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SmartPad for the Palm is short on smarts

PC World
SmartPad
The SmartPad converts notes written on paper to your Palm device via an infrared connection  

(IDG) -- No matter how many gadgets you have on hand, sometimes the old-fashioned method of note-taking -- with pen and paper -- does the trick. That's why on the surface, at least, the $199 Seiko SmartPad from Seiko Instruments America sounds like a great idea.

The SmartPad -- a zippered notepad portfolio -- lets you make handwritten notes with pen and ordinary paper that are relayed to a Palm device via an infrared connection. You can then view, organize, and store your notes on the Palm and, after synching, on a PC. (The SmartPad works with the Palm III series, as well as the Palm V and VII. However, it's not compatible with earlier versions of the Palm or Palm Pro that have been upgraded to Palm III. You must have Palm OS 3.1 or higher.)

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This approach offers some apparent advantages over using the Palm by itself. Learning and using the Palm Graffiti handwriting program can be a drag, and even Graffiti aces can't input text with that program as quickly as they can write freehand on a pad. And Graffiti doesn't accept doodles or drawings, as the SmartPad can, so being able to send pen-and-paper jottings to the Palm seems like a natural.

Good idea, poor implementation

Despite its promise, however, we can count quite a few reasons why we disliked the SmartPad. The first issue was its size. The bulky portfolio measures 7.25 by 10.5 inches and is 1.5 inches thick -- forcing you to schlep a large case, and defeating the purpose of carrying a pocket-size Palm.

Plus, you must use a special, battery-powered pen with a radio-frequency transmitter that detects movement on the pad and sends the information to the SmartPad itself. This setup can be a burden if the pen is separated from the folder, or if you prefer to use another writing device. At least the pen doubles as a stylus, so you won't have to switch back and forth while using the Palm and the SmartPad.

Although you can use any 5-by-8-inch paper pad, it must be placed on the embedded SmartPad sensor in the portfolio for the data to transfer to the Palm. Similarly, your Palm device must be placed within its designated area on a Velcro strip so it can receive the infrared beam from the pad.

You can't use the SmartPad and beam data to another Palm at the same time, which could be inconvenient at times.

As you write on the SmartPad, an image of your writing appears simultaneously on your Palm. The Palm captures those images in a proprietary format; or, you can e-mail notes images directly from the Palm in .gif format. You can also export notes images to a companion application on your PC; from there, you can save notes as either a .bmp or .gif file, and then e-mail or print them at will. Writing viewed even in the enlarged 2X mode (you can zoom up to 4X) was difficult to read on the Palm screen. Viewing the text on our PC monitor was, of course, far more manageable.

By default a SmartPad file is saved with a date as its title, which means you'll need to manually change it to a more recognizable moniker -- and to do so, you'll need to use Graffiti.

You can e-mail SmartPad files directly from the Palm or from your PC, but only if Microsoft Outlook is your e-mail client. Otherwise, you'll need to transfer the file to your PC, and add it as an attachment in your e-mail program.

The final mark against the SmartPad is its $199 price; you can buy a Palm for less than that. The SmartPad comes with good intentions -- and may be an appropriate choice for you if you rely on handwritten notes -- but it doesn't fit our view of what pocket organizers are all about.




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