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Psion PSection

Quartz, Crystal, Pearl -- but for now it's just the Revo Plus

By Ernest Lilley
November 2000, issue 36

After much waiting and a few rumors, Psion released the Revo Plus in September. Here are the results of my playing with the upgraded PDA. Also, I take a look at a great EPOC website EpocCity, Symbian's Developer conference and what it means to the platform, and how you known when your platform has gotten mainstream recognition.

Like the Revo, the Revo Plus fits nicely in your pocket and comes with a very useable keyboard, allowing you to actually write something while using a PDA. What's the difference between it and the original Revo? Not a whole lot, actually.

It now has 16 MB of memory, some new web browsing applications that won't do you any good if you don't have an approved GSM phone (unlikely in the US) or a 56k travel modem (which CompUSA was selling with a full price rebate coupon in August).

It's still got an annoying key touch, crippled Series 5 applications, a really cheesy stylus...and most of all, no backlight. Though it's not my biggest complaint, the Revo Plus still lacks Sketch, an application the Series 5 has. Fortunately, Psion and Paragon Software, a software developer, have collaborated to make a Revo compliant version of sketch available. You can download it at

Despite all the grumbling I'm doing here, the truth is that I actually put my Compaq iPAQ away without too many regrets to try it out. I still love the size, clamshell/keyboard format, and the ruggedness that lets it live equally happy in either my jeans hip pocket or my suit jacket. I actually do have a suit.

For me, the Revo performs a killer function that makes it more valuable than any color/mp3 playing/AvantGo downloading/USB connectable pen based PDA...I can write on it.

I generate a fair amount of data, even when I'm not being a journalist, and having a Revo along is very handy. I like the Series 5mx, with its bigger keys and more tactile feedback, but it is a bit of a stretch... literally when it comes to slipping it into a pocket.

The Revo Plus has essentially been tuned up for web browsing. Adding memory and upgrading software are the easiest fixes, requiring only a few packaging changes. Unfortunately they are useless changes if you don't have web connectivity for the unit.

Either Palm or Pocket PC platforms allow you to at least update web content from your desktop PC while the unit is in its docking cradle, though the Pocket PC earns higher marks for the ease of implementation. Through a deal with AvantGo, the web aggregation and handheld reformatting service, has been rumoured for months, there are no results yet.

Psion is badly out of step with the handheld world, and of their two claims to fame, one, maintaining a clamshell format and, two, making the most use of a small screen, only the first still applies, having been surpassed in screen ergonomics by both Palm and Microsoft.

Indeed, much as I hate to admit it, the shallow landscape format (480 x 160 pixels) of the Revo's screen is much harder to get useful information on than the mini portrait format of other PDAs.

Does the addition of a better web browser and more memory justify the price difference between the Revo and the Revo Plus? If you need the memory, sure. If you aren't planning on trying to make the Revo into a web surfing platform, which it really isn't suited for, no.

Psion took the easy way out of not having any upgrades to offer. Pity they couldn't have bitten the bullet a little harder and used that additional memory to make it an MP3 player, which would have been in keeping with the “hip” image they've tried to cultivate for the unit. Or closed the deal on an agreement with AvantGo.

Speaking of the cradle, the Revo is the only rechargeable PDA I know of that has to be plugged in separately from its base. They're also pretty slow to get on the USB bandwagon, and given the additional storage of the new unit, a faster connection to your desktop would be a welcome thing.

Are better days ahead for Psion's handhelds? Well, there are some good signs. The Symbian Developer Expo

November 6th-7th, Symbian is holding a developers expo and workshop in London to get people involved in the platform. To see where they are going you only need look at the Java heavy agenda including JavaPhone and workshops on Client/Server Programming.

Or, as their website puts it: “Latest technology developments, demonstrations, Symbian led workshops and developer training sessions (including WAP, C++, Java, Bluetooth).”

The conference should give developers a chance to work with Symbian's next release of EPOC, ER6.1, which includes the ability to work with packet data on GSM networks (GPRS) and enhanced Bluetooth and WAP 1.2 functionality.

But the part I'm looking forward to is the opportunity to get information on the two new DFRD's (Device Family Reference Designs) that Symbian has introduced since CeBIT. The first DSRD was Quartz, something like a wirelessly connected Compaq iPAQ or Palm VII, but much cooler.

"Quartz," was introduced at CeBIT in Germany last February, and the name points out that it has a 1/4 VGA screen format. Although all the major cell phone manufacturers had a wooden model of what a Quartz device would look like, only Ericsson had a working prototype...and it was stunning.

Cell phone, wireless web browser, mp3 player...and very surfable.

The two new standards are Pearl and Crystal, code-name for Symbian's half-VGA, keyboard-based, communicator reference design. It should come as no surprise that it's Crystal I'm waiting for. Pearl is Symbian's Smartphone platform. What separates if from the other two DFRDs is the lack of a GUI interface specification.

Hopefully we'll be able to dig details on the time frame for these devices out of Symbian as the fall progresses. - –Ernest Lilley

For comments, email Ernest Lilley.

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