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Six weeks with a WristPDA

wristpdaHow does a Palm work on the wrist? I spent nearly two months wearing an Abacus (a Fossil sub-brand) WristPDA to see how useful all those Palm apps could function strapped to my arm all day. Here I'll give you a list of the software I used, and some tips on getting the most out of such a device. I picked up my WristPDA online for under $70 after reading MAKE's write up on the subject. The OS is just 4.0, but enough to handle some of the better old apps out there, and the device has more RAM than my Palm V (best form factor ever) or Handspring Visor.

So this was intended to be a data entry device for my wrist. The form factor is a bit small, but tolerable. What really killed me was Jot. Fossil/Abacus has included Jot because there's no silk screen text entry area on the watch— the entire face is a data entry screen. Problem is Jot just didn't "do it" for me. Switching to Graffiti2 didn't work so well either. Guess I'm just stuck in my OS 3.5 days. Besides, using Jot happens to interfere with some apps. This was probably the biggest problem with the WristPDA. Many apps are not designed to use it's one screen area, and almost none are configured for the change in buttons (you have a rocker switch on the side, and no application buttons). Turning Jot on and off takes several steps, so I wish there was a macro feature on the Palm OS in general.

See the apps I used after the jump.

It's be handy to have that macro feature in the OS because turning the watch on and off is also several steps away. Of course, like any Palm, it never turns off, just goes to sleep. If you keep the watch face on, however, you will only get a day's worth of juice out of it. Which brings me to one of the first apps I beamed over: McRazor. It's a silly fake electric razor app, but it gives you a great look at your battery level. Who knew?

All of the Palm apps work great, but with Jot off (I'll explain why in a moment), I found myself using the software keyboard quite a bit. This will require using the stylus, as the screen is too small for nails to hit those tiny squares (unless you've sharpened your nails).

diddlebugI did have some trouble with DiddleBug, which is a great app in itself. DiddleBug is like an electronic Post-It note. Scribble the info on a screen, then set a time delay alarm to show you the scribble. On most Palms this works great. But with the WristPDA, Jot kept interfering. Essentially DiddleBug would interpret character entries as shortcuts, like setting a priority or copying the graphics. So I couldn't actually enter data with Jot enabled. This is where turning Jot on and off becomes cumbersome. The scrolling on the WristPDA means iterating through between 4 to 12 apps on screen at a time, using that little rocker switch on the side. It's slow, and hampered by the fact that I like to organize my apps using categories. So I switch to System, change Jot, then go back to Main, and get into DiddleBug. This defeats the purpose of the app, which is to quickly input data, sans character recognition.

Many apps that require on-screen drawing can get fouled up by Jot. Fortunatlely, PenPenCol isn't one of them. I have used it to replace DiddleBug for quick sketch entries (it does  better with drawing anyway, as that is its purpose). But it doesn't create alarms. You take the good with the bad.

One essential app, and the reason I still wear the watch (despite its very 80's retro enormous size, bigger than my old UC-2000) is the digital wristpda watchface. It does what Palm should have done: puts my appointments on the watch face, along with power and time data. Another more powerful app for this is Yotta, but none will do what I want: show To-Dos on the watch face. Yotta has nicer graphics even more detail than digitalw (like a week view, accessible using the rocker switch), but has a nag screen because it's shareware.

If you're looking to turbocharge your WristPDA, you could check out Beiks, about the only developer specifically making WristPDA apps. There's a port of one of my favorite Apple ][ games: Karateka. They also have a powerful app called A+ that does add a quick launcher, stopwatch, and the ability to leave the backlight on indefinitely. The only downside is that it costs $9.95. But for that  functionality it's quite worth it.

Another essential app is Plucker. This little app lets you take RSS feeds, websites, and documents with you. There is a desktop app for your computer, with a client app for OS X, Linux, and Windows. I had great success with Plucker on my Mac, even if the client was pretty user unfriendly. But that's primarily because it's not intended to be used on my ancient PalmOS 4 device!

voodooAs for games, most don't work. Any arcade style game that relies on the hardware buttons are usually wonked out by the unique nav buttons on the WristPDA. A couple of games have been modded to support the interface however: SubHunt and Hard Ball, both available at, a fan site. Games that rely on simple touch interfaces, like Backgammon and Rally1000 are fine. Of course, I had to add some silly apps like Pocket IT Guy and Voodoo! because I like to freak out the squares from time to time.

Ultimately I like my WristPDA. Of course, a color screen, MP3 playback, PalmOS 5, and other amenities would be nice (voice recording would rock), but I understand not feasible at this point. It's a cool geek toy, but certainly not a substitute for a "real" Palm device. If you can find a bargain and you must carry your info on your wrist at all times (except in water), it's a cool thing to have. Even with over 30 apps I have yet to fill it up. If you're looking for yet more info on the WristPDA, there is an excellent Yahoo Group on the subject.

Tags: freeware, shareware