How to Do Everything with Your Palm-Powered Device Book ReviewBy: Kris Keilhack
January 2, 2007
One of the few constants in the world of Palm OS-oriented print media has been McGraw Hill/Osborne Press’ How to Do Everything series. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the release of the sixth edition of this volume, How to Do Everything with your Palm Powered Device, given the general hasty retreat by most industry heavyweights from the handheld and PDA segments. I ordered my own copy from Amazon, not wanting to wait around forever to try and acquire a press review copy. I had previously purchased the second, fourth, and fifth volumes in the series so I pretty much knew what to expect from this latest revision.
History and Content Relevancy
Published in annually updated editions since 2000 (the first ever volume featured a Palm V on the cover), the How to Do Everything books are essentially voluminous instruction manuals. Seeing as how Palm has not seen fit to include printed documentation of any quality since their m500 series (Palm’s Treos are notable exceptions to this, likely only due to carrier mandates for printed manuals) this is not at all a bad thing, especially for novice users. Of course, in addition to the basics, additional sections are present throughout the book and touch on topics Palm themselves would not see fit to address.
Dave Johnson and Rick Broidia have authored each volume in this fine series (as well as a few other books on digital cameras and MP3 players) since day one. This latest volume has the Palm Z22 and Palm TX handhelds adorning its cover, making it the first volume that has not had “dated” models on the cover upon its release. The mere fact that this book exists can give the dedicated PDA faithful some cause for cautious optimism that Palm may continue their PDA line past these final two models. If not, then this tome at least makes a fitting partner for the last men standing in the classic Palm PDA line.
The book is actually quite up to date on the hardware front, with the Treo 700p and its EVDO capabilities being mentioned throughout the book. Only the Treo 680 and 750 are absent due to their relative newness. Further mitigating the instant obsolescence factor of print media is the fact that Palm’s own Now You Know line recently released a guide dedicated to the Treo 680. Another recent HtDE guide, with a 700p on the cover, was recently released specifically for Treos and is written by different authors.
Writing Style and Language
I found the book, like all of its predecessors, to be written in a very friendly, informative, and easily digestible style. Johnson and Broida (or, as they prefer to be called, Dave and Rick) come across as two writers with a strong familiarity with not only the Palm OS, but the legions of devices released over the years as well as each others’ particular likes and dislikes. Sometimes the authors’ humor lapses too much into the realm of silliness and a few badly misplaced political opinions creep into the text but for the most part the book is very well written.
The book continues the standard set by previous editions of an oversized, heavyweight paperback. The book has clear screenshots and product photographs and is comprised of a monochromatic color scheme aside from the garish purple middle section.
Two Halves + A Center Section
I especially like how the book is split into chapters highlighting the standard built-in functions of most (if not all) Palm-powered devices. The basic PIM apps are covered in succinct detail and I even learned a few tricks in regards to calendar appointments and the long-neglected Task app. I actually feel that this “super duper instruction book” section of the book is the most informative, as many of the Palm OS PIM apps have a greater degree of functionality that even long-term users such as myself forget about or possibly never even knew existed.
Separating the two halves of the book is the purple “handy guide” mentioned in the previous chapter. This installment gives explicit and very useful information on maximizing the audio playback capabilities of modern Palm devices. I’ve long thought that Palm has under-represented their devices’ capabilities as far as media playback and entertainment capabilities. Even unsupported solutions like Bluetooth A2DP headphones and Softick’s Audio Gateway software are mentioned here, as are the non-spec 4gb SD cards. Kudos to Rick and Dave for venturing where Palm’s tech support staff and marketing department fear to tread! For the record, chapter 5’s purple middle section was a list of nine killer apps for Palm OS devices. I personally feel the “Turn Your Palm into an iPod” how-to is much more relevant to a wider variety of users as memory card prices continue to tumble.
The second half of the book deals with adding enhanced functionality to the Palm, either from installing additional hardware and software or by simply jumping through more hoops. This sections covers topics like multimedia, Documents To Go (and similar apps) wireless printing, e-mail and web browsing wirelessly or via AvantGo, Plucker, and Handstory. The book even concludes with a token section on Palm-related hardware such as wireless full-size keyboards and the like. My favorite part of this chapter was the overview of Multi-Connector-enabled 3rd party cradles. While I knew about Brando’s cradles, the guys even have the audacity to knock Palm’s OEM cradle for its high price and recommended a nifty little $9.99 Alpinetop cradle I’d never even heard of!
Chapter and Content Highlights
A nice touch found throughout the book are the little grey “tip”, “shortcut”, “note”, “how to”, and “caution” boxes scattered throughout the book highlighting specific issues not addressed in the main body of the text. While this is a customary practice often seen in these sorts of how-to tech guides, it’s still a welcome nod that makes the book more like first-hand guidance and less like a textbook.
For the most part the authors take a realistic, “tell it like it is” stance towards the capabilities and shortcomings of the various Palm devices. I was, ahem, “thrilled” to see the sluggish nature of the LifeDrive brought to attention in the very first chapter. Unfortunately, a tantalizing hint on a way to resolve the LifeDrive’s lag issue was promised in Chapter 12 but I never found it. Is it a hack to replace the MicroDrive with a 4gb CF card? Is it a tip on installing the LifeDrive’s 2.0 update from Palm? Who knows! Guys, this isn’t a Choose Your Own Adventure novel…if something is worth mentioning, just state it then and there! This quibble brings us to the following issues…
Shortcomings and Overlooked Information
While passing references are made to PalmInfocenter, Brighthand and TreoCentral, the book generally defers to Handango and/or PalmGear for any online recommendations. A comprehensive listing of all developer URLs at the end of the book in addition to the end of each chapter would be handy. Perhaps a good idea for future versions would be to give a gentle encouragement to readers to support struggling Palm OS software developers by purchasing directly from them whenever possible? The book actually has a number of plugs of questionable nature—for example, are the authors plugging Panera because of the free wi-fi and the great coffee and pastries or are some surreptitious advertising dollars at work?
My actual criticisms of the book as far as overlooked or incorrect information are really very few. The book generally does a superb job of covering a wealth of topics in a rather meager 466 pages. However, a few sore spots do linger after reading the book cover to cover.
First, to this long-time single-stroke diehard, I feel that the book should make a greater clarification as to the litigious factors behind the removal of Graffiti 1. In addition, page 322’s “tip” that Graffiti 1 can be restored via TealScript is, at best, a drastic understatement.
Another onerous issue that is basically glazed over is the section of chapter 10 dealing with pairing a Palm device and a Bluetooth-enabled phone to perform dial-up-networking. Rick and Dave could have made a more emphatic statement on the very fickle nature of this process, seeing that Palm’s PhoneLink Updater app has not been updated in over eighteen months and BT DUN support via CDMA handsets has been completely removed by Palm on the LifeDrive and TX. The statement “Even if your phone isn’t in the list, it’s pretty likely to work” leaves much to be desired—does “work” suggest that the devices can be paired (very likely), or that the Palm can dial contact through the phone (possibly) or that a dial-up connection can be established (quite unlikely)? This is a huge grey area that no one—especially Palm—wants to touch. Giving this sore subject the attention it deserves would only help the community at large.
Finally, some device-specific recommendations would be helpful. The huge improvements made to the Treo 650, Tungsten T5 and LifeDrive via ROM updates are no great secret. Yet many neophyte users might not know that their devices can be updated for free by downloads on Palm’s website. A device table showcasing the most current bundled app versions and any available system updates wouldn’t be much effort and appreciated by some users.
How to Do Everything with your Palm Powered Device is the perfect companion for someone new to PDAs or, if the many Palm OS-related message boards are any indicator, the user finally replacing an old OS 3 or OS4 device with a newer model with added functionality. While I’d like to see some of the off-topic “rants” and humor shelved in favor of additional Palm-related content, the book for the most part is an exceptional value.
Between Palm’s off-again, on-again “Now You Know…” books and the How to Do Everything series Palm users of all skill and experience levels have a solid set of printed guides that cover nearly topic, whether rudimentary or rather esoteric. This sixth volume in the HtDE series maintains the irreverent humor and info-packed chapters and should really be a must-have for any Palm user who doesn’t have time to troll through endless web site and forums compiling all of this information for his or herself.
Let’s cross our fingers and hope for a slew of new Palm products in 2007 and the seventh volume from Rick and Dave in the next year or two!
- Reasonable price for the amount of information presented
- Easy-on-the-eyes typeset, layout, and print size
- Useful for Palm OS of all experience levels
- More timely information contained within versus previous editions (due to Palm’s stagnant PDA line)
- Easygoing, informal tone and language used by authors
- Some “how to” areas are superfluous (example : “How to use a Palm device as a compass”) and/or no longer relevant (AvantGo) for many users
- Key issues are often overlooked or not stressed strongly enough, such as clarifying that only GSM phones can do BT dial-up network with recent Palm devices.
- Much of the information in this volume seems especially canned and reused from previous volumes. There’s little incentive for users to replace their 4th or 5th edition books with this one.
My Rating: 4 / 5