User:Rewood/Presenting with a Handheld Device

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While it is amazing what has been done with portable projectors and laptops, there are those that want even smaller, lighter solutions. Is it possible to reduce the entire presentation system (computer, projector) to a sub-5 pound package?

By substituting a PDA for a laptop, the weight that a presenter has to carry can be reduced by a minimum of 3 pounds, which is the weight of many "ultralight" laptops currently sold. The understanding is that there is a trade-off now in functionality, but for simple content, such as a powerpoint presentation, this might be a suitable solution. What about the rest of the equipment? The reality is that there are plenty of sub-5 pound projectors available that would work. The one key piece that is missing is a way to connect the PDA to the projector. PDA's do not come with a video connnector suitable for projectors, so additional (thankfully, very light and compact) equipment is necessary.

Presenter to Go is a combination of software and hardware. The software installs on your desktop computer, and your handheld. You use the desktop software to migrate your PowerPoint presentations over to the Handheld. The hardware portion of Presenter to Go is a small device that interfaces to your projector through a conventional VGA connector, and an interface that plugs into the Palm via the SD memory expansion slot. It's about the size of a deck of playing cards.

After plugging everything together, you are ready to go. It will play back simple power point presentations, or with the "mirror" application, anything that you can display on the Palm.

The one main deficit of Presenter to Go is that the handheld is connected the Margi Presenter to Go, which in turn is connected to the projector -- which at times may be awkward. I end up not holding the handheld in my hand, but leaving it on a table when I present. I have been considering an alternative solution, which does away with the cable from the handheld to the projector, at least when you present. That is the iGo Pitch Solo or Duo.

The iGo Pitch is a small device that you connect to the projector. It is bunded with QuickOffice, which is a Microsoft Office-like suite of applications for the Palm, including a simple PowerPoint presenter with very rudimentary editing capabilities (no graphics editing, just text). Via a USB cable (or via bluetooth with the Duo) you copy your converted PowerPoint presentation from your handheld to the device. At that point, you disconnect, and you can then drive the presentation from your handheld, using the IR port on the handheld to tell the iGo Pitch to advance to the next slide. You see your lecture notes for your powerpoint slides on the handheld, while your audience sees the presentation. Like Margi's Presenter to Go, you can display your handheld's display on the projector as well. The frame rate is diminished, but still is useful for training, showing simple content (no movies!).

Obviously the Pitch has appeal in that you can present from your handheld, unencumbered of wires. To be fair, the Margi systems device comes with a simple IR remote that can trigger slide changes on your handheld, so you get a similar effect. While I think the iGo device is more interesting, I should point out that it has one flaw -- you are limited in your presentation sizes by the fixed memory of the iGo device. With the Margi unit, you can have fairly large presenations on your handheld, if you buy a memory expansion card. I don't know *how* big a presentation you can do on either unit -- I have taken one of CALS 50 slide presentation with unoptimised graphics and had it work on the Palm reasonably well. I have not had a chance to evaluate an iGo Pitch yet. Here's a review of the Pitch that may give you some additional insight.

Now -- let's switch gears for a moment, and talk about handhelds. If you have never used a handheld before, I suggest that you first think of how you may use this device, besides as a portable presenter. There are many, many options available to you, and it might be good to think of the different ways that you might use a mobile device.

While the N&O article you mentioned talks primarily about PDA's, the real story on our campus is that the majority of our students do not have PDA's, but have cell phones. Cell phones are rapidly taking on many of the characteristics of what we traditionally called a PDA, and the cost differential is very attractive to a poor student. Given that a student can buy a Palm Zire 71, or for about half, pick up a Nokia 3650 cell phone with a year cell phone plan, makes it an easy choice for many students. The Nokia can almost do everything the Palm can do. The major benefit of the Palm is that it supports text input via a simplistic block text entry system called "Graffiti" -- not really handwriting recognition -- you learn the way it expects you to write. The Nokia cell phone is limited to a numeric keypad, or for more complex entry, you can use an external IR keyboard. I have a friend that has quit using his Palm because it dawned on him that his cell phone had all the functionality he required for day to day work -- he keeps his schedule on it, contacts, some games, an email client, a web browser, a few documents, and some movies (!). The point of this is that I would suggest that you might want to assess what your needs are. The iGo Pitch device will work not only with Palm PDA's, but some cell phones as well. Combined with QuickPoint, you have an extremely portable presentation system.

If your needs are that you would like to use a device to check email, on or off campus, and don't mind paying for a cell phone plan with data access, then by all means consider a cell phone. I am currently evaluating the Handspring Treo 600, a very nice combination of Palm Pilot and cell phone. It runs the Palm OS, so you can use it like a Palm Pilot, it will work with either the iGo Pitch or Presenter to Go. It's main advantage is that it *is* a Palm based PDA with a cell phone -- so if you are currently using a Palm, this is a very easy transition. It has a very tiny, but not terrible, keyboard, and it is still possible to use it to do Graffiti text entry as well. The Treo 600 is a top shelf product, up there with the Sony Ericsson P800/P900 and the Nokia 9500 Communicator as the best of the current phone/pda convergence products. Unfortunately, these are all really expensive products -- the Treo 600 is around $450, and I have been waiting for the price of the Sony Ericsson P800 to drop now that they have announced a new model -- but it's still $500 or so. However, if you are considering spending $200 - $300 on a PDA, you may want to factor this aspect in. For myself -- I feel pretty comfortable spending $300 - $400 on a fancy cell phone -- since it will replace my PDA.

If you think you would rather have a PDA, the next thing to consider is whether you want wireless networking or not. To be more clear -- PDA/Phones are "wireless" in that they use cell phone infrastructure to send and recieve data. A different type of wireless is 802.11b wireless networking, which is a type of networking that is used on campus to provide spot wireless coverage for laptops and PDA's. It has the advantage in that it costs nothing to use, but the big disadvantage is that it is not ubiquitous. Off campus, there are a few places that provide 802.11b coverage -- such as Helios coffee shop on Glenwood, Bear Rock Cafes, etc. Typically, these are also free (with the exception of Starbucks -- which charges). Unlike cell phone converage, you typically have a 300 foot range of coverage from a base station. If you think that you will use your PDA very occasionally to check email, or look up something on the web, and will only be doing it on campus, or from your home wireless network (if you have a wireless network at home), you might want to consider buying a PDA with 802.11b wireless built in.

Finally, you might want to consider whether you want a camera in this device or not. Both Sony and Palm now sell handheld PDA's with cameras built in. I personally like having a camera in a PDA, because it is useful at times to take a picture of something -- I have used it capture notes on a white board, grab a portion of a page (resolution is not good enough to get the whole page), incidental images, etc.

Okay -- if you made it this far -- what to get? Let me give you some opinions:

If you are already a Palm, and are comfortable with Graffiti, and want wireless, consider the Sony TJ37 or TH55. These are both 802.11b equipped handhelds. The major difference between the two models (excluding cost) is the TH55 has a larger display -- 480x320. They use memory stick storage interfaces, so if you go with the Margi Presenter to Go, you will need to be sure that you buy the memory stick equipped model. Oh -- and they both have 640x480 cameras built in as well.

If you want wireless, with an integrated keyboard, consider the Palm Tungsten C. It has a small "thumbboard" that is, in my opinion, quite useful for dashing off quick email messages. While I have been using Palms myself for a number of years, I still prefer a keyboard for entry, so I use a Tungsten C myself (although the Sony TH55 is calling my name). If wireless is not important to you, then you can look at a less expensive handheld. The Sony TJ-27 is essentially a TJ-37 without wireless, but still has a camera built in. The Palm branded equivalent would be the Zire 71, which is another nice handheld.

There are other choices as well. Bluetooth is a low power wireless technology that is not primarily used for networking, but more as a wireless interconnect to move data around. Many cell phones come with it, some laptops and desktops have it, and some PDA's have it. The intent is that you can migrate information from one device to another wirelessly. iGo Pitch Duo supports bluetooth -- so if you had a bluetooth PDA, you could dump your presentation to the device wirelessly. If you want bluetooth, consider the Palm T2 or T3 (one has a 320x320 display, the other a 320x480 display).

Again, keep in mind what I said about cell phones. If you wanted to go really lean and mean, you could just buy a iGo Pitch Duo, a Nokia series 60 phone (such as the 3650) and a projector, and you would be set.

For projectors, I have looked at a few small models. We are are talking really tiny to the size of a loaf of bread, which is still quite small.

NEC LT 170 -- Very attractive, and it is easy to use. It comes with a nifty little carry bag to boot. Downside is that it is not the lightest projector you will find at 4 pounds, but it feels a bit more substantial in it's construction, and it has decent light output (important).

Proxima M2 -- this is a sort-of updated version of a projector that we own at NCSU's ITD, that is much loved. It is lighter than the NEC, but not as bright.

Proxima M1 -- this is a sub-2 pound projector that is really tiny. I have no idea about durability, but you have to see it to imagine it's size. It is quite amazing, and a wireless presentation module can be added.

HP 3130 -- While I have not had a chance to see this projector in action, it is interesting because it has the Margi Presenter to Go technology available as a separate module that attaches to the projector. This module evidentally includes both wireless and wired network connectivity, for deliveriing content through that medium, as well as a memory card reader which allows presentation of some types of content without a computer at all.

If you can deal with the weight, the NEC might be the best. The extra brightness will come in handy in classrooms where you can't close the blinds, or can't control the lighting. At the other extreme, the Infocus M1 is amazingly small, and does surprisingly well considering it's size.