- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

What a difference six months can make: late in 1999, I dismissed the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 430se as a great idea, but lacking in practicality. For those who may not recall, this particular hand-held based on the Windows CE platform, was audacious in its use of a color display and several software features that took it ahead of the Palm Computing device.

However, the 430se was hamstrung by poor battery performance and an illogical configuration for recharging the device. The in-the-box product also lacked a desktop stand called a "cradle" in which the unit can be placed when you were at your desk.

Then, about three months later, Palm introduced the IIIc, which added color to the existing range of features in the Palm platform. At the time, it seemed as if Palm had equaled, if not surpassed, the Jornada 430se by offering a lot of functionality in a more attractive package. The Palm color unit easily fit in a shirt pocket; the same could not be said for the Jornada 430se.

About two weeks ago, Microsoft and several of its allies upped the ante again. The Pocket PC arrived on the scene, first in the form of the Casiopeia E-115, which offered the desktop cradle, and better software than found on previous Windows CE devices. This product, which earned high marks in this space at that time, remains impressive and is a device worthy of consideration.

Hewlett-Packard, however, does not appear content to sit on the sidelines. The firm has introduced a new Jornada, the 540. With a list price of $499, this new product is about $50 more than the Palm IIIc.

Price is about the only area where it seems possible to make an objective comparison between the two devices. For that extra $50, a user is going to get much, much more with the Jornada 540.

First off, the user will get twice as much memory: 16 megabytes in the Jornada versus 8 megabytes in the Palm. While it could be argued that the extra memory is needed owing to the extra software programs found in the Windows CE platform, having that memory "cushion" allows users to think about doing all sorts of things that just might not be possible with a Palm device.

Storing family photographs, at least in the JPEG format, which takes up less memory than some other formats, becomes easier with the extra memory. The Jornada 540 includes a music player that can handle MP3 files as well as those in the Windows music format. Again, having the extra memory is an advantage here.

And because the Jornada 540, like other Pocket PC devices, has a compact flash card slot, it's possible to add storage space, modem or network interface cards, or other devices, such as a link to a cellular phone. It also means that specialized texts can be added and accessed as needed. (I'm particularly fond of the Pocket Bible program from Laridian Software of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. You can access the texts from the flash memory card or install them on the device; either way a student would end up with a powerful and super-fast means of accessing the Scriptures. More information can be found on line at www.laridian.com.)

What I especially like about this new release of the Jornada, however, is the extreme attention Hewlett-Packard seems to have paid to detail. The desktop cradle comes standard with the unit. Instead of relying on a serial port connection, users now connect through a USB port; a serial cable is also available.

Perhaps the most innovative design feature of the new device is the power supply cable that connects either to a connector built into the desktop cradle cable, or can be hooked directly into the device. The latter will be a tremendous advantage when traveling and one needs to be able to recharge the device without being burdened by carrying a desktop cradle and other potentially extraneous accessories.

In operation, the Jornada 540 is sleek, stylish and not much bigger than the equivalent Palm color unit. But the Jornada, aided by the Windows CE platform, does much more than the Palm, as noted. Therefore, the advantage would seem to go to Hewlett-Packard and its Jornada.

In computing today there may be few things as personal as one's choice of a "personal digital assistant" as part of the daily routine. During the past year, I've alternated between the Windows CE platform and that offered by Palm Computing. And while the latter shall always have my admiration for ease-of-use, simplicity and versatility, HP's Jornada 540, with its multitude of functions and super-chic appearance (this is the one that should have been in that James Bond movie), has earned my allegiance and recommendation. If you're looking for an excellent pocket companion, look no further. (Other than, perhaps, the firm's Web site, www.hp.com/jornada, where more information can be found.)

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