Sunday, January 25, 2004


I followed a story on PalmInfocenter and went to
to find out more about this product / vapourware.

It is difficult to be sure, but it appears that you put you PDA in the dock and then attach a standard monitor, keyboard and mouse. The screenshots appear to show QuickWord and QuickSheet running on a 15" screen.

It is not clear how this works. For a start, the description says it works with 'SDIO Enabled Palm(TM) and Pocket PC Handhelds', which seems odd, since it would be more obvious to use the Universal Connector. But I guess SDIO allows this sort of thing and means they do not need loads of different models to match different hardware. However, the two devices they show in the BlueDock (an iPAQ and a m515) do not seem to be connected by their SDIO slots.

However, there must be some clever software on the BlueDock, since Palm OS does not support that sort of screen size, nor mouse input. If that software works well, this could be a really interesting product.

Sharp Zaurus

I have found a UK based localization and import service for the oh-so-desirable Zaurus SL-C860.

I have coveted one of these for a long time, but interestingly, a photo taken to promote it has finally put me off. Take a look at this comparison with T|T. The Zaurus is so small that it will not be able to perform the main dreamed-of function: being a writing tool.

You see, I have so far bought 4 different keyboards for Palm's with this thought in mind, but found I never used them. Why? Because the screen is too small. This is not a matter of resolution, but absolute size. I need to be able to see at least 150 words on the screen at once, and in a font large enough to read as easily as normal print. Palm screens are just too small for that. With 320x320 resolution, I can use a small font and see loads, but not read it easily. Or use a readable font and only see about 30 words at a time.

I had kind of assumed that the VGA screen would have forced the Zaurus to be more the size of a Geofox, which had a 640x320 screen. But that photo shows how small the Zaurus screen must be, despite its amazing number of pixels.

Matters of size

The charming Chloe from Proporta sent me a T|E aluminium case, which I will review in detail for Foxpop. Having used a variety of alu cases for a variety of different devices over the years, this strikes me as a pinnacle of design: everything has been thought about and works.

Thinking about cases I was reminded of a comment Jeff Kirwin once made over at his WritingOnYourPalm website. Discussing the T|T slider mechanism he mused: whatever made Palm think that height is an important factor in perceived size?

So which is the most important factor in perceived size: height, width, or thickness?

Well, visually thickness is quite irrelevant and height is very important. Or to be more precise, both absolute height and a lowish height/width ratio are important, since narrow objects tend to appear visually taller than they are. However, while visual size is important for attracting attention to a product, it is 'size-in-the-hand' which will sell it.

Tactually, I think thickness is only significant if it goes outside a certain range (my estimate: 5mm-17mm). Too thin and the device will not feel solid enough, too thick and it will be uncomfortable to hold. For example, the T|T is 17mm without any sort of cover, and that feels just great, but add the thickness of the plastic cover and it is clunky. But the T|E at 12mm does not feel significantly thinner than the naked T|T. But it does feel wider and taller.

First tentative conclusion: Sony's, and to a lesser extent PalmOne's obsession with thinner PDAs may be a red-herring.

Width, however, does strike me as important. I have fairly average sized hands and I find things wider than 80mm slightly uncomfortable to hold. Adaptationists can probably tell a story about this, to do with the sorts of tools hunter-gatherers used, but whatever the explanation, there must be some maximum width beyond which a PDA turns into a brick. But is there some minimum? The answer to that does not matter, since at some point the loss of screensize will over-ride other design considerations.

Which brings us back to height. I think it does matter. The two PDAs I have owned which have felt smallest were the Sony SL-10 and the Tungsten T. BUT the Palm m100 feels very small in the hand too, in fact, smaller than the T|E, but when you lay them side by side, you see it is actually slightly taller and narrower. This is because the m100 has another design feature which affects its perceived size: the very rounded base. When you pick it up, the bottom 2cm of the unit are not in contact with any part of your hand. So, tactually speaking, that are not part of the device at all (and since it is very light, there is no perceptible imbalance).

Second tentative conclusion: height itself does not matter, only the length of the edge which is in contact with the hand. PDAs will feel smaller if they are designed so that only part of them is gripped by the user.