New PDA32 Details and Review Roundup
Despite being announced over a year ago, Aceeca's first consumer-oriented handheld, the PDA32, has seen a rather bumpy road to production. While the handheld's Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity options remain unavailable, several base-configuration, production-ready units have left Aceeca HQ and ended up in the hands of reviewers for real-world testing.
Last year, Tam Hanna posted a series of size and screen comparisons but had very little to report as far as day-to-day usability of the PDA32. Since then, French Palm OS software developer Luc Le Blanc, creator of the Auriga, has taken a preproduction PDA32 along for a week of cave exploration in France. He was quite impressed with the overall package and has written up his findings alongside some detailed specifications and some benchmark figures.
In short, Mr. Le Blanc was quite fond of the device. In particular, he noted the excellent screen quality, calling it "outstanding" with "ultra bright colors and a true deep black". He also found the device's runtime from the massive 2,600mAh battery to be very impressive.
He found some other minor complaints, such as the deeply recessed screen and a battery design that is not easily swappable despite the unit's large overall size. Most distressingly, the screen currently is not capable of rotation. Unlike every other prior Palm OS 320x480 device, the PDA32 only supports portrait mode, with no landscape mode available at this time, though Aceeca is reportedly working on a fix.
In addition to Luc Le Blanc's review, Brighthand has a continuing thread here discussing the findings of an early PDA32 tester who has some long-time Palm OS experience.
After reading through the various posts on the Aceeca messageboard as well as all of the hands-on reports, I managed to glean a variety of technical points of interest about some previously unanswered PDA32 points:
- The device does NOT use Palm's NVFS memory architecture. Rather, it employs the same volatile, battery-backed memory employed by all Palm OS devices prior to 2004's Tungsten T5 and Treo 650. The upside of this, however, is that performance should be blazing-fast compared to the often-sluggish NVFS Palm OS models. Some cave survey computational benchmark information posted by Mr. Le Blanc shows the PDA32 easily besting the Palm TX in performance, though it still fell short of the NVFS-enabled Tungsten E2 (fewer pixels to push), with the the classic Palm T3 taking the performance crown.
- On a related note to the above, Aceeca has devised their own backup solution for the deice in lieu of implementing NVFS: "We do not support the Palm NVFS, however we do have our own proprietary backup method. It backs up the RAM storage heap binary image to NAND flash periodically (when the system is turned off). You are given the option to restore the device on a hard reset. This works better than NVFS as there is no runtime time penalty."
- Maximum SD card size is 2GB. The rare, non-spec, FAT32-formatted 4GB SD cards are likely not compatible with the device since it only ships with the standard Garnet FAT16 file system. The device is definitely not compatible with SDHC cards.
- The PDA32 does have flash-able ROM, unlike the Palm TX, so OS updates are definitely possible. Aceeca are supposedly working on an updated ROM that will address the screen rotation issue as well as further improve the device's performance.
- Onboard speaker alarm notifications are extremely loud.
- Due to the lack of the usual set of Palm OS app buttons, compatibility is broken with some programs, particularly games.
- The battery is not soldered in but rather glued to the inner casing and connected via a cable. So while not as easily replaceable as a Treo battery, it would be feasible for a technically-savvy user to swap out the battery should the need arise.
- Hotsync connectivity is achieved via a miniUSB port.
- Reset button is not stylus tip-sized like the last few Palm Inc. devices, so the old paperclip method is required.
- No additional bundled software is loaded in ROM such as media players. The device has a barebones Garnet OS program load. No web browser or e-mail client is supplied with the device.
- As of this writing, Aceeca uses the standard Access Palm Desktop client for Hotsync. No provisions have as of yet been made to accommodate 64-bit Windows synchronization.
- The stylus silo is located on the back left side, instead of the usual right side placement. Stylus quality is described as "rather thin" and is all-plastic.
- Aceeca are working with Softick to enable Card Export support for the PDA32 as well as all other Softick applications.