Handmark Express for Palm OS, Windows Mobile & Smartphone

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, March 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Handmark, go to the web site
Requires: PalmOS 3.5, Pocket PC/Windows Mobile, SmartPhone, wireless connectivity
MSRP: $6.99 (monthly subscription), $69.90 (1 year pre-paid subscription)

A certain company which shall not be named here has spent several years basically owning the online PDA information browser market. Install the software, hit the company's web site, make your news and information picks, sync your PDA and voila - from then on (and at every HotSync or ActiveSync) your news and info choices are automatically updated. Times, like news and information, change at the speed of light it seems. The competition has awoken, not in the least up-and-comers like Handmark, whose latest offering allows you to update selected news and information channels via wired (USB or sync cradle) or wireless connectivity through any compatible access point. It's almost as though these little PDAs are growing up into real live, fully featured computers.

Handmark Express works with Palm OS, Windows Mobile Smartphones and PDAs with a cradle or WiFi and an Internet connection. Express is mainly a wireless information application which delivers news and information according to preset categories. The information in those categories is obtained through Handmark's servers and is chosen for you according to your physical location. Express is a direct Internet client application, not a web browser based service, so the news and information categories you select are updated incredibly quickly because the Express PageOne viewer doesn't have to go traipsing all over the Internet to find data. We were amazed that updates comprising upwards of 150 articles were downloaded in less than half a minute. Let's hear it for dedicated servers!

According to Handmark vice president Douglas Edwards, “even if there were no constraints on bandwidth, viewing web pages through a tiny two inch screen is a less than satisfactory experience. Express is an application that talks directly to Handmark servers for an optimum user experience, it’s faster, easier and does much more than try to squeeze a service designed for desktops onto a handheld screen. Express was created specifically for the mobile device. It’s much more than just better than browsing, Express makes Smartphones smarter.” We love quotes like this because it gives us a starting point for one of our real-world, real user reviews. What Edwards is saying, basically, is that you're not confronted with a typical newsprint-style user interface. When you launch Express PageOne you see your master category list (which in our case was News, Sports, Weather, 411, Stocks, Movies and Maps). Tap a category and a list of information items or articles appears. Tap anything in the list to read the information or article content. No headlines, none of the weird web formatting (e.g.: excessive line & paragraph breaks which look like garbage on a small PDA screen) and little else which interferes with reading the content. Send that user interface designer a bonus!

The top level categories should be self-explanatory but just in case you were wondering, 411 really is telephone information. You can even track down a phone number and dial it if your PDA is attached to a modem. When you first set up Handmark Express, there's one section in which you enter your local ZIP code. That's means the Weather category provides you with weather forecasts only for your locale. Change the ZIP code in the Settings dialog, tap update, and you can instantly obtain the weather relative to any ZIP you choose. Very cool. News contains six sub-categories including Business, World, Entertainment, Politics, Technology and Sports. You can choose to update either 5 or 10 stories in each sub-category and whether you prefer summaries or the full articles.

Cons: Handmark is getting its news and information feeds from the Reuters News Agency. There was a smattering of Hollywood Reporter news sources in the Entertainment category. Hopefully, the future will bring a news mix from additional agencies. Reuters is fine and no doubt maintains one of the largest daily information and wire services in the world. It publishes everything verified it receives from its huge network of stringers and staff. But we'd still like to see a bit more variety. Because the setup and design for information localization is ZIP code-based, for now Handmark Express is primarily oriented toward American users and offshore consumers of U.S. news and information.

Pros: News and information is organized into consistent, top-level categories which makes it all faster and easier to access when compared to typical web-based micro-browsers found on most wireless PDAs and Smartphones. We tried Express in three different locales: Buffalo, New York, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, Ohio, and in all cases consistently obtained the correct weather and localized information. Installation and setup are brain-dead easy. In the News category, you can choose between summaries and full articles and select up to ten stories per sub-category. Extremely fast updates: cradled updates took place in under half a minute, wireless updates in under one minute on our systems. Tired of trying to decide what news sources to browse? Tired of inconsistent web performance, page formatting issues on the PDA screen, and information pages that won't sync because their sites are down or clogged? Try Handmark Express instead. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised and, more important, spending more time reading the news than browsing for it. Highly recommended.

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