Revised and republished in Dec 2003, with permission,
from my own article in Palmtop
magazine, issue 33.
Palmtop computers arent cheap, so it
makes a lot of sense to do what you can to keep yours in good working order and
prolong its life. Not just for your own benefit, but so that when your eye is
taken by a follow-up model youll be able to sell the original for a good
price and put the money towards the new purchase.
This applies to software as
wellIve heard of many cases where a Psion palmtop was abandoned as
broken or useless for want of a hard reset and a little file restoration. And
of course youll want your palmtop to be working as effectively as
possible all the while its acting as your brains.
Due care and attention
Lets get a few very obvious points
out of the way first. Keeping your Psion in a good, protective case (e.g. those
on Proporta) when not in use and
treating it with reasonable care will help enormously. Due to the complexity of
a keyboard-equipped palmtop and the required (small) size and weight, its
inevitable that youre not going to be able to knock nails in with it;
there are a number of fragile mechanisms and some easily damaged components.
Chief among these is the screen and ribbon
cable assembly (where it joins the screen), which is flexed through almost 180
degrees many times every day. According to folklore, this is famous for failing
just after the statutory years warranty expires, necessitating a costly
repair (over £100). Your best protection (apart from the care and
attention mentioned above) is to take out an extended warranty on the unit when
you buy it. Although such schemes are rarely worthwhile on other consumer
goods, they make more sense for something like a palmtop computer that lives
its life in the day-to-day firing line.
Also worth taking care of are the
screens surface and the tip of the stylus, both of which can gather dust
and grit, leading to ugly scratches and faulty touch-screen input. A wipe with
a soft tissue once a day is usually sufficient, perhaps with a weekly or
monthly application of a polymer-based polish. Also important to keep clean (on
the Series 5/5mx/7) is the backup battery, as its surprisingly easy to
lose a good contact and thus all your data come the next main battery change.
When it comes to replacing the backup cell, take the opportunity to clean out
any dust or grease in the battery compartment and perhaps bend the metal
contact gently to re-tension it. Make sure you dont touch the new cell
with your bare fingers, but use a tissue or lint-free cloth instead.
Every PDA has its own little
idiosyncrasies and the Psion range is no exception. The Series 5 was famous for
peeling paintwork, though this seems to have been sorted out in the 5mx
version. An unresponsive Tab key is also very common, and is caused by this
unusually narrow key catching on the right hand side of the rubberised membrane
that lies beneath it. You can see the problem more clearly by popping off the
key to the right of it and observing how the membrane gets trapped and
This problem can be fixed by popping off
the keytop and applying a little home surgery, carefully shaving off a
little of the plastic along the edge of the Tab key and on the side of
the C shaped ridge within it with a sharp knife. Similarly a
Spacebar that doesnt work evenly can be fixed by removing it and bending
the ends down gently in front of a heat source. It goes without saying that if
your unit is still in warranty or youre unsure what youre doing
then you should not attempt either of these solutions or disassemble your Psion
in any way.
A Series 5/5mx stylus thats jammed
in place is also fairly common. The cure is to turn the Psion upside down with
the battery end facing you. Put your finger into the RS232 opening and gently
pull the bottom out (up) until you hear the latch mechanism click back into
Over time, any touch-sensitive screen may
wander from its original calibration. If you notice any problems selecting
application icons or on-screen objects, its probably time to recalibrate.
Go into Control panel | Screen, tap on Calibrate and
follow the instructions. Screen contrast may also vary, usually because of
temperature variations. Although this is quite normal for LCD screens, note
that several third party utilities (including
Macro5) are able to adjust
contrast according to time of day, which usually helps somewhat.
Final hardware tips
Make sure your infrared window is kept
clean and as scratch-free as possible. If you still have problems beaming then
experiment with different ranges: too close and the receiving infrared sensor
will saturate, too far away and the signal wont be strong
Some Revo owners have reported battery
charging inconsistencies, usually due to not letting the unit charge fully when
first unpacked. All is not lost however, as you can restore the full range of
your Revos battery by backing up, discharging the battery
completely (by disabling the auto-power-off and leaving it turned on),
hard resetting and then charging for a full five or six hours. You can then
restore your files.
If you use a Series 5/5mx/7 then be
careful of battery state when writing to CompactFlash. Its far too easy
to run your batteries low and risk corrupting the filing system on your CF
disks. Psions advice to use alkaline cells in the Series 5 range is
well-founded, because writing to or formatting a CF disk takes a lot of current
and the last thing you want to happen mid-operation is for your batteries to
Softwareroom to move
Without software, of course, any computer
is little more than a pile of components, so it pays to keep the EPOC operating
system as happy as possible, to avoid unwanted crashes or conflicts. First
priority, as with any computer system, is to make sure theres always
enough free memory.
Its tempting to try to cram as much
as possible onto your internal disk, but the EPOC operating system needs to be
able to grab extra memory for itself dynamically as necessary. Newly-launched
third party applications will also need their own allocation when running. If
possible, keep at least 1MB (and preferably 2MB) free, even with all your
regular applications and documents open. Running with a smaller safety margin
carries some risk of program and operating system crashes and maybe even data
The same goes for CF disks. Both EPOC and
the electronics on the chip need room to manoeuvre when deleting files and
moving them around. If you run your CF disk at 95 percent capacity then you can
expect slow performance and possible corruption.
Turning on the System screen disk
gauge (with [Ctrl]+[U]) can help a lot, keeping you aware of how much
memory (disk space) is free at any time.
Keeping your house clean
Related to making room on both internal
and CF disks is having a periodic clear out of old and unnecessary files.
Deleting old documents is obvious, but what about a trawl through the System
folder, removing leftovers from long-deleted applications or perhaps a crashed
web browser session? Do you really need all those messages in your Email
Sent folder? And check \System\Temp periodically for files to
See our feature Inside the System
folder in issue 28 for more detail on what is and what isnt
supposed to be there. The freeware utility CleanIt (www.vorbauer.com) can help too,
specialising in the removal of application remnants.
Many EPOC error messages are symptomatic
of a slightly confused operating system. Your main applications may still be
working properly, such is EPOCs robustness, but somethings
obviously wrong and needs attention. Common symptoms are a Not
found message appearing when in Email or when trying to turn on the
Remote link, or a negative or ridiculously high battery current being shown,
but any number of other strange things might appear to happen. In each case, a
soft reset will almost always cure the problem.
If not, then try a full backup, hard reset
and restore from backup. If this also fails to get everything working fully,
then as a last ditch solution you might like to try a very hard reset (achieved
by removing both backup and main batteries and leaving the palmtop for 30
minutes, to give any charge still stored in its circuits time to leak away).
Failing all this, you might have some conflict between various third party
software or even a hardware problem of some kind. The former can usually be
deduced only by time-consuming trial and error, testing different combinations.
If the latter, then refer to POS Ltd.
Disk, file and folder problems, typically
seen on the System screen as corrupted names or items that cant be
deleted, are rare and more worrisome. Theres nothing EPOC itself can do
about these, short of a hard reset, checking the backup and restoring, but
CheckDisk (part of
the commercial Essential Disk Utilities), will almost always restore your files
and folders back to a clean and consistent state. Its worth running
CheckDisk over your Psions disks regularly, even if you havent
noticed a problemits better to catch a disk problem early as part
of regular maintenance than discover it during the middle of a rush job.
Kill or cure
There will be occasions when an
application locks up completely, perhaps obvious because its in the
foreground and not letting you use any keystrokes, perhaps less
obviously by simply hanging around in the Open files list and
taking up valuable memory and resources. When trying to track down an elusive
problem, its always worth checking this list for something that
shouldnt be there.
If stuck in the foreground you can kill it
stone dead with [Shift]+[Ctrl]+[Fn]+[K]. If you can get at the Open
files list then [Shift]+[Ctrl]+[E] is usually enough. It goes without
saying that if the application misbehaves again then you should report the
fault to the appropriate developer.
Psion palmtops are normally reasonably
reliable and serious problems are rare. All the same, theyre complex
pieces of electronic equipment running even more complex software, and having
to solve the occasional problem is to be expected. Hopefully youre now
just that little bit more prepared.
Article originally published in