HARDWARELES PC D'AMSTRAD ★ AMSTRAD PENPAD PDA 600|Amstrad Action ★

Amstrad Penpad PDA 600Hardware Les Pc D'amstrad
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Tim Morris took a little break from serious computery things and had a look at the future of personal organisers.

You may remember reading in AA92 about a nifty new gadget from Amstrad called the Pen Pad. Since then you may also have seen it on Tomorrow's World. It's also known, for reasons that are never adequately explored, as the PDA600. PDA stands for Personal Digital Assistant but the ‘600' bit is a mystery. Still, I managed to get hold of one for a few days to have a bit of a play.

A quick survey of people whose phone numbers I could remember revealed that almost everyone uses some sort of portable means of recording addresses, telephone numbers and things to do. A few use traditional address books and buy a diary every year. Slightly more go for the Filofax-type approach (we're dealing with journos here, so it was bound to happen) and say they like having a big diary/address book and appreciate the facility to add pages when they need them. There were also a few who use an electronic organiser. (Oh, by the way, in case you're interested, Simon keeps his addresses on his computer and neither knows nor cares what day of the week it is.)

I used to be a Filofax sort of a person, but a couple of years ago I bought myself a small electronic diary/address book thing. It fits neatly into the pocket of an ordinary jacket and stores all the information I want it to. It is, however, a complete pig to use. I haven't got the world's fattest fingers but I do find poking away at the tiny keys a bit of a chore. This is where the Pen Pad could come to my rescue.

Stylus counsel

The Pen Pad has dispensed with the need for a keypad altogether - all you need is a plastic stylus (they kindly supply two, but anything that won't scratch the machine will do). That's all very well, but devices that sense the movement of a stylus on a screen have been around for years - what's so special about this one?

It recognizes your handwriting. When you switch it on for the first time it takes you through a sort of tutorial where it gets you to teach it your handwriting. From then on, whenever you want to store information in it, it gives you little boxes to write in and then interprets your scrawl as typed characters. Obviously it's going to have a little trouble from time to time so it also allows you to re-teach it any letters it can't recognize.

But does it work?

It does, indeed... mostly. It took me about half an hour's use to get it to learn my writing and after that there was no stopping us. Names, addresses, phone numbers, ‘to do' lists, appointments -1 just scrawled them in and the Pen Pad sorted it out.

I tried it out on a few others, though, and it can have trouble with some people. It seems that if your writing isn't very consistent you're going to have problems. Even with four versions of each letter, one person had trouble getting the machine to tell the difference between an'm' and an ‘n'. Overall, though, it was very impressive and much easier to use than a normal electronic organiser.

It has a Notes facility, too, which just gives you a blank page (or part of a page in the Diary section) where you can just scribble things and the machine makes no attempt to interpret them - it just remembers them. You can draw maps and diagrams and you need never use a piece of paper again.

And, of course, it can communicate with the outside world. Link it up to an RS232 interface and you can transfer your names and addresses onto your CPC. These being the '90s, the flashy software will all be for the PC, but there's no reason why you can't dump simple information (not your pretty diagrams) onto a CPC.

To sum up

It's an extremely clever little device. It's easy to use and managed to recognize most people's handwriting after a bit of coaxing. It's quite heavy and bulky, though and won't fit in the pocket of an ordinary jacket - but then neither will the Psion Series 3 - you'll either have to have a word with your tailor or shove it in your case/handbag. It doesn't have the word processory-type facilities of the Psion but neither does your Filofax.

I love gadgets so I'd buy one tomorrow -although at £299 (inc VAT) I think I'll probably still be saying that in three year's time.

AA

★ PUBLISHER: Amstrad plc.
★ YEAR: 1993

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.