For many people I know whose out-of-office computer use includes lots of
NEC's MobilePro 790
handheld computer), and its predecessor, the 780, has proven ideal.
I've been using a 780 for over two years now, as have fellow technology
(among their many hats) Jerry Pournelle,
David Em, and John Ruley.
In particular, I use my 780 for walking around trade show floors with -- pop
a quote or other info, pop closed and move on, attending events, writing up
articles on planes, trains and in waiting rooms, noodling on things at home when
desktop PC is off,etc. I've used it to write thousands of words, read and edit
documents, and do some digital picture looking-over, plus a little bit of web
and email; I believe that John Ruley's also given some of his Power Point
There are smaller devices with keyboards, e.g., HP's Jornada 728, the ultimate
result of a long lineage that started with the HP95LX, a Dos based clamshell
that many feel has never been bettered, certainly not by Windows CE devices, but
for writing, I like NEC's form factor.
TechRevu's Editor (Ernest Lilley)
and others seem able to pound out thousands of words on
the little Psion handhelds (some using the two-thumb method), and some people
crank kilowords out on the still tiny chicklet-keyboard HP 620's. But if these
too small for your fingers, then you want to check out an NEC MobilePro 790 or
The MobilePro 790 belongs to the "Jupiter" class of "handheld PC" Windows CE
whose features include:
- Good close-to-full-sized keyboard
- Built-in software in ROM: Windows CE (now called Windwos for Handheld PC),
includes WinCE versions of MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint (viewer only), and Pocket
Internet Explorer, plus TCP/IP stack and PDA-type apps
- Lithium-Ion battery good for full work day
- 1 each Type II PC Card and CompactFlash slot, e.g. for Ethernet, 802.11,
- V.90 modem.
- Weight between 2 - 3 pounds.
The 790 includes 32MB RAM, half of which is available for storage;
half-VGA (620x240) 8.1" diagonal DSTN color touchscreen;
and serial/VGA/IR/parallel and audio ports. (No USB.) The battery's good for
6-8 hours... and there's a 6-cell AA battery shell available, for "recharging
in a drug store."
As a comparatively low-powered device running WinCE rather than a full Windows,
the 790 and its brethren aren't meant to replace a notebook or desktop computer
but if you're looking for extreme portability, battery life and convenience,
you should be considering one of these puppies. The keyboard is excellent;
the international power supply is about the size of a deck of cards folded in
half; the whole set-up weighs barely two pounds and goes painlessly into any
sidebag -- and, because of the half-height size, if I'm using it on a plane,
when the person in front me of slams their seat back, they won't hit the screen
and smash it..
"Instant-on" is a large part of this machine's value for me. Press the power
even with a file open and it goes dark instantly -- before your finger finishes
pulling away; press it again (or open the machine) and the 790 "wakes up"
(maybe a second). In my experience, Windows notebook "sleep" and "hibernate"
modes can't even come close to this...
You should be able to do the usual PC/handheld type of synchronization
however, I haven't tried any of this yet. (I don't use those apps.) I also
tried the infra-red ports, the microphone, or the audio.
Because these are zero-spindle (no disk drive) machines, you'll want some
solid-state CF, or (with adapters) SmartMedia, memory stick, etc., which keeps
cheaper (CF and SmartMedia are currently running well under $100 for 256MB), or
Microdrives or PC card hard drives (up to 5Gb last I looked). There's also
floppy/superfloppy drives from Accurite.Com (and maybe Addonics) ... not clear
any CD readers or writers that will work with WinCE, though.
This brings up the main limit/frustration with all Windows CE devices -- limited
of drivers, and other problems getting software.
Many devices, including PC Card/CF based or interfaced ones, simply don't
support Windows CE.
Many require you connect the 790 to a "host" Windows PC in order to extract and
said drivers or software.
Even more frustratingly, for many which allegedly do support, their vendors
seem to have made them available -- and tech support often has no idea what
talking about. To add to the problem, these Jupiter-class machines are based on
four different chip types (MIPS, StrongArm, etc.) -- and each needs its own
a given driver.
Fortunately, this isn't a problem for storage... but pay attention when getting
EtherNet, Wireless and other cards, and external devices.
The MobilePro 790 lists for $899. I'm not sure it's worth that much. 780's and
790's can be found readily on eBay in the $250-$500 range -- but shop carefully,
units won't work perfectly. Better to pay somewhat more for a new-in-box unit,
possible. If you don't care about a Citrix client, a 780 will do you fine, and
FYI, I have two other Jupiter-class machines -- IBMs WorkPad Z50 (discontinued)
HP's Jornada 820 (ditto, I think), and have been using them, particularly the
several years. Of the trio, I like the NEC best, for form factor and
although if I expect to be doing e-mail, e.g. at home, I'll use the HP 820 or
IBM Z50, which have a 640x480 screens. But the 780's always just right for
in my bag "just in case I have some time to write."