Everex A-15 Review

The FreeStyle A-15 Manager Palm size PC by Everex is their middle model. The A-15 differs from the A-10 by the additional 4meg of RAM, faster processor (The A-15 uses the NEC VR4111 processor running at 66MHz and the Everex Freestyle Associate features the NEC VR4102 running at 55MHz) and the foldable docking cradle. The A-15 differs from the A-20 in that it does not have the built in 33.6k modem in the docking cradle. The A-20 has 16meg of RAM.

A-10: 4mb upgradable RAM, 8mb ROM
A-15: 8mb upgradable RAM, 8mb ROM
A-20: 16mb upgradable RAM, 8mb ROM

Hardware:

The A-15 Manager is very similar in physical size and screen size to the PalmPilot and Palm III.
Physical size 4.835″ x 3.175″ x .63″
Screen size 3.12″ x 2.345″

Its dark grey matte plastic casing feels very solid and sturdy. In my opinion, it feels just a bit sturdier than my Palm III. There is no creaking or movement in the casing when you hold or squeeze the sides. The size of the A-15 feels a little better in my hand than the Casio E-10. I think I prefer its thinner case. Both the E-10 and the A-15 feel as solid and sturdy. In this respect, I think they are a step above the Palm III.

The A-15 has a multitude of buttons on the sides and front of the unit. On the left side of the machine are 3 buttons. The Voice Record, Backlight and Contrast adjustment buttons. All three of these buttons are the same small rectangular size. Situated between the record and backlight buttons is an ear phone jack. This side of the case also has the main battery compartment. A nice thing about the A-15 is that the battery compartment door is attached to the A-15 via a metal hinge.

The right side of the unit has 2 buttons and the rocker/action button combo. The top button is the Exit button, then the rocker/action combo and then Power switch. There is also an AC adapter connector at the bottom. The rocker/action button is a long button that can either be pressed/toggled at the ends or pressed in the middle. This button layout is more lefty friendly than the Casio E-10. Being a lefthander, I found this setup quite a bit easier to use than the toothed gear action button on the E-10. One handed Palm size PC operation is kind of nifty….if you use it…. I think this is something that you’d have to actually push yourself to use in order to get accustomed to it. I guess I’m just used to pulling out the stylus and tapping around.

The front of the A-15 has 4 oval application buttons. The Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and NoteTaker buttons are arranged in a diamond shape at the lower right corner of the unit. I would prefer if the buttons were in a line across the bottom of the case like a Pilot. The buttons are all flush with the casing so that getting the FreeStyle in and out of cases won’t accidentally activate a button. I’ve heard a few complaints from people saying that everytime they picked up the unit, that they would turn it on or off because of the placement of the buttons on the sides of the unit. I didn’t find this to be a problem with me.

The front of the case also has a microphone and an LED. The microphone is on the top right of the case and the LED is to the left of the microphone. The top of the A-15 has the IR port, compact flash slot and stylus silo. The microphone is just one hole in the case. The LED wraps around the case so that you can view it from the top or front. The LED can be used instead of an audible alarm. It flashes green when activated. The light isn’t very bright and isn’t attention getting. I think the Casio’s red LED is more noticeable. The compact flash slot does not have a cover like the Casio E-10. Instead, a plastic placeholder card stays in the slot when it’s not being used. To use a compact flash card, the placeholder card is pulled out and the card is put in its place. I didn’t have a card to check to see if the top of the compact flash card is then flush with the top of the A-15’s case (maybe someone can comment).

The A-15’s stylus is not as nice as the Casio E-10’s stylus, It is shorter, and skinnier. The A-15’s stylus is not round, but more oval. I didn’t find it very comfortable to use. One neat thing about this stylus is that it has a built-in little tool (like a little flat blade at the end) that lets you use it to pull out the plastic placeholder compact flash card or open the backup battery compartment.

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The bottom of the case has the serial port connector. The back of the case has the backup battery / memory compartment, speaker and reset switch.

The Everex A-15 Manager’s display is very disappointing. It is the worst feature of the whole PDA which is bad considering that you need a good display in order to see your information. The display is very dim. The Casio E-10’s screen is much brighter and clearer. That said, I could get used to the screen if I had to. I found that I would squint and fiddle with the contrast and then use the unit. Then I’d go back to my Palm III or Casio E-10 and think WOW, what a difference! The A-15’s screen is fine when you’re under floresant lighting like a workplace. But when I’d try to use it at home, I ended up getting a headache and eye strain very quickly.

The backlight on the A-15 is also pretty dim. I would compare it directly to the backlight on a Pilot or Palm III. Like the Pilot, you can barely tell that the light is on when you’re in normal lighting conditions. I don’t personally use the backlight much on a PDA. Just when I’m in very very dim light and can’t see the screen. In cases such as this, the backlight on the A-15 is perfectly adequate. If you are the type of person that uses the backlight all the time to help you view the screen, then the A-15’s backlight won’t impress you at all.

A15, E10, and Palm III. Picture taken in dim light.

The sensitivity of the display is fine. But the feel of the screen is cheap compared to the Casio. Writing on the screen has a more paper like texture than the Casio screen, but the A-15’s screen is slightly spongy. You can visibly see the screen bend a little when you tap it with the stylus.

The A-15 comes with a folding docking cradle. The cradle has a pop down back that lets you adjust the angle that the FreeStyle is at and lets you fold it flat for travel. There is a AC adapter connector and a slot for 2 AA batteries. I have no idea what the batteries in the cradle are for. The cradle doesn’t need the batteries to work, so go figure… A serial cable plugs into you computer and then into the cradle. Putting the A-15 into the docking cradle isn’t as easy as putting the E-10 into its cradle. The A-15 has to be physically slid into place and pushed down onto the connector. Getting it out of the cradle is even harder. It’s hard to get ahold of the unit to pull it out without activating one of the buttons. I found myself always pushing a button and activating some function or feature that I didn’t want to activate. Removing the Casio E-10 is much
easier… and can be done with one hand. The A-15 needs two hands to remove it.

If you want to really travel light, you can just leave the cradle at home and take the cable. The cable can plug directly into the A-15 and sync with your PC that way.

The A-15 Manager comes with one set of rechargeable batteries. When the A-15 is in the cradle, you can charge it’s batteries if the AC adapter is plugged in. You can also directly plug the AC adapter into the A-15 to charge it. It was hard for me to tell about how may hours I got between charges with the battery pack. The power application does not give you a hours used listing like on the Casio. Another thing I didn’t like is that there is no visible way to tell when your batteries are fully charged. It would be nice to have a led or something that would turn off or on when the batteries were ‘full’.

The speaker on the Everex A-15 is not as clear as the Casio’s. The volume level on the A-15 might be a bit louder than the Casio…. but, it seemed like the volume would fluctuate when going back and forth between apps. I verified that the volume was set at the maximum level and would go to the Volume/Sound app to test some sounds. They would be loud. But then if I went out of the app and into something else and then back into the Sound app, the sounds would sometimes be lower. This might be a bug… I don’t think it was the batteries as they were fully charged.

A-15 Mobile Voice Sample
E-10 Mobile Voice Sample
A-15 PCM Sample (8,000 Hz, 8 bit, mono)
E-10 PCM Sample (8,000 Hz, 8 bit, mono)

Another annoying thing about the speaker (actually it’s a bug with the sound events) is that the A-15 would get stuck with a sound event. Most events have sounds associated with them for instance opening a program, tapping on a menu item etc. The A-15 would play one of these sounds and get stuck on it and play it for every event until something would cause it to switch to another sound. I’m sure a patch will come out sometime to fix this.

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Slip case that comes with the A-15. The unit sticks out almost a half inch. I don’t like it.

An interesting feature of the A-15 is it’s Vibrating notification alarm. It has a vibrator option just like a pager. It’s not very strong though and if you have the A-15 in its case you might not feel the alarm at all. This is probably because the vibration only lasts about 5 seconds or less. The vibration is about 20% stronger and longer when the unit is plugged into the AC adapter…. but who is going to using it that way?

The actual speed of the Everex is about the same as the Casio E-10. I couldn’t tell any real differences. The Everex Freestyle Manager and Executive models are shipping with the NEC VR4111 (MIPS) processor running at 66MHz and the Everex Freestyle Associate features the NEC VR4102 running at 55MHz. The Casio E-10 has the VR4111 running at I’m not sure what speed….

Software:

The A-15 didn’t come with any bonus software like the Casio. Everex has stated that it will be sending registered users a bonus software CD in August.

The built in applications on the A-15 are the same as on the Casio E-10 with only a few minor differences. You can read my Casio E-10 review for more details on the built in apps. I’ll just talk about the differences.

The Voice Recorder application has just 2 recording format settings as opposed to the 3 settings on the Casio. The A-15 has Mobile Voice and PCM. The E-10 also has TrueSpeech. I found that the A-15’s playback of recordings weren’t very clear. The Mobile voice option sounded like you were talking underwater. The PCM option sounded better, but all the recordings had static, clicks and motor noise in the background. The Casio E-10’s playback does not have these background noises and is much clearer.

The Power application does not display when the batteries were installed and how much time has been used with them like the Casio’s power app.

I was able to get the Mobile Channels application to work with the A-15. I had been unsuccessful with the Casio. The trick is to install I.E. 4.0 after you install the WindowsCE software. Mobile channels are a neat feature! You can subscribe to a channel and have the info automatically download into your A-15 when you do a sync. Sounds and pictures are transferred along with text. I like this alot. I just hope more mobile channels start popping up soon.

Bottom Line:

So, what do I think of the Everex FreeStyle A-15 Manager overall? It’s ok… but I like the Casio better. The display quality is really important to me so as soon as I saw how bad the A-15 was, I knew I wouldn’t be happy using it. If the Everex had the same quality display as the Casio, I’d pick the A-15 over the E-10 because I like the button placements and larger rocket/action button. I could live with the lower speaker quality… I also like the rechargeable battery pack that the A-15 has.

Some people are saying that they don’t mind the display. So the best thing to do if you’re interested in the Everex is to go to a store and try it. If you don’t mind the display, it’s a great little unit with 4 more meg of memory than the Casio at the same price.

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Product Information

Price:$399.95
Manufacturer:Everex
Pros:
  • Small size.
  • 8meg of ram.
Cons:
  • Display is hard to see.
  • Voice recorder playback is static in the background.
  • Sound event bug.
2 comments… add one
  • questionfear December 12, 2002, 5:08 pm

    What I wonder about is the battery life; does having to constantly receive radio signals kill the battery life?
    Also, it seems to be a fairly useless tool. I personally dont see the need to have mp3 capabilities on my PDA either. I know a lot of people do, but I would worry too much about the PDA itself being damaged in the process. Aside from the ability to store more music than the average stand alone mp3 player (with the exception of the ones that cost as much as a pda itself) is there a significant benefit to having one in your PDA?

  • Julie December 12, 2002, 8:25 pm

    According to the info on the iBIZ site, the radio has low power consumption. I only did one test where I started with a 100% full battery on a 3800. I let the radio play with a full bright screen for 1hr thru headphones. After one hour the battery level was down to 80%.

    As for having audio (MP3) capabilities on a Pocket PC, I happen to love that feature. It allows me to only carry one device instead of two. 🙂

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