Pocket PCs Help Traveling Attorneys Lighten Their Load

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by Carole Levitt & Mark Rosch More powerful than a PDA, the Pocket PC rivals a laptop and fits in a pocket

Advances in technology continue to pack more and more computer processing power into less and less space. One result of this trend is that over the last few years, the laptop computer has become an indispensable tool for nearly every attorney. It has allowed lawyers to remain in touch with their offices while traveling on business and to carry entire case files in an electronic format. Recent technological developments have shrunk that computing power even more. Handheld computers offer many of the features of laptop and desktop computers in a package that fits in a user’s hand or pocket. Handheld computers are a step above personal digital assistants (a group that includes the Palm Pilot and the Handspring Visor). Most PDAs have only 2 MB of memory (a standard PC has hundreds) and are limited to black-and-white screens. These limitations alone may prevent some attorneys from using a PDA—although some of the newest and most expensive PDAs have 16 MB of memory and high-resolution color screens. Of more concern to most attorneys, however, is that a PDA’s software, while compatible, does not have the same look and feel as the software they use most (for example, Word, Excel, and Outlook) on their main computer.

Unfortunately, PDAs generally oblige their users to learn new applications. Additionally, trading data between a PDA and a regular computer is sometimes an exercise in frustration. Handheld computers occupy the gap between the size advantage of PDAs and the well-known software that attorneys are used to using on their personal computers. A number of manufacturers have developed handheld computers, known as Pocket PCs, to compete with PDAs. These hand-helds use an operating system that was developed by Microsoft and include light versions of many of Microsoft’s applications, including Word, Excel, and Outlook (but not Power Point).

Since these applications function much like their laptop or desktop counterparts, attorneys who make the transition to a Pocket PC are finding the switch to be nearly seamless and report that the transfer of data goes more smoothly than it does with a PDA. Also assisting the transition from PC to Pocket PC is the handheld PC’s ability to allow users to attach a keyboard via a serial connector and employ all the well-known keyboard shortcuts that are used with a desktop computer (such as Control-X to cut selected text). Think Outside’s Stowaway keyboard, distributed by Targus, is full-sized but folds to a size nearly as small as the Pocket PC itself. The keys are the same size as those on a standard keyboard, requiring little or no adjustment when using the folding keyboard. The keyboard also has hot keys that open a variety of the Pocket PC’s programs and functions, including Word, Excel, and the calendar.

Gadgets and Screens A variety of expansion cards allow Pocket PC users to add a camera, modem, global positioning device, or hard drive to a Pocket PC. The Jornada 565, Casio EG800, and @migo all have a built-in expansion slot, but some other Pocket PCs require an optional "sled" or "jacket" to add an expansion slot. If you plan on using an expansion slot, you should be aware that there is more than one type. The four common types are not interchangeable, so examine the slot you need, as well as labels and manuals, before buying. Two more common types of expansion slots are the PCMCIA (which is found on most laptops) and the Compact Flash (or CF). The @migo is the only Pocket PC that currently includes a PCMCIA card expansion slot as a standard feature. The Casio and Jornada devices have a CF expansion slot. In addition to add-on devices, Pocket PCs offer attorneys the ability to display information on a computer screen, data projector, or in some cases even a television screen. These display capabilities can be exploited with expansion cards (including the Margi Presenter-to-Go and the Colorgraphic Voyager). Using one of these display adapters, users can show Power Point presentations with their Pocket PCs and leave their laptops at home. Although no pocket version of Power Point exists, presentations can be converted to a format compatible with Pocket PCs. The Margi features slide show viewer software and a display adapter in one package, and it makes conversion of a PowerPoint presentation into a slide show a simple, one-button process. On the other hand, the Voyager is a display adapter only, and thus requires users to buy separate slide show software. One suitable application is Pocket Slides, which also makes it simple to convert PowerPoint presentations into slide shows.

Users should not necessarily favor the Margi because it comes complete with its own software. Many users note that Pocket Slides offers more features than the Margi’s software. After a Power Point presentation has been converted to the Pocket Slides format, for example, users can still add or delete text from the slides and add new slides. Pocket Slides also preserves animations within slides and transitions between slides. In contrast, the Margi’s software does not allow users to edit the text in slides or create new ones and loses all animation and transitions. The Margi only allows users to delete slides or put them into another order. Both slide show viewers allow users to view their PowerPoint speaker notes on the Pocket PC screen while hiding them from the audience that is viewing the projected slides. The Margi speaker notes screen is larger than the Pocket Slides screen, and thus easier for the speaker to see. The Margi also includes a small remote control device that can advance the slides or select a specific slide to display.

Keeping the Battery Charged One weakness of the Pocket PC is its lack of a hard drive. The Pocket PC stores its data in RAM memory, which requires constant electrical power. All Pocket PCs contain a backup battery to preserve the data in case the main battery is drained, but the backup battery can only maintain the data for a day or two before it too is drained and all data is lost. Users must therefore learn to keep some charge in the main battery at all times. This can be accomplished by plugging the Pocket PC into an electrical outlet. Those who cannot meet the challenge of always remembering to keep their Pocket PCs charged, however, have two options. The first is available in the Jornada and Casio, which feature some memory that is not dependent on batteries. Users can use this memory for storing their most important files. The second option is to add a hard drive. Units that fit into the Pocket PC’s expansion slot are available. As always with computers, lawyers who are pondering whether to plunge into the Pocket PC world may, on the one hand, be tempted to wait until some technological advance makes the devices more powerful and less expensive; on the other hand, they may feel the need to keep pace with the competition. Lawyers who spend considerable time in motion may already know, however, if their tolerance for heavy laptops has reached an end, while other users may simply appreciate a know-it-all gadget that fits in a pocket.

Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch are principals of Internet For Lawyers. The text of this article was written entirely on a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 565 with the ThinkOutside/Targus folding StowAway keyboard attached, using the PocketPC's included PocketWord software.

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