Compaq Computer Corporation’s GSM/GPRS Wireless Expansion Pack

Advertisement


This Pack is Almost Here!

Compaq

Computer Corporation’s GSM/GPRS Wireless Expansion

Pack

April

4, 2002

Article by: Adam

Z Lein, Guest Editor

A NEW TOY

    

March 26, 2002, I received my new GSM/GPRS Wireless

Expansion Pack for the iPAQ Pocket PC. It was shipped

to my place in New York from England where it was

originally released in March.  The US release

is not slated until June 30, 2002.

     Out of the box, there are

a few warnings that you should update your iPAQ’s

ROM to the latest version before connecting the expansion

pack. This is mostly for H3800 users (presumably to

fix a problem with the wake-on-ring feature), and

the ROM installers are included on the CD that comes

in the box along with an auto-start application that

detects to see if you do need a ROM upgrade. My old

H3600 with PPC 2002 SP1 did not need any upgrade.

I removed my SIM card from the old Nokia 3390 phone

and put it in the new Expansion pack. The tray and

tiny eject button seem like they could break pretty

easily, but this shouldn’t be a problem as long as

you don’t go switching SIM cards everyday.

    

The expansion pack includes its own ROM where all

of the software resides. There is no need to install

software on the iPAQ and take up the iPAQ’s valuable

RAM. Upon first connection, the GSM/GPRS expansion

pack does install drivers on the iPAQ’s RAM. It also

places a small application in the Program Files directory

along with data storage and preferences files for

storing your Call History and SMS (Short Message System)

messages. The SMS application will also allow you

to move all SMS messages saved to your SIM card into

the iPAQ’s RAM. This is good because then you can

backup those data files to your desktop hard drive.

One problem is that there’s currently no easy way

to import these messages into a more useful place

such as the Outlook e-mail folders.

     Another issue with the Wireless

expansion pack is that its drivers (installed into

the iPAQ’s RAM) can interfere with using other expansion

packs such as the Compact Flash sleeve. To resolve

this, a dialog box appears when connecting a different

expansion pack that asks if you want to remove the

drivers for the GSM/GPRS Wireless Pack. If you say

"yes", then the iPAQ will do a soft reset

and your Compact Flash cards and other hardware should

work fine. This can be pretty annoying but hopefully

will be fixed in future versions of the software,

which is fully upgradeable since the expansion pack’s

ROM is flash-able.

    

When you attach the GSM/GPRS expansion pack, the drivers

launch the software required to interact with it.

A new title-bar application shows up at the top of

the Pocket PC interface. The icons here show the GSM

(Global System Mobile) signal strength, new messages,

GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) registration,

iPAQ battery life, Expansion pack battery life, and

expansion pack power/connection status. These icons

also give you access to the Voice Center and phone

book.

    

The Voice Center application, who’s only purpose is

to provide links to the Voice and SMS applications

as well as "Help" and Internet Explorer,

seems entirely unnecessary. The phone book application

(accessible via the title icon’s pop-up menu) allows

you to choose contacts from your contacts database

(sync’ed with Outlook) and then either call or send

an SMS to those people.

   

Both the Voice application and the SMS applications

are proprietary Compaq versions (not Pocket PC 2002

Phone Edition). They are accessible from the Wireless

Pack "Voice Center" software. The Voice

application has a telephone-style user interface which

includes the 12 button number digits just in case

you might ever actually need to dial a phone number

manually ever again. You can choose different skins

for the Voice app’s Simple Mode by going to Tools–Voice

Settings–Skins. The "Misty" one is what

appears in most advertisements, however the ugly "Gray"

skin is what appears by default. You’ll want to change

this right away.

Various Skins –

– Voice Settings

    

The Voice application’s settings menus allow you

to change the ring tones as well as the GSM network

bandwidth, call forwarding, security, speed dial

settings, etc.

– Caller

Logs and SIM utilities –

    

The Voice Application also includes a Call History. 

Here you can view a list of all the incoming and outgoing

calls that were made on your phone.  You can

also see the date, Time and Duration for each call. 

There is also a SIM card utility that will let you

copy phonebook entries on your SIM card into Outlook

or vice-versa.  You can also edit SIM card entries

manually and save them from here.  This is mainly

for those that already have a SIM card full of phone

numbers since the Voice application software primarily

uses Outlook for dialing.

Advanced Mode –

     The Voice application also

has an Advanced mode which you can switch to via the

menu at the bottom. You can use Advanced mode if you

don’t care about the cool skins and also want to use

a few more features. In Advanced mode, when you make

a call, it will appear as an item in a list. You can

tap ‘n hold on this item and choose different options

from a context sensitive menu. This allows you to

put the call on hold and then make another call. The

second call will appear as another item in the list.

You can then tap ‘n hold on the call that is on hold

and add it to the conversation with the other caller

using the Conference command. This seems to be a really

great interface for making conference calls. Each

participant’s caller ID phone number appears in the

list along with their name, provided the software

can associate the ID# with a phone number in your

contacts database. Which brings me to another software

bug. Usually in the states we store phone numbers

in the format (800) 555-1212, however caller ID#s

often come in as +18005551212. The added "1"

and different format seems to cause problems associating

the number with a caller’s name, however, I hope this

will be fixed before it’s released in the US.

    

Speaking of caller ID, when an incoming call is

received a dialog will appear on the iPAQ screen

with buttons for "Answer" and "Reject".

The dialog will also show the caller’s phone number

and their name if the number is in your contacts

database. The same will happen with incoming SMS

messages. If you are in the Voice application, this

dialog will not appear, but the information will

be shown on the Voice app’s interface and you’ll

have to use the Answer button to answer the call.

    

One problem I found with the current version of the

Voice software is that you cannot paste a phone number

into the dial string. You have to either use the software

keyboard, Address book, speed dial menu, or an input

panel. This is a major problem for me since sometimes

I find phone numbers in Pocket Internet Explorer that

I want to dial. Hopefully this will be fixed in future

versions. The buttons in the Voice application also

don’t include tap/hold tool tips. So it might take

a little while to figure out that some of those icons

are volume controls. 

– SMS Application –
    

The SMS application is not integrated with the Pocket

PC Inbox, however it works in much the same way. One

excellent advantage to using a Pocket PC for SMS messages

is that you can write them using any type of input

method. So while my friends are struggling with typing

messages using their 12 button cell phones, I can

write them out easily using Calligrapher, Transcriber,

Fitaly or whatever! (Whenever I see those commercials

for AT&T’s mLife text messaging or Verizon text

messaging, I laugh at their pathetic attempts to make

numeric digits a valid from of text input!)

Internet Access –

    

In addition to SMS and GSM voice capabilities, the

wireless expansion pack also includes GPRS and GSM-CSD

Internet access. Here in New York, however, I have

been unable to get a successful GPRS connection.

Normally, a "G" will appear in the signal

strength icon when the wireless pack is able to

register on a GPRS network. However, this "G"

has only appeared a few times on my device and it

is not dependent on my location nor connection settings

(the settings don’t matter if the G isn’t there).

Voicestream has been very helpful in trying to get

this to work on my device. We tried many different

settings attempts. They tried changing certain network

settings on their end and in my SIM card. The manager

of my local Voicestream store even let me try my

SIM card in other phones to see if I could get a

GPRS connection there (which was successful over

WAP).

    

If I could get GPRS to work then this would be great

because you can still receive incoming SMS and phone

calls while connected to GPRS (The GPRS connection

will be dropped upon answering an incoming call,

however). Meanwhile, I can still access the Internet

using GSM-CSD. The problem with this method is that

you have to dial out to an ISP and the billing is

applied to the amount of time you’re connected rather

than the amount of data transferred. As it turns

out, according to the Compaq engineers, the European

ROM included with the GSM/GPRS expansion pack is

not yet fully compatible with the US networks (hence

the delay in the official release, and my problems

with establishing a GPRS connection).

    

One thing you should be aware of is that after you

set up a GSM/GPRS connection using the GSM/GPRS control

panel, you have to go into the Connections manager

and choose "Compaq Wireless Pack" from the

pop-up menu. And whatever you do, don’t press the

"Modify" button when this is selected because

that will break the connection item and your GSM/GPRS

Internet will never work again. Just kidding… but

if you do hit the modify button, you may have to rebuild

your GSM/GPRS connections in order for them to work.

USAGE

    

Over the weekend, I took this out to the International

Car show in New York City to test things out. I didn’t

see the "G" once while in the City; however,

the voice and SMS was working great. It seems there

are still a few bugs in the software though, since

occasionally the expansion pack will lose its connection

with the iPAQ at which point I would have to disconnect

and reconnect the expansion pack. I’ve also experienced

the need to soft-reset the iPAQ when such things happen. 

These sound like some more bugs within the current

ROM version.

    

The iPAQ will wake up when an incoming call or SMS

is received, though it takes about 3 seconds for the

wake up to occur and then announce the incoming call.

If you wear the hands-free headset, you’ll have more

advanced warning of an incoming call since this will

beep in your ear before the iPAQ wakes up. By the

way, the ring tone can be customized to use any WAV

file located on your Pocket PC. So it’s easy to change

your ring tone to Woody Woodpecker’s laugh or the

Dukes of Hazard’s General Lee car horn (not included).

There’s also a battery vibration call indicator, however

it seems to be quite weak compared to my Nokia 3390’s

vibration feature. And since I was carrying it in

my modified Compaq Expandable case, I wouldn’t have

noticed anyway.

I took a razor blade to my Compaq Expandable case

in order to make room for the Wireless Pack’s

antenna and headset jack.  A little black

tape should hold it together just dandy.

I took a razor blade to my Compaq Expandable case

in order to make room for the Wireless Pack’s

antenna and headset jack.  A little black

tape should hold it together just dandy.

    

Another good thing about the Wireless expansion pack

is that it can function as a handset if you flip it

over. Yes, it is kind of annoying to have to flip

it over and put it up to your head to use, but it

is good that your cheek doesn’t get marks on the screen.

    

Now for those complaining about the thickness this

will add to your iPAQ… Yes, when you add more hardware

to an existing device, it does tend to add more mass

and volume given the laws of physics. However, this

expansion pack is thinner and lighter than the PCMCIA

expansion pack! The Wireless pack is wedge shaped

on the back, so at the top it’s about as thick as

the PCMCIA sleeve, but it tapers off to be about as

thin as the Compact Flash expansion pack. So, since

I used to be carrying around the iPAQ with a wireless

CDPD PCMCIA card, I’ve actually slimmed down my iPAQ

by getting the GSM/GPRS Wireless pack. Not only did

I slim it down, but I’ve added quite a lot of functionality!

And I also don’t have to carry a cell phone anymore!

That’s even less thickness and weight for the

same amount of functionality, if not more.

Before

After

    

Some other people will argue

that it’s better to have two devices: a Bluetooth-enabled

cell phone and a Bluetooth-enabled iPAQ. The problem

I have with this method, (other than the fact

that I don’t own a Bluetooth cell phone or iPAQ)

is that you still have to carry two devices. I

like to keep my keys in my pocket, and I don’t

want those banging against an iPAQ and a cell

phone. And it seems if I taped a cell phone to

the back of an iPAQ it would be much thicker than

the integrated GSM/GPRS expansion pack. Also having

two devices means having one more thing to remember

or lose. The one time I went out with just the

cell phone, I was lost when I needed to look at

Pocket Streets to find my way.  I couldn’t

bear to do e-mail on the tiny cell phone screen

and then only use the 12 button number digits

to type something. Why do people still use numbers

to call others anyway? It seems to me the original

interface for using digits with telephones was

a workaround since calling people by their actual

name was not possible with the automated hardware

at the time.  

    

Overall, the iPAQ GSM/GPRS expansion pack is a great

new device and I would recommend it to anyone who

already has an iPAQ and a GSM cell phone account.

If you don’t have an iPAQ already, you might want

to wait for the Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition devices

to come out.  And if you’re in the USA, wait

for June when the GSM/GPRS expansion packs will come

with software to make it work properly here. 

Integrating cell phone communication abilities with

personal information management and mobile Internet

applications is an excellent step forward.  Next,

we need integrated global positioning systems, too!

 

 

 

Advertisement

What's your reaction?
Love It
0%
Like It
0%
Want It
0%
Had It
0%
Hated It
0%
About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!