Our latest parade of desirable IT gear is biased towards items without wires, and it includes the very best advice available on choosing, powering, protecting, connecting, accessing and controlling your portable pals

A carapace for your computer

Rugged Peak’s Armor 3600 PDA case could be an alternative to buying a ruggedised PDA. You simply open the the clamshell-like plastic casing and strap your precious, fragile PDA inside it. A piece of flip-up plastic protects the PDA’s screen, and a membrane underneath it stops rain getting inside the casing while allowing you to write on the PDA’s touch-sensitive screen. The casing protects your gadget from sudden impacts and acts as a lifejacket if you drop it into water. A range of accessories is available, including a deeper back casing for using thicker-than-normal long-life batteries. There is also a through-the-box cable kit that enables the PDA to be connected to a laptop or mobile phone without letting water into the casing. The standard product is 171 mm long, 91 mm wide and 28 mm deep, and is available in black or fluorescent yellow. It retails for £75.

Rugged Peak
www.building.co.uk/enquiries 301

Portable power

One of the constant irritations of travelling is the need to carry enough batteries to keep your digital helpers functioning. APC is hoping to make this a thing of the past with its TravelPowerCase, a carry case and battery charger rolled into one. The case’s built-in battery charger is capable of charging three devices at once, so you can be sure that your notebook computer, mobile phone and PDA are ready whenever you need them. The case plugs into mains power, a car cigarette lighter, or a power socket on an aeroplane. Leads and mains adaptors are supplied with the product, which the company says will work in more than 150 countries. It has shock-absorbing padding to protect the contents of the case and a detachable pouch for personal belongings. Two sizes are available – the TPC1000S, which is made from synthetic leather and retails for £129, and the larger TPC 1300B made from what the company calls “ballistic nylon”. Power leads for phones and PDAs are extra.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 302

Smart headset

Plantronics has launched a Bluetooth wireless headset for mobile phones. The product, called M3000, can be used up to 10 m from the mobile. It alerts users if there is an incoming call, it has a button to pick up/put down the receiver, a volume control and it supports voice dialling. Other features are a microphone that filters out background noise and a battery that allows eight hours of talk time and 200 hours of standby time. It retails for £80.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 303

Motion controller for design professionals

3Dconnexion has launched the futuristic SpaceTraveler – a sleek stainless disk that designers can connect to a computer and use to pan, zoom and rotate 3D models on the screen. The device has eight contour-hugging buttons lit-up in cool blue and circling its base that can be programmed to perform common tasks. The idea is that CAD users can use a two-handed work style – the hand that is not operating the SpaceTraveler is using a mouse to select, inspect and edit parts of a drawing. The product is 43 mm high and 46 mm in diameter, so it can be carried around with a notebook or used on a cramped desktop. It supports drawing applications including AutoCAD and CATIA and it can also be used with other programs including Microsoft Project, Office and Outlook. It retails for £469.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 304

QWERTY mobile

Nokia has brought out the 6800 mobile phone, which incorporates a full QWERTY keyboard for fast text entry. This is the company’s second version of this type of mobile – the first, the 5510, was brought out last year and was aimed at the text-messaging-obsessed youth market, which accounts for the built-in music player and radio. The 6800 is angled at the business market as it can be set up to send and receive emails as well as text messages. It is a much slicker device than the bulky 5510; as shown in the picture, the numerical keypad splits in two to reveal the QWERTY keypad with the display in the middle. Images on the colour display rotate 90º and the user enters text with their thumbs. Despite the keyboard’s diminutive size, entering text is easy and quick. There is also a Notes facility so that users can jot down information during a meeting, and a stereo FM radio for dull moments. With the keyboard closed, the 6800 functions like a normal mobile phone. The only downside is that the phone does not have Bluetooth built in – an unfortunate omission on a business phone.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 309

Back-up battery

What can you do if you have no access to mains power and the battery in your laptop is dead? The answer is, not much – unless you have Valence Technology’s VNC-130 N-Charge rechargeable battery system. This a big battery that can power a laptop for up to 10 hours, or allow users to speak on their mobiles for five whole days. Users can directly power their devices from it or use it as a battery charger. The N-Charge is 13 mm thick, 300 mm long and 230 mm wide, which allows it to fit into a briefcase. It incorporates a Lithium Ion battery that has a high performance and does not suffer from the “memory effect” – a problem that reduces the capacity of batteries if they are not fully discharged before recharging. The battery uses Saphion technology, which Valence Technology says is more environment-friendly than other types of Lithium Ion battery. It weighs 1350 g, has an output of 10 amps an hour, and retails for £282, including a cable that plugs into most common types of laptop. A lighter version is available.

Valence Technology
www.building.co.uk/enquiries 311

Computers in the cab

InfoWave and Positioning Resources has developed a vehicle-mounted location, mapping, navigation and communications device called VehicleGIS. It should help hard-pressed fleet managers cope with the lorry driver shortage and London’s congestion charge. The product brings together the InfoWave 728 PC with an integrated A5 touch-sensitive screen, and Positioning Resources mobile geographic information system, PocketGIS. The 728 offers voice and data communications and GPS tracking, as well as the computing power to run PocketGIS. This is a geographical information system that can allow a company to update a driver’s routes and schedules. It can also help a driver to navigate to sites. The VehicleGIS costs £1469, not including installation.

InfoWave/Positioning Resources
www.building.co.uk/enquiries 310

Speak easy

Dictaphones are moving out of the office and onto the building site. Surveyors working for contractor McNicholas are using Olympus digital voice recorders to compile snagging lists, schedules of outstanding works and site instructions as they walk around a project. Back in the office, the speech is downloaded onto a PC whereupon a voice-recognition package turns speech into text and formatting software turns text into itemised lists. The company says this solution halves the time spent preparing snagging and outstanding works lists. McNicholas uses the Olympus DS-3000, but Olympus has just launched the DS-660, which at £328 is £83 cheaper than the DS-3000. This is a digital recorder capable of recording 660 minutes of speech in digital speech standard format in long play mode, or 310 minutes in standard mode for higher sound quality. After recording the files can be edited and stored in one of five folders, each capable of holding 199 messages. A docking station enables easy file transfer to a PC and subsequent file management.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 312

Software round-up

Project administration
Asta Development has added an optional module called Asta SiteProgress to its project management solution PowerProject. The web-based tool enables project planners who are in charge of several different projects to receive progress reports on email. Site staff use the software either online or offline to enter progress reports that are then emailed to a web-based location. The project planner can download this information straight into PowerProject – so avoiding errors caused by the repeated inputting of data when information is submitted by fax or verbally.

Asta Development
www.building.co.uk/enquiries 305 Digital switchboard
Companies who want a switchboard without paying for the services of a receptionist should consider Reality Telecom’s Call Navigator. This is a virtual switchboard that routes calls to specific people whether they are at their desk or on site for the day. Subscribers pay a one-off fee for the software and get a single 0870 national call rate number. When someone calls that number a pre-recorded message gives them a range of options, such as “press 3 for accounts”, or lists the names of individuals. The system routes the call to the right person, and, if they do not answer, it tries another extension or a mobile. It can also transfer the caller to a voicemail service. It can even text the recipient’s mobile to tell them that a voicemail message is waiting. The whole system is managed online, so subscribers can add or delete numbers and choose divert options, the system can handle up to 81 departments and 810 numbers. Once the software has been purchased, the only expense is the cost of diverting calls to mobile phones, which are charged at 25p a minute.

Reality Telecom
www.building.co.uk/enquiries 306 User-friendly design
Construction products and software group Eleco, which owns the ArCon CAD design and visualisation tool is about to launch ArCon 2003. This is an inexpensive, easy-to-learn design tool suitable for smaller residential and commercial projects. Users start by drawing a plan view, the software turns this into a 3D view, and building elements are added to create a whole building. The program can also model light and shade falling onto a structure. The program contains an object library of 3000 building components and items of furniture. Other objects can be imported into the program in the O2C format. This is a piece of software that compresses files to one eight-hundredth of their original size. The makers of construction products can convert visual object files created in other software such as 3D Studio to 02C files, and edit them ready for downloading into the drawing. ArCon 2003 has a number of improvements on previous models. For example, it can create O2C objects from scratch, it has a bigger library of roof types and more complex wall shapes.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 307 PC access program
Expertcity has launched version 4.0 of its GoToMyPC software, which enables users to access the contents of their office PC over the internet. The company says the corporate version is easy for IT managers to deploy yet allows them to exercise full control over end-users access rights. The system enables users to have real time access and control over the contents of their PC including any network resources and databases. Version 4.0 has enhanced security and control options, easier set-up and the ability to access the system from a PDA is a standard feature. Another feature is that users can now access and control the contents of their PC on a PDA using a wireless link, if the PDA is running the Microsoft Windows CE 4.0 or later operating system, or Microsoft Windows Powered Pocket PC software.

www.building.co.uk/enquiries 308

10 ways to control your wireless costs

As wireless communication technologies become more popular, companies are becoming more concerned about controlling the costs of transferring data over wireless networks. Jason Salmon, an IT consultant from Imhotek, advises mobile phone and satellite firms on wireless data access. Imhotek checks that commonly used applications will work with the companies’ networks and develops software solutions to help them if they don’t. Here are his 10 tips for getting the best out of wireless networks. 1 Use a landline when you can
If a fixed landline is available, then use it. The cost of the connection will nearly always be cheaper than the equivalent wireless connection. Collecting your email in the morning before you go on the road means you only need to do short updates during the day. 2 Use the right tool for the job
If you’re out on the road and all you want to do is read your email, then use an appropriate email protocol or language to link your wireless device to the company email server. For example, MAPI is a protocol commonly used with Microsoft Outlook in an office environment, and enables the synchronisation of calendars and contacts in addition to transferring email. If you don’t need this, then don’t use it; you can read your email using an alternative protocol such as a POP3 or IMAP4 connection much more quickly and with much less data transfer required. 3 When web browsing, turn off graphics
Although websites with graphics may be pleasing to the eye, they can be expensive and time-consuming when browsing over a wireless link. In Internet Explorer you can turn graphics off with the tools > internet options > advanced menu, unchecking the “show pictures” option. 4 Block unwanted email from your inbox
Make sure you use anti-spam software. In Outlook you can use the ”rules” function to filter out spam that reaches your inbox. See below. 5 Review email before downloading
Most email servers support the IMAP4 protocol that allows you to download the headers of your emails, including the address of the sender, the subject and file size. You can then choose the ones that you want to download fully, delete spam and leave that bandwidth-hungry 2 Mb report until you are back in the office. 6 Effective searching
An effective search engine on an intranet can save time and money when accessed over a wireless link. The time taken to perform a search and then select the appropriate result can be significant. Also, consider whether an effective directory or index could reduce unnecessary searching. Internet search engine provider Google provides a number of wireless interface options for a range of different types of wireless device including the software to allow a wireless Google search to be performed at www.google.com/options/wireless.html. 7 SMS notifications
A lot of time can be wasted repeatedly checking to see if an email you’re waiting for has arrived. Consider subscribing to an SMS notification service. Good ones will send an SMS to your mobile phone informing you of the arrival of an email when one that matches specific criteria is received. 8 Make the technology work for you
Take time to understand how the technology is used in the field, and do not over-engineer the solution. For instance, when using the IMAP protocol with Outlook to send email, the default setting of the software saves a copy in your sent items. To do this, the email is sent twice, once to the recipient and then again to the sent items folder back to the office email server. This may be required for emails to customers, but not necessarily to colleagues, so the default settings can be changed. Similarly, applications that work over the office network may not be designed to work with a wireless protocol, so always ensure that they are fully tested before they are used in out of the office. 9 Employ a web proxy
Using a web proxy can speed up your access to website information by providing you with a cached copy. This is basically a “black box” that sits between you and a website, and it can store web pages. Every time a user goes to a site the proxy checks to see whether the page it has stored is the most up to date. If it is, the proxy will send this page from its memory, which is much faster than downloading it from the internet. This can be useful for companies with a mobile team who all regularly access similar resources, as once one person has accessed the web page, the rest of the team will be able to download it quickly. 10 Consider specialist software
There are a number of optimisation products on the market. Generally this software falls into two categories, network and application. The first involves making the best use of network bandwidth and ensures data is transmitted as efficiently as possible. There are a number of offerings available, although they are primarily aimed at the PC market rather than mobile devices. The second type optimises the data that is being sent over the wireless link. For example, some applications ensure the computer code programs used to communicate with each other are pared down to the minimum. Savings can be impressive although they may vary depending on the nature of the data sent. Imhotek has developed an email optimisation program called IXP, and this available free until January 2004, for more information see www.ixpmail.com.