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Presenter to Go

Making PowerPoint presentations more portable with a PDA

by David Fiedler

January 2002, Pen Computing 43

When you travel somewhere to make a sales, marketing, or press presentation, it's important to make a good impression quickly. So if you were to invent an infallible, high-tech method of presenting graphic material, it would probably NOT include the usual scenario of lugging a relatively heavy laptop, booting it up (from a hard disk that's been bumped around and put into a car trunk), and hoping that all your complex software still works after your kid installed his newest game and you've received that odd email attachment from "Hot Redhed."

And there's one more fly in the ointment. Since September 11, taking laptops on airplanes has become more problematic, and you may have to check them in as luggage in the future, which will not help their reliability in the least.

So why not bypass this whole problem altogether? Margi's Presenter-to-Go module is a tiny yet sturdy solid-state replacement for all of that. With 2MB of flash memory, it stores typically 100 pages of Microsoft PowerPoint or other presentations (it can create slides from almost any Windows application), attaches directly to a large-screen monitor or data projector, and lets you control your entire presentation directly from your PDA or from a handheld infrared remote control.

Presenter-to-Go comes in two styles: one that plugs into any Handspring Visor, and a newer one that's built into a PC Card and works in a Pocket PC. Both have a recommended list price of US$299, and include software, a "dongle" cable that plugs between the Presenter-to-Go module and the monitor or projector input cable, the remote control, a small power supply, and a nice little case that holds the module and the remote together. A 15-pin male-to-male adapter is also included to plug directly into a projector if desired.

We tested the Handspring version of Presenter-to-Go using a Visor Platinum. The product we received for review not long ago had version 1.1 of the software included on CD, which required Windows 98 or ME. In the interim, Margi Systems had already upgraded this to version 1.5, which now supports Windows 2000/NT/98/ME (it will also work with Macs, OS 8.5 or higher, but not OS X). That came in handy, because a small comedy of errors and exploded power supply capacitors required us to try no fewer than four different computers until we found one that would hotsync properly with the Visor's USB cradle (no fault of Handspring or Margi).

So when I downloaded a 12MB file, I expected a long installation procedure to the PC, complete with software to hotsync onto the Visor. The installation itself was done in seconds, and nothing was installed to the PDA. I hadn't actually received a printed manual, so I read the "Four easy steps" right off the box and tried to figure out how to use it. The only real glitch I discovered was that pressing the "help" button on the Presenter-to-Go PC software (basically a small file manager) brought up the Adobe Acrobat instructions for the Pocket PC version, even though I had told the installation software I was using a Visor.

It turns out that using Presenter-to-Go is even easier than I had imagined. If you simply want to transfer your PowerPoint presentations, there's a new button installed right into PowerPoint that talks to the file manager; you press the button, and verify that you want the presentation installed. The software pulls the name from your presentation and uses it on the PDA automatically. On your next HotSync, the presentation is loaded into your PDA memory. All normal PowerPoint features are supported, except fancy slide transitions and video.

For any other PC application, a new printer driver handles everything. You "print" to Presenter-to-Go, and it automatically converts to landscape mode (for monitor format) and sends the output to the file manager for eventual download. I tried this with Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and even a few GIF files, and everything transferred just fine, though I had to adjust some of the "printer" parameters in Acrobat for best results. Of course, things are easier to see when they're in large type and designed for presentations; reading manuals "printed" from Acrobat was near-impossible, even on a large screen.

Once your file is on the PDA, you still won't see anything until you insert the Presenter-to-Go module for the first time. Doing that automatically installs the software from the module's flash memory to your PDA. As noted previously, you can store as much as 2 MB in the module's flash memory itself, where it's not subject to accidental deletion, and you can use the PDA's own free memory as well.

On the PDA, the software is even easier to use. Simply select a presentation from a drop-down list and pick the first slide to start. You can set it up to move from slide to slide automatically as fast as you want, advance slides using the scroll up/down buttons on the PDA, or use the remote for either. Using the remote (which worked quite well at over ten feet away in a sunlit room), you can jump to a particular slide by number; just type in "23," for instance. You can, of course, do the same from the PDA using the list of slides, and the software automatically transfers PowerPoint slide notes so you can look at them on your PDA while the presentation is going on. There are checkboxes next to each slide, so you can add or leave one out at the last minute. Everything works the way you'd imagine.

But there's more. A very handy program called "Mirror" is included, which allows you to display your PDA screen directly on the big screen while you're working on it. So you can show an entire Comdex crowd your latest PDA application, running live. You can even select the background to be any of a dozen colors, including "backlight."

The hardware part isn't very challenging either. Plug the dongle into the module on one end and into the projector on the other; plug in the power supply, and you're all set. The module automatically reads and senses the type, resolution, and refresh rate of any plug-and-play monitor or projector and adjusts itself accordingly; we used a number of different monitors without a problem. As long as it supports 1024x768 resolution, which almost all do, you'll be fine. The picture was bright, sharp, clear, full color, and automatically sized. A 19" monitor was big enough to work with a typical conference room full of people.

The unit came with a small and slightly odd-shaped "wall wart" power supply for the module itself. Although it comes with a typical U.S. two-prong plug, it will work with almost any mains voltage in the world from 100 to 240 volts; you must supply an adapter to fit.

When I first was asked to review Presenter-to-Go, I thought it might be a useless gimmick for marketing people, but I was extremely impressed with the unit's quality, support, ease of use, and portability. Since you always carry your PDA with you anyway, a literal handful of extra hardware now allows you to do professional presentations almost anywhere., 510-657-4435

-David Fiedler

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