of MP3 files will not be practical without buying the CompactFlash adapter. The advantage of CompactFlash is that you can store files on a CompactFlash card and swap in cards with different playlists. (My experience with the Rio suggests that because it took a fair amount of time to download files to the device, I wasn't going to do that often. It meant I listened to the same six or seven songs repeatedly.)


iPAQ record button.

The thumb button for recording.

The iPAQ has a built-in microphone and a thumb button on the left side that can be used to start and stop recording. It's intended for short recordings such as notes and annotations.

The default settings for recording produced fairly poor results: low volume and crackly. There's an option for Microphone AGC (Automatic Gain Control); the option itself is a little hard to find. AGC is enabled by default but I got better sound quality by disabling it.


The PictureViewer application allows you to look at jpeg images. It's a good reason to get others eyeing this bright color iPAQ screen. I can see carrying a few family photos and such on the iPAQ.

If the image is too large for the screen, then you can pan and scan to see a portion at a time.

Because the iPAQ can be extended to use CompactFlash cards, and a number of digital cameras support CompactFlash, PictureViewer may provide yet another way to examine or present a personal photo collection.


I've ordered some of the accessories but they haven't arrived yet. So I don't have any firsthand experience.

The two main reasons for expanding the iPAQ are to increase the amount of storage available by adding CompactFlash cards or to make a connection using a modem or Ethernet card.

The iPAQ is expanded by buying a separate wrap-around sleeve that serves as a holder for CompactFlash cards. There is also a separate sleeve holder for PCMCIA cards. (The sleeve that ships with the iPAQ improves the grip when holding the iPAQ but otherwise has no functional purpose.) I look forward to seeing if a wireless PCMCIA card will allow me to connect the iPAQ directly to our wireless LAN.


  • At times, the device has problems making a connection. Check the "Connection Settings" in ActiveSync; I found that the USB connection would be turned off unexpectedly. What I've found true of USB in general is that you need to unplug the device and plug it back in to reestablish the connection.
  • As much as I like the slot for securing the stylus, it is possible to get the stylus jammed in the slot. If you put it in the wrong way or if you twist it while inserting it, the stylus can get jammed and you'll need tweezers or your front teeth to extract it.
  • The iPAQ is a noisy device with lots of bells and beeps that provide auditory feedback on screen taps or notify you of certain events, such as an upcoming appointment or a low battery. If I'm going to bring the iPAQ into a meeting, however, I want it to sit there quietly and not disturb me or others by beeping. Fortunately, you can customize the use of sound, using Settings/Sounds and Reminders to turn off these sounds.

For a detailed comparison of the color Palm IIIc and the PocketPC, see "There's a War Going on In Our Pants! (the Palm OS vs. Pocket PC)" written by the staff of Semper Aptus. See the head-to-head chart. The authors make a good point in that the monochrome Palm is faster and more efficient with a slower processor and longer battery life. It is designed to do less. Adding color adds complexity and saps power more quickly.

The PocketPC and the Palm

I know the Palm is designed to be just a PIM. But developers have been doing the most amazing things with the Palm to broaden its capabilities. A recent Harper's Index reported that a Starbucks locator is the most popular Palm application. (I haven't been able to track down the source for that stat; if you've come across it, let me know.)

As a platform, the Palm is perceived as extensible and open, a belief that has helped to create an active developer community. Palm's greatest asset may not be its hardware but this developer community. Perhaps the Palm as a device has not kept up with the developers who are extending it. The Palm needs to find a way to move beyond its original focus as a PIM. Otherwise it risks being upstaged by more capable, user-friendly devices such as the PocketPC.

Dale Dougherty is the editor and publisher of MAKE, and general manager of the Maker Media division of O'Reilly Media, Inc.

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