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HandEra 330 ReviewBy Ed Hardy
The HandEra 330 (H330) is the latest device from the company that used to be named TRG Products. The H330 is the successor to the venerable TRGpro and is an improvement in just about every way.
Basically, I think the silver case looks fine. A true metal case would have looked better but I understand they were working to keep the device as inexpensive as possible and plastic was the way to do that.
One of the first things you notice about the H330 is the lack of the silk-screen area with the screen off. In case you've been living in a cave, the H330 is the first Palm powered device ever to have a virtual Graffiti area.
The area around the buttons has a pattern of tiny indentations, which is another area some people have criticized. However, a good part of this is necessary and can't be removed. The H330 is also the first Palm to sport a decent built-in speaker and most of the tiny holes in the housing on the right front are for it. The designers at HandEra simply tried to make something the device had to have look as good as possible.
The power button is on the upper left and has an indentation so it can be pressed with the stylus. This button is very small. Almost too small.
The built-in microphone, yet another H330 first, is just a tiny hole on the upper right above the name plate. There is also a small LED on the upper left that is one of the Alarm options.
On the left side are two of the many great new features of the H330, a jog dial and a programmable button. These are well positioned to be used with the left thumb. If you are a lefty, the right index finger works pretty well, too.
On the top are the Secure Digital (SD) slot and the Compact Flash (CF) slot. Both come with plastic blanks to keep lint out of the port when a real card isn't being used.
The infrared port is on the top, too, pushed over to the left by the slots. I don't know if it points up slightly or what but in order to get my other Palms to make IR contact with this one, I have to hold them slightly above it.
The back is black and, of course, plastic. Oddly, part of the stylus channel is open, showing the metal barrel of the stylus. I'm not sure why they did this but I don't like it. When I'm holding the H330 in my left hand and writing on it with my right, my fingertips stretch across the empty channel, which isn't terribly comfortable.
They have made a nice change to the reset slot. Instead of being so small you have to insert a pin, it is deeply recessed but the size of the whole stylus tip. To perform a reset, you don't even have to go to the trouble of unscrewing the top of the stylus.
The major feature of the back is the battery door, which opens to reveal the four AAAs the H330 is powered by.
At the bottom is the serial port. Sadly, they didn't copy the IIIx and put a sliding door on this port; it is simply exposed.
The H330 is almost exactly the same size and shape as the Palm III series and the TRGpro. It HotSyncs just fine in my IIIx's cradle and works perfectly with my GoType keyboard.
This is one of the real strengths of the H330. New m500 series and N710C owners are going to have to wait a while for a full range of peripherals to be available. Because I already own a IIIx, my H330 had a wide-array of available add-ons ready for it right out of the box.
It comes with the standard III series flip cover in black plastic. In case you've never seen one, this opens towards the top and isn't capable of flipping around all the way to the back. It stops when open about 120 degrees. If you aren't a fan of the front-plate of the H330, you might console yourself with the fact that it will be covered with this black cover most of the time.
According to HandEra, it weighs 5.9 ounces, just slightly less than my IIIx with the batteries installed. It feels just about the same weight when measured with my non-scientific hands. Putting in the optional lithium-ion battery pack drops the weight to 5.4 ounces.
Whew, I hope this review is detailed enough for you. I count well over 700 words and I haven't even turned the thing on yet.
HandEra considered having a color screen version and eventually decided to pass because they were determined to have the high-resolution screen. They decided that a full-color, high-resolution screen would have given the H330 an unacceptably short battery life.
Also, they were trying to keep the device as inexpensive as possible and a screen both color and hi-res would have increased the price considerably. The Sony N710C does have both and is $150 more expensive.
However, HandEra hasn't totally dismissed the idea of color. As screens become more efficient and battery technology improves, they may someday have a model with a color screen.
Physically, the LCD is slightly lighter and less green than the one on my IIIx. It offers decent readability. Touch a small icon in the Graffiti area and an on-screen contrast control appears.
Thankfully, HandEra doesn't use the horrible reversing backlight. With the backlight on the H330 is quite readable in just about any low-light situation. In fact, I tried the device in as many lighting situations as I could, from full Sun to complete darkness and I found it usable in all of them. The backlight turns the screen light blue.
I can't decide if I think the greatest feature of the H330 is that it has the dual expansion slots or the high-resolution screen.
The screen is always at least 240 by 240 pixels. Tap a small arrow and the Graffiti area disappears and suddenly you are looking at a 240 by 320 screen.
This high-resolution screen vastly improves the way almost everything on the H330 looks. Fonts are smoother; images look better, too. It is free of the jagged-looking graphics that plague lower resolution screens.
Having it created by the OS has other advantages, too. As you write in the Graffiti area, your lines appear on the screen immediately where your stylus touches. This is cool but, frankly, took a bit of getting used to. It is great feedback. I expect my Graffiti skills to improve. I hadn't realized how scrawled some of my letters were until I could actually see what my poor Palm was trying to interpret. While I've used apps that showed me what I was writing before, I haven't looked at one in years. My handwriting has gotten worse since then.
Even when the Graffiti area is hidden, it isn't totally gone. A small strip remains on the bottom of the screen with tiny Apps and Menu icons and one to pop the Graffiti area back up again.
If you tap an icon, a Qwerty keyboard replaces the Graffiti area. There is also an option to permanently replace the blank Graffiti screen with a keyboard for people who would rather hunt and peck.
H330 owners might consider investing in some screen protectors. I've never used these for the whole screen but I do keep a piece of tape over the Graffiti area on my m505. It didn't matter that the tape is semi-opaque on previous models; there wasn't anything interesting to look at underneath it. But the H330 changes all of that. Unless you are planning on wasting a couple of the nice features of the screen, the virtual Graffiti area and landscape mode, you'll need to have some kind of full screen protection if you enter a lot of text into your H330.
Of course, HandEra has rewritten the built-in apps. Being able to look at a whole day's events without having to scroll is wonderful. So is being able to see an entire Address Book entry at a glance.
The H330 comes with a nice selection of third party apps that have been optimized for its screen, too. This includes the Quickoffice 5.1 suite for viewing and editing Microsoft Word and Excel files on the device.
I think viewing large amounts of text or large spreadsheets on the H330 is one of its best features. And the ability to view applications in landscape mode is great, too. The Graffiti area even moves to the new bottom of the screen.
Instead of just the usual four font sizes, the HandEra has eight, the smallest almost unreadably small. This means you can show a lot of data on a single screen. But no matter what size font you prefer, the high-resolution screen displays them smoothly.
It also come pre-loaded with a nice selection of common card games from Seahorse Software that use the full screen, too. However, these are unregistered. They also included a hi-res demo of TankPilot.
HandEra believes that about 95% of legacy applications will be able run in this mode. The H330 has ways that ensure that buttons, text, and other screen elements line up or touch each other as they are designed to. However, these don't always work, especially in apps that depend heavily on bitmapped images, so they have provided the other display methods.
The other two options are to display the application at the old resolution in a small window, either in the middle of the display or in the upper left hand corner. Because the 330's pixels are smaller than those of other Palm powered handhelds, apps displayed like this will be smaller than they appear on other devices. To the left is a screenshot of SolFree running in Center mode.
You choose which of these options to use for each application in a new area of the Prefs app. Opening it brings up a full list of all the third party software on the H330 and gives you the option to view each one as Scale to Fit, Upper Left, or Center. If the application has been written to take advantage of the H330's high-res screen, it shows up here as High-Res and this can't be changed.
The Jog Dial and Side Button
The jog dial is amazingly convenient. I hadn't realized how often I had to take the stylus out of its slot to perform a simple tasks. The jog dial lets me use the H330 one handed in most situations.
There are still plenty of times when just getting out the stylus is more convenient but if you are in a situation where you need to look something up and you only have one hand available, it is a life saver.
Basically, the jog dial works like the up/down buttons. Pressing down on it is equivalent to tapping the screen.
Above the jog dial is a side button that is programmable to do most anything. Together with the jog dial you can do a surprising amount of stuff.
I'll give you an example. I just tried to look up an address one handed, pretending a mobile phone was in the other. I pushed the side button and the H330 started up. I was in the wrong application so I pushed the side button again, which took me to the Launcher. I still wasn't in the right category so I kept pushing the side button until I came to the correct one. I then moved down with the jog dial until the Address Book was highlighted and then pushed down on the jog dial, launching the app. I then used the jog dial to find the address I was looking for and pressed down on it again to open it. I then used the jog dial to move to the bottom of the screen. Oops, I've opened the wrong entry. I then pressed the side button yet again, which took me back to the listing of Address Book entries where I again used the jog dial to find the one I was looking for and open it. I couldn't have done the whole thing much faster two handed.
This is with the default settings. You can program the jog dial and side button to perform various functions, from adjusting the contrast or speaker volume to launching applications.
CompactFlash and Secure Digital Slots
The H330 comes with an application called CardPro that lets you see what is on your CF and SD cards and move files around. Both formats use the VFS file system so files can be copied back and forth from RAM to card or even directly between cards.
CardPro is adequate for what it does. Files are moved pretty quickly. CardPro shows the contents of RAM and the cards like you were viewing a hard drive on a PC. Sadly, you can't double tap on a listed app or file to open it like you could if you actually were on a PC. Maybe someday.
The H330 also comes with a reasonably featured backup application called, wait for it, Backup. You can easily make multiple backups of the contents of RAM onto either type of card. The application runs fairly quickly, which is important when copying lots of files.
There are several apps available now that let you run applications directly from SD or CF cards. After some thought, I decided that function would have to wait for a future article. This review is going to be long enough as it is and none of these applications, even the one that HandEra makes, comes preinstalled on the H330.
I will briefly mention some of the CF devices that are available because they are one of the real strengths of the H330. The H330 can use both Type I and Type II CF cards. There are several CF modems, a barcode scanner, and you can get CF devices that other Palm owners only dream of, like Ethernet cards and microdrives with huge capacity.
Processor and OS
The Dragonball VZ is the fastest of this line of processors and is actually capable of addressing 16 MB of RAM. I expect to see sites begin offering upgrade services soon after the H330 is released.
The H330 does have a 2 MB flashable ROM, so it can be upgraded. In fact, HandEra is promising to offer an upgrade to OS 4.0 when they have finished modifying it for their models. If they continue to do what they have done in the past, this upgrade will be free.
The default function of the side button is to launch the voice recorder. In fact, if you continue to hold the side button down, you can wake the H330 up, open the voice recorder, and start recording. This is very handy if you want to make a quick memo without a lot of hassle.
The voice recorder is a darn handy feature. I like Palm's little Note Pad where you can leave quick reminders to yourself but it is ever so much quicker to just record a quick voice memo.
Speaker quality is good. I tried it under a bunch of different situations and I can always tell what I'm saying when I play back my recordings. Recordings sound best when speaking at a normal volume and holding the H330 a foot or so away from the face. Too close and they get blurred; too far and they get quiet. But my recordings were all understandable no matter what distance I tried.
The recordings are being saved in 8 bit mono. About 30 seconds of recording time takes up 240 K. By my calculations, you could get roughly 30 minutes of voice records on a 16 MB card.
I tried the speaker with a couple of other apps and it turned out to be hit or miss. I couldn't get TealMovie to make any noise at all while TrekSounds sounded great.
The li-ion pack can be charged from the cradle or from an external AC adapter that plugs into the side of the H330. HandEra doesn't have the li-ion pack ready yet so I can't say much about it.
While I've had the H330 for most of a week, the battery level has hardly budged. At this point I can't really tell you how long it is going to last on a set of batteries and I doubt you'd be willing to wait to read this review the weeks it is going to take me to find out.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that with its large amplified speaker, the alarms on the H330 are very loud. The alarms set on low are about the volume of my IIIx with its alarms on high.
They plan to primarily sell it directly companies planning to give them to their employees for some specific business task, like salesforce automation. However, they are aware that plenty of consumers will like the H330 so they are offering them in retail stores. But notice that they will mostly be sold in office supply stores rather than consumer electronics ones.
If there is a feature that you are wondering why they left out, ask yourself if a person in a sales meeting would need it. If the answer is "no", then you'll understand.
Besides salespeople, who do I think the H330 is right for? People who are into add-ons, for one. If you want to make sure your handheld is covering as many bases as possible when it comes to expandability, the H330 is the way to go.
Also, people who need to work with a lot of data. If you need to collect and view large amounts of info, the H330 multiple expansion slots and hi-res screen is just what you need.
People on a budget. At only $350, I think the H330 gives you the most bang for your buck. Yeah, you can get cheaper Palms but even much more expensive ones don't have all the features the H330 does.
But there is also the other side of the coin. Who is the H330 not right for? That should be pretty obvious. If you demand a color screen, you probably haven't read this far into this review because you know the H330 will not satisfy you.
Also, people who want to keep their Palms in their shirt pockets. The H330 is fully loaded and carries the size and heft that entails. I can assure you it is pants pocket size but you'll never slip it into your shirt pocket as you leave the house. Not without people staring at you, anyway..
In short, if you are happy with your III series or Visor solo and want a nice upgrade, you'll love the H330. On the other hand, if you can't imagine using anything larger than your V series, the H330 isn't for you.
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