Nino 312 Review

The Nino by Philips is one of the latest
Palm size PCs out of the gate. It’s also currently the most creatively styled PSPC with
its silvery finish and rounded docking station. After reviewing both the Casio E10 and
Everex Associate A15, I was curious to see what differences the Nino would have to offer.

The first thing you notice about the Nino is its size. It is currently the largest of
the Palm size PCs being almost a half inch longer. The width and thickness of the unit are
about the same though.  Actual physical dimensions are: 5.25" x 3.41" x
.75".  The size isn’t unmanageable, but it is a factor in portability. I
personally prefer the size of the PalmPilot and Palm III over any of the other PDAs now
available. The extra size and weight of the Nino might discourage some people from
carrying it with them all the time.

(Palm 3, E10, and
Nino)

The light silver finish on the body is at least a little more imaginative than the
other PDAs out there… but ultimately body color isn’t the most important feature. So,
let’s examine in detail the physical hardware.

The front of the unit has the power / backlight button. A nice feature of the power
button is that it has an indentation in it where you can use the stylus to press it
instead of your finger. There are two LED’s on the front right side of the unit. The top
light blinks when an alarm is activated, and the other light is activated when the
batteries are recharging.  The microphone opening is a small hole at the bottom left
corner of the unit and the speaker is right above the Nino logo. I like the placement of
the speaker as it really seems louder in this location.

Like I said, the Nino is larger and heavier at 7.8oz (compared to 6.6oz with the Casio
E10). The casing is solid and well made. The only part of the casing that worried me was
the battery door. This door has a narrow slot on the edge cut in it so that you can press
it in to release it. To me it looks like repeated use might crack the narrow plastic on
the edge. But since you’ll probably be using the supplied NiMH battery pack, you’ll
probably not need to open the battery compartment that often anyway.

Speaking of the NiMH battery pack, it comes with the Nino as well as an AC
adapter that attaches to the docking station or directly into the Nino to recharge it
automatically whenever the Nino is in the cradle. 

A nice feature that the Nino
has over the Everex PSPC is a LED on the front of the PDA that glows green when the unit
is charging and turns off when the batteries are fully charged.

The Nino can also run on two regular AA batteries.

The back of the Nino also has a hinged compact flash memory door, a replaceable ROM access
door that is held closed with a screw and the stylus silo.

The stylus is an all plastic
gray stick with a black tip. It’s adequate… I prefer the Casio E-10 stylus out of all
the PSPC styli so far.  The stylus silo isn’t like the typical click in silo. When
you insert the stylus, it feels more like you’re inserting it into a rubber tube. I don’t
care for the placement of the stylus silo. I would much rather it be placed on the right
side of the unit so that I could use my thumb to slide it out easily.

The sides of the Nino are gray rubber with hard plastic buttons. The left side has the
rocker / action button combo and below them is the exit button.  On the right side
are 4 application buttons, the contrast adjustment wheel and the AC adapter connector.
  The programs that are mapped to the application buttons can be modified in the
settings.

The placement of the 4 buttons on the right side of the unit aren’t really friendly for
a left-handed or right-handed person. I am left-handed and found that it was hard to use
my thumb to access the bottom two buttons. When trying the unit in my other hand, it just
didn’t feel comfortable to try using the cradling finger’s fingertips to activate the
buttons. The placement of the left side buttons seemed more right-hander friendly but I
was able to use them being a southpaw too.  I personally don’t feel that any of the
current PSPCs can be used conveniently with one hand. There needs to be an easy way to
navigate the start menu.

The bottom of the unit has the docking station connector and a connector for the clip
on modem. The top of the unit has the oval shaped IR port.

height="216"/> The Nino docking station is the nicest of the PSPCs so far. Though it’s
not as portable as the others, it is the easiest one to insert the PDA into and remove.
The Nino dock has spring loaded connector pins so you all you have to do is just set the
Nino in the dock… You don’t have to snap it in or really press down on it to make
contact. It’s the same with removing it. You just pick it up with no need to hold on to
the dock. 

A nice feature of the dock is the ability to plug the AC Adapter into
it and have it charge  your Nino’s batteries any time it is in the dock.

One of the most important hardware features in any PDA is the display. What did I think
of the Nino’s display? Well, it’s not as crisp and bright as the Casio E-10, but it’s much
better than the Everex screens. Using the backlight all the time helps somewhat with the
dimmer screen. A very nice feature that the Nino has over the other PSPCs is an actual
contrast adjustment wheel. The range of contrast adjustments can go from totally white
(screen looks like the unit is turned off), or total black. Before the Nino was actually
released, the stated that it would have a 16 level gray scale. In fact, it only has a 4
level gray scale.

The screen is very glass like and is not spongy like the Everex screen. It has more
glare to it than the other screens, but I do like the more slippery hard surface. There
isn’t any paper feel to it like the Casio.  The actual writing surface texture is a
personal preference thing so it’s best to try it before you buy to see if you’ll like it.

The backlight on the Nino is bright and consistent across the screen. It’s just a bit
dimmer than the Casio, but not by much. Just like the other PSPCs, there is an audible
whining noise when the backlight is on. Because of this noise, you don’t want to make
voice recordings while the backlight is on because the whining will bleed onto your
recording.

The speaker on the Nino is LOUD. Comparing it with my Casio E10, I would say that it
might be as much as 25% louder. I think this is almost totally due to the placement of the
speaker. On the Nino, it’s located on the bottom front of the case. With the other PSPCs,
it is on the back of the unit where sounds get muffled with your hand.

Using the voice recorder with the Nino yielded clear results. The only real comment I
have is that all my recordings had white noise in the background. This additional noise
isn’t horrible or overpowering, but it also is hardly noticeable with recordings done on a
Casio E10.

The Nino comes with a Samsonite leather slip case. The Nino slides into
the case upside down so that the speaker is exposed. The case has a cutout on the right
side so that the top application button is exposed. This will let you make a voice note
while the Nino is in its case. There’s also a tiny hole where the microphone is supposed
to be that you can talk into. The hole in the case and the mic don’t actually line up, but
recordings made while in the case sound just fine.

The case is ok although a bit snug,
but if I were going to keep the Nino, I would ditch it very quickly and buy something that
could be used ‘play through’.

The Nino is powered by a 75MHz MIPS-based 32-bit RISC processor and has 8meg of RAM for
program storage. How does it compare as far as speed to other Palm size PCs? It’s hard to
tell.  I really couldn’t tell that much difference between it and my Casio E10. I did
a couple tests using the mobile channels to see how long it would take to bring them up
and display the same data on both machines and they were both pretty equal. As for the
8meg of RAM, you’ll need it! WindowsCE applications are quite a bit larger than similar
apps on a Palm OS PDA. Some people will say, I could buy a 4meg PSPC and just get a really
big compact flash memory card if I need it. Well, that is true but a compact flash card is
like a hard drive, and not like adding actual RAM to a PC. If you buy an 8meg PSPC, you
will be able to have more programs and data loaded at once.

Now let’s take a look at the software that comes with the Nino.  I won’t go into
any details about the basic WindowsCE applications since they are built into every PSPC’s
OS. If you want to read my opinions on them, you can read my review of the Casio E-10.

Unlike other PSPCs, the Nino comes with the smARTcommander Pocket Commander software in
ROM instead of RAM. This is the program that will let you use your voice to control some
aspects of the Nino. I really think this is a nice app and it works great despite what
some people have said. I even tested something things where I trained the commands in my
normal voice and then kind of ‘sang’ the commands to see if it would recognize them….
and it did!

The Nino also ships with MobileSoft’s Expense Manager. You have to install this program
from the CD… It helps you keep track of business expenses while you’re on the go.  
You can later transfer the info to an Excel spreadsheet on your PC. You can record hotel,
rental car, food, and other expenses…and you can also record hours and miles for a
specific project or client. A summary screen can then show you total expenses.   This
app is ok, but I’d rather have a checkbook program.

Of all the PSPCs currently available, the Nino comes with the most input methods. It
has the built in standard popup keyboard, a T9 Text Input keyboard, Jot Character
Recognizer and smARTwriter all in ROM. 

The T9 Text input keyboard looks like a touch-tone phone pad. I like this product. See
my review of T9 for Palm OS PDAs (it’s pretty much the same).
The only thing I don’t like about this input method is that with the keyboard being as
large as it is, it sometimes gets in the way.

The Jot Character Recognizer works the best on the Nino. It’s quick and easy to use.
With Jot, you have several ways to write most letters in a defined area of the screen. You
can read my review of Jot for Palm OS PDAs for more info.
It’s basically the same as the WindowsCE version except that it the WindowsCE version is
much faster, and has word completion.  The word completion feature is really what
makes this input method stand out above the others. As you write letters, Jot guesses what
word you are writing and allows you to accept that word if it is the one you want. For
long words, this can save you quite a bit of time. For those of you that are familiar with
Graffiti, you’ll probably like this method best.

Lastly there is the smARTwriter input method. This one is my least favorite. With
smaARTwriter, you can write anywhere on the screen. The program is supposed to ‘learn’
your handwriting…. Well, after using a Newton MP2k, I’d have to say that this program
has a major learning deficiency.  For one thing it is s-l-o-w. And it really doesn’t
recognize all that well when you try to write at a normal pace. If you slow down too slow
then it will put spaces between each letter that you write. It also has a clumsy way of
activating it. You have to tap a little icon in the taskbar to turn it on or off. The
problem is, if you forget to turn it off and try to tap buttons in an app, they won’t work
till you turn smARTwriter off.

Ok, what’s the bottom line on my feelings about this PSPC? The Nino 312 package is a
good value for all that you get. The rechargeable batteries, AC Adapter, 8meg of RAM, and
built-in multiple input methods.  The only things that would make me question whether
I’d want to buy it are the screen quality and the size. I would definitely buy it over the
Everex models because of the screen  quality. But if you are trying to decide between
the Nino and a Casio E10, I would say wait till the E11 comes out and then compare them.
  Would I buy the Nino over a Palm III? Ummmmmmm, no. While these PSPCs are
interesting and have some interesting features, they still don’t have the battery life,
speed and 3rd party applications like the Palm OS PDAs.

Price: $459.95

Pros:
8meg of RAM.
Choice of multiple input methods built-in to RAM.
Loud speaker.
Rechargeable battery with LED that shows when fully charged.

Cons:
Larger than other current PSPCs.
Display isn’t as bright and clear as the Casio E-10.
Docking cradle isn’t as portable as other PSPC docking cradles.

 

Product Information

Price:459.95
Manufacturer:Philips
Pros:
  • 8meg of RAM.
  • Choice of multiple input methods built-in to RAM.
  • Loud speaker.
  • Rechargeable battery with LED that shows when fully charged.
Cons:
  • Larger than other current PSPCs.
  • Display isn't as bright and clear as the Casio E-10.
  • Docking cradle isn't as portable as other PSPC docking cradles.
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