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(Pocket-lint) - The great thing about the iPAQ range is portability, but that's also a great source of frustration for lots of users. There are so many options when it comes to connecting your Pocket PC to your desktop or laptop, you can soon get lost - ActiveSync will try to use USB or Serial connections, either through a cable or a cradle; Bluetooth, if you have it will also Sync for you, as will IR, or Wi-fi, again, if you have these features on your iPAQ and your 'big' computer.

Having been through several options, we found the simplest was the best, and eXpansys provided the solution. Because the range of options is so vast, it is tempting to get sidetracked, so this review states the very obvious, but having taken such a long time to reach this decision, it's worth the read to avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered.

Your iPAQ ships with a cradle, so if you want to Sync with another PC, get another cradle, it is as simple as that. The temptation here is to find a cheaper method, or something more fancy. Our first attempt was the cheap route - a serial cable. Whilst this was the 'cheap' option, ultimately it wasn't. The cable cost about £10 at the time of purchase, and the main reason for this was that the work PC was old, and although it had USB connectors, the OS didn't support them. Rather than get into lengthy tweaking to resolve this, the serial port was brought into play - except it didn't. There was no communication. ActiveSync was installed, and always wants to install the latest version (3.7), but after some fiddling, we managed to find and install (3.1) which should have been used to working with the older OS and the serial port. Except it didn't want to. Also, serial ports don't have the power benefits of USB.

As an aside, a travel power pack was bought to provide power on the move. Costing about £30, this is basically a USB style cable, which plugs into a transformer, which can accept UK, US and European plugs. This will allow coverage for most of the world. Now, the USB plug on the cable was a great source of excitement - this can be plugged into and USB port and provide power, but in our version, not data. You can get universal power and data bundles, but it is not always clear what you are buying.

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Moving into the present. By this stage, my work PC has been upgraded, so the Win95 is out, and XP is in - altogether more sensible for connectivity. Again, the Sync cable was tried, but there was still a problem. The serial port was working, but on connection, it opened the dialing properties on the iPAQ and that was it. I deleted all the dialing properties to see what would happen then, and I got nothing. The PC and the iPAQ must have been aware of each other, but would not play the game. So I gave in, and searched for another cradle to finally solve this problem. Thoughts of Bluetooth dongles and IR receivers went out of the window, as eXpansys sell a fantastic USB and RS232 serial cradle for the ipaq 38xx, 39xx and 5xxx series devices, for £14.95. To put this in perspective, last time I checked with Compaq/HP, this only got you a dubious cable, and the official cradle was around £30.

To the cradle itself. Yes, it looks like £14.95 - unbranded, no real styling - just a green LED showing that you are connected. But is does have one major bonus - it folds flat. This also means you can set your iPAQ at whatever angle you like - great if you plan to tap away on it whilst in the cradle. As for connection, it was as simple as if should be. Plug it in, sit the iPAQ on it, and away you go, setting up a new partnership. Now I can Sync my home calendar with my home calendar and avoid those unfortunate mistakes when arranging a drink with mates. Yes, that's what is comes down to - a pocket device powerful enough to send you to the moon, and I use it to coordinate the consumption of alcohol. eXpansys also make a point of stating that this cradle does not come with a power pack (neither does the official cradle if you buy it as an extra). I noticed that the powerlight was blinking, and it was indeed charged up to the max. No problems there, and no need for separate power pack.


Now I can also take advantage of the iPAQs storage space - filling it with mp3s I download at work at top speed, and then listen to on the way home. It's a match made in heaven. The cradle also allows me to keep the jacket on, although I think it would not like a CF jacket or anything that adds substantial bulk to the device. Overall, I have to say I'm extremely pleased with the result, and it should have been the first port of call before I started looking at all the other nonsense. If you have an iPAQ and want simple and cost effective connectivity, then this is the choice for winners.

Writing by Chris Hall. Originally published on 6 March 2004.