Dude, I Got an Axim

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You know, I feel like a poster child for Dell most of the time.

I have a Dell notebook, Dell printer, and Dell Axim Pocket PC. To me, they are tools I use to run my business and satisfy customer needs. My selections have been pragmatic, but one of my choices surprises me in terms of how people respond to it. Do you know what captures the most attention on planes, in restaurants, hotels and just about anywhere I go?

It's not the $4,000 notebook or my printed output. It's the combination of my little Dell Axim X30 and Dell's own foldable keyboard. I've had people from all walks of life come up and ask me what it is and what I can do with it. I had a Palm III, Palm IIIX and Palm V for years. I've had notebooks/laptops for the last 10 years, but nothing inspires the level of questioning and curiosity that the combination of Axim handheld and foldable keyboard do.

As a business owner, I had a very real need for the combination. I knew the benefits of storing schedules and contact info in a PDA and synching with a host (desktop or notebook) computer. A while back, I was at a management conference and there was a fellow emailing through his PDA with a wireless expansion device and a keyboard. Later, I saw a Windows Mobile on a handheld with MS Word, and was sold.

Now, I am a true devotee out of business necessity.

As many know, I am both a consultant and a writer. In fact, the latter takes quite a bit of my time as I average three to four articles per month, along with a newsletter and frequent peer reviews of others' work.

When looking at ways to increase my productivity, I knew I needed something that would be ultra-portable (meaning real small), instantly on, have good battery life, a clear color display, a removable storage card, and a foldable keyboard for true typing. I opted for the Axim X30 because it had a good combination of all these elements.

I also bought two optional extended life batteries, a 256MB memory stick, spare data cable for my computer bag, spare styli, screen protector sheets and a carrying case for the Axim itself. Since October, 2004, I have worn out one keyboard that Dell cheerfully (literally) replaced under warranty as it was a Dell branded item. I have written somewhere around 20 articles on it, along with countless outlines and notes.

I really like the small form factor and the long battery life. I also like the fact that when I'm on an airplane and they tell me it's time to turn off electronic devices, I can do it almost instantaneously. That gives me that much more time to keep writing.

When I'm heading out to events, it's not uncommon at all for me to have the keyboard in one pocket and my Axim in another just in case I have free time or the writer's creative 'groove' hits me.

There is one challenge that I think all manufacturers are trying to address and that is using the small screen when Web browsing. You can receive and view full-size screens, but scrolling around to see what can fit on your little screen can get very tedious. I've read about groups working on projecting the image onto an external surface, such as a wall. I've also heard aobut plans to create glasses with an integral display, or possibly a display that clips onto existing eyeglasses. Personally, I'd opt for one of the eyeglass options for privacy reasons, plus I'd expect that option would probably have far lower power consumption than a projector and not require an external surface of suitable composition to exist. However, I must admit the projector could be very useful for ad hoc presentations or sharing ideas.

Moving past my observations about the unit itself, I am extremely intrigued by all the questions I get.

As people question me, I question them to better understand their interest. The prime attraction, if you will, is the little handheld sitting on the little foldable keyboard and me typing away.

Some people really like the instant on/off features. Some really like the fact that I have wireless capabilities. Most like the fact that I can use it as a traditional PDA, writing tool, and then synch with my notebook. College students really seem to like the 'cool gizmo' appeal, plus its music player capabilities.

Nobody who I have talked to seems put off by the price that I paid (about $600 with all the accessories). Pricing questions are almost always asked but my response never seems to be an issue or even a surprise. In part, that may be due them seeing me really using the combination as a tool and not simply a toy.

What really floors me is the conversation starter that this little tool is.

I never would have guessed the influence it would have on people when I bought it. In fact, I am eating lunch right now, writing and have already had one inquiry by a college student who would love to get something like this that he can carry in his backpack for taking notes without the weight or delay in booting associated with his notebook. Then at the end of the day, he could download his notes to his desktop in his dorm room.

In short, the handheld computers definitely generate interest in the market based on my completely unscientific research since October, 2004 when I first started traveling with the unit. I've talked to HP and Compaq owners who are equally happy and some are now intrigued by the keyboard as that wasn't something they initially considered.

Speaking for myself, Dell should take this article as a job well done and all manufacturers should review the feedback about the importance of size, weight, boot time, and battery capacity, not to mention foldable keyboards for large-scale data entry.

The only problem I have now is a regular urge to tell inquisitors, ''Dude, I got a Dell.''

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