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Seiko’s Smartpad2 -- An Interesting Idea, But Portable Enough?

technology review

Something to Take Note Of?

Seiko’s Smartpad2 -- An Interesting Idea, But Portable Enough?

By Daniel B. Jonas

Seiko SmartPad2

$200

Have you ever tried to take notes on your Palm using the Graffiti software and struggled to keep pace, only to throw your stylus down in frustration and pick up a pen and paper? Well, you are not alone. Whenever the urge hits me to write down anything longer than a sentence, I always find myself pushing my Palm aside and reaching for a notepad.

The Seiko SmartPad2, which Seiko markets as “The Connected Notepad,” solves this deficiency by capturing handwritten notes and drawings and transferring them to your handheld in real time via infrared technology. The SmartPad2 works in conjunction with any handheld running Palm OS 3.1 or higher.

The SmartPad2 comes neatly disguised as a black leather executive portfolio, measuring 7.5 by 10.5 inches and weighing 1.5 pounds. When opened, on the right side lies a five by eight-inch notepad that masks the digitizer tablet mounted beneath. The two AAA batteries that power the unit are located at the case’s spine. On the other side, a penholder, a business card sleeve and the infrared transceiver surround the handheld device.

Software installation was a breeze. Setup, which included installing the software package on my laptop, HotSyncing with my Palm, and slipping the batteries into the SmartPad2, took less than 15 minutes.

The SmartPad2 includes a PC application and four applications for the Palm OS (eAddress, eDateBook, eMemo and eToDo). These applications share databases with their standard Palm counterparts.

Anything written on the pad is stored as an “Ink Note” on your Palm. Each Ink Note (which can consist of multiple pages) is attached to an entry either in the address book, date book, memo pad or to do list. There is also a handy zoom feature that allows you to better view the note on your Palm by zooming in. Ink Notes can also be easily viewed through the SmartPad2 desktop software after a quick HotSync.

In order to e-mail your Ink Notes directly from your handheld, you must have the appropriate software installed (not included) and either a modem or cellular phone. Otherwise, the Ink Notes can be e-mailed as file attachments from your desktop after a quick HotSync.

In releasing the SmartPad2, Seiko slightly modified the design of its original SmartPad so that handhelds other than the Palm are compatible with the product. The SmartPad2 supports units from Palm, Handspring, HandEra, Sony and IBM. The SmartPad2 also includes a Smart Keypad, carefully placed under the notepad, that allows direct text entry into any of the four SmartPad2 applications. This keyboard is twice the size of Palm’s on-screen keyboard.

The SmartPad2 is a nifty gadget, yet the product has its fair share of drawbacks. While I was initially enamored with this new toy, the more I played with it, the more convinced I became that I would never carry one around.

First and foremost, the SmartPad2’s design runs antithetical to the Palm’s greatest asset: portability. With this accessory, my Palm is no longer a lightweight device that I can slip into my shirt pocket.

Additionally, the software presents some logistical problems. Unless you are running Microsoft Outlook, e-mailing Ink Notes is somewhat of a drag. Also, it is quite difficult to view an Ink Note on the Palm. In order to read your text with any clarity you need to zoom-in to 4X. At this magnification it is nearly impossible to seamlessly scroll and read the Note. In reality, the only way to read what you have written (other than by looking at the hard copy) is to view the file on your PC.

While the SmartPad2 has and will find its niche among handheld users, it will definitely not be accompanying me and my travel companions (Palm, cell phone, and Blackberry) wherever I go. And, at the street price of $200, does it really make sense to purchase an accessory that costs almost as much as a Palm? If I happen to receive one for the holidays I am going to post it on eBay.