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Your ONLY computer?

Over the years running 3-Lib and writing for Palmtop magazine, I've come across a handful of rather odd people. It appears that their Psion palmtop or Nokia 9210 is in fact their only computer. No desktop computer to break down, no Windows to patch every week, no hackers trying to gain access, no reliance on Microsoft, no synchronisation issues, and so on. In retrospect, it's positively idyllic. And their entire computing environment fits into a briefcase.

There are downsides of course. Some software (DTP, graphics work, to name but two) simply needs a desktop, mouse, etc. And all those lovely PC peripherals (DVD-writers, USB hubs, scanners, etc.) are out of the question.

But it's an intriguing question to ask yourself: "Could I survive using just my Symbian device?". A lot will depend on just what you use computers for, of course. Although you probably won't change your computing habits overnight as a result of this article, it might serve as a useful exercise to read on, if only to establish your Symbian device as your backup, emergency system.

Input: The keyboard of a Psion or Nokia Communicator needs no introduction, of course. On the other hand, a humble Series 60 smartphone or a not-so-humble P800 or P900 would need the addition of an infrared or Bluetooth keyboard, to make the experience bearable (especially for handling email). There are several suitable infrared keyboards available. If you get hold of one of the Palm/ThinkOutside ones, use the drivers at rallypilot.sourceforge.net/symbian/keyboard-symbian.html or www.gootz.net/gbin/uiq/. If you like your solutions with a little more hand-holding and own a P800/P900, try the Snap'n'Type at www.mobilelinktech.com/shop/snaptype/keyboard_nr.php. The new Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard also works very well indeed. Do watch out for battery drain though - turn the keyboard driver off when you're not using it!

P800 on Palm Wireless Keyboard

Display: It's rather difficult to imagine anybody using a narrow-screened Series 60 or UIQ device as their only computer. Web sites and spreadsheets would be the worst offenders, demanding pixels that simply aren't available. The Psion 5mx is a contender here, but the drab, monochrome screen isn't exactly a pleasure to use. The bright colour of the Nokia Communicator series makes it usable in most conditions but the narrow screen height and usual on-screen furniture does rather restrict what can be done in terms of serious work. My favourite Symbian candidate would have to be the Psion netBook (or Series 7), with a large (640 by 480 pixel) colour screen (and an even better keyboard than the 5mx, of course).

Office software: The old Psion palmtops don't make life easy here, with only plain text import and export; Psion owners typically resort to third party conversion software such as Neuon's nConvert (www.neuon.com). Series 60 smartphones and UIQ (on the P800, P900 and P910), now have Quickoffice Premier (www.quickoffice.com), of course, which works well to open and edit Word and Excel files, even if the raw functionality is still found wanting. The Nokia Communicator is still king in this area, with built-in native Office support. Mind you, the usual caveats about editing this sort of file apply - working on any file on a handheld is likely to strip it of 'advanced' desktop features (macros, headers, and so on), a factor which is especially important when this is your only computer.

Nokia 9210i

Internet: Ah yes, going online. Of course, every man and his dog (and his smartphone) can get online these days. Email is easy and surprisingly practical on almost any Psion or Symbian device, though Psion owners should make sure they get the Sink2 'firewall' (utopia.knoware.nl/~hlub/uck/software) installed and running before venturing online. The web is another matter altogether, due to the sheer number of infernal javascript functions that seem to clutter many sites. Luckily, each Symbian platform comes with its own browser and there's always the choice of Opera (www.opera.no), which supports multiple concurrent windows. Most sites can be navigated and interacted with using one of the two. And any site that can't deserves a quick and damning email to the webmaster about catering for other browsers than MSIE... In the meantime, you can still get a lot of info from the Mobile Web.

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