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Re-Printed From SLCentral

Portable Innovations Memplug Module
Author: Tom Solinap
Date Posted: April 3rd, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/hardware/pda/portableinnovations/memplug

Introduction

The past few months that I've had my Visor Platinum, I've filled it up almost to the brim with programs and information. Even though 8 MB is a lot of memory for the Palm OS, there will be a point where it just isn't enough. With the increasing number of Palm OS programs and databases, you can run out of room fast. A number of options are available to increase the memory capacity of the Visor. They come in the form of Springboard modules that plug into the Visor providing either a set amount of memory expansion or a limitless amount through memory cards. If you're not familiar with the Handspring's Visor series of PDAs, they have a built in expansion slot called the Springboard slot. This slot gives the Visor infinite expansion possibilities. There are already numerous Springboard modules out there right now, from MP3 players to digital cameras. This expandability is what sets the Visor apart from all the other Palm based PDAs. Springboard modules are plug and play devices, meaning that they should have all the necessary software built into the module. All you need to do is plug it into the Visor and everything should be configured and ready for use.

The MemPlug from Portable Innovations provides an unlimited amount of memory expansion using 3.3V SmartMediaTM cards. Unlike Handspring's own Flash memory module, the low cost SmartMediaTM cards provide pretty much a limitless supply of storage space. It also comes with software on the module itself that can transfer files, backup your visor data, view JPEG images, and view movies and animation. However, you can't run programs from the SmartMediaTM cards. There are other solutions that use Compact Flash (CF) memory as their data storage, but those lack the true plug and play capabilities that the MemPlug offers. Portable Innovations was generous enough to provide us with a review unit and a 16MB SmartMediaTM card. If you're not familiar with SmartMediaTM cards, you can see them commonly used in Digital Camera storage, as well as other applications. They are very small and thin, as well as being cheaper than CF cards. Now let's take a look at what the MemPlug has to offer and if it really does enhance your Visor experience.

Specs And Features

Portable Innovations MemPlug SmartMedia Adaptor
Dimension 54.3 x 56.6 x 11.4 mm
Weight 22 g
Color Smoky Black
Power Supply From Visor
Power Consumption
  • Operating: max 8uA
  • Standby: <1uA
File System FAT (File Allocation Table)
Plug and Play Yes
Software Package
  • PiBackup
  • PiMover
  • PiViewer
  • PiPrefs
  • gMovie
Compatibility
  • Visor Prism, Platinum, Deluxe, and Solo
  • Handspring Springboard V1.1
  • Palm OS 3.1 and 3.5.2H
  • FAT
  • 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 Mbyte 3.3V SmartMedia Card
Price $49.95

The specs really speak for themselves. The MemPlug basically bridges the gap between the SmartMediaTM memory card, and your Visor handheld. You have lots of flexibility here since the MemPlug accepts pretty much any SmartMediaTM card on the market. If you already use SmartMediaTM cards, then you'll really appreciate the MemPlug. It acts as a true Springboard module and requires no external software to run. The only external software that you'll use is gMovie maker to create gMovie files from existing movies/animation files. The MemPlug requires no batteries of its own and runs directly off the Visor's power. The power consumption is small so you don't need to worry about the MemPlug sucking your batteries dry. The MemPlug supports pretty much any 3.3V SmartMediaTM card on the market. It also has it's own Flash memory so that future updates to the module are possible.

The Software Package

The MemPlug comes with software to take full advantage of the extra storage space. The free software includes:

  • PiBackup - Allows you to backup all the programs and files on your Visor with a touch of a button, and store it somewhere safe. This is useful for people on the go, or those that want to protect their data.
  • PiMover - This application allows you to manage files between your Visor and the SmartMediaTM card. You can delete, copy, and move files to and from the internal Visor memory and the SmartMediaTM card. This is a very useful application to manage all your files.
  • PiViewer - Allows you to view JPEG files stored directly in the SmartMediaTM card. So, you can basically take pictures with your digital camera and view them on your Visor. This application supports both color and gray scale pictures, so non-Prism owners can still benefit.
  • PiPrefs - Gives you the ability to get information about the SmartMediaTM card, as well as format it and change some gMovie preferences.
  • gMovie - Allows you to convert your own movies and animation to files that can be played from the Visor's internal memory or the SmartMediaTM card. It includes gMovie Player and gMovie Maker. Has options for B & W, gray scale, and color, so all Visor handhelds can use it.

The software is basically what makes the MemPlug so versatile. You don't even need to manually install any of it either, since it's built into the module itself. The programs are automatically installed whenever a SmartMediaTM card is inserted into the MemPlug. The only thing you need to install is gMovie Maker to create gMovie files that can be played on the Visor. It's this convenience that sets the MemPlug apart from other similar storage solutions.

Installation

When I received the MemPlug, I was pretty excited since this was my first Springboard module for the Visor. Upon opening the envelope I found the MemPlug box and a 16MB SmartMediaTM card taped to the side. The MemPlug package includes the actual MemPlug Springboard module, the gMovie Maker CD, and a user guide. Installing the MemPlug doesn't require much work. All you do is remove the Springboard cover from the back of the Visor and plug in the MemPlug. If you don't have a SmartMediaTM card in the MemPlug when you attach it to the Visor, nothing happens. Once I inserted the SmartMediaTM card in the slot on the MemPlug, my Platinum turned on and several new applications appeared. Now I was ready to transfer files to the card and even view pictures/movies that are on the card.

The MemPlug fits rather snug in the Visor's Springboard slot. It adds weight to my Platinum, but not so much that it's annoying. The construction of the MemPlug itself is pretty solid. It also makes my Platinum a little thicker with the back of the module bulging out a little. The entire thing still fits into my PDA case, so it's no big deal. The only thing that's really annoying is when a SmartMediaTM card is in the module. The card sticks out of the top slightly, enough so that my Platinum's cover doesn't fit over the back. This is to allow the SmartMediaTM card to be removed easily. So, you'll have to hold the cover while the module is in use. Next, I decided to install gMovie Maker and start transferring movies to my Visor. I installed it from the CD that came with the MemPlug. A few minutes later, I was converting some of my *.AVIs to be played on my platinum. Since I don't have a Prism, the output is gray scale, but it's still looks pretty cool. Now that everything's installed and ready to go, let's see what this MemPlug can do.

Performance

What better way to test the MemPlug's performance than to use it. So, I proceeded in playing around with the various software applications that the MemPlug came with. The first is PiBackup. Since I have a habit of not changing the batteries until the very last minute, PiBackup is just what I've been looking for. So, I fired up PiBackup and tapped the backup button. Then I waited while the program scanned my Visor and transferred all the information onto the SmartMediaTM card. I was using about 6 MB of the total 8 MB of internal Visor memory, so the process took awhile. According to the user guide, since this was the first time I did a backup, it would take around 25 minutes. They weren't kidding around, it did take around 25 minutes to complete the entire process. The subsequent backups won't take as long but it also depends on the amount of information that has changed since the last backup.

Next up is PiMover. This handy little application allows me to transfer files to and from the internal memory and the SmartMediaTM card. When I first ran it, I was presented with a list of files/directories on my SmartMediaTM card. I could switch from Visor memory to card memory very easily. I could also copy, move, and delete files with a tap of a button. In addition, I could create directories and rename files. I transferred a 1.5 MB file from the internal Visor memory to the memory card to see how fast the transfer rate is. It took about 1 minute 45 seconds, which means around a transfer rate of 1 MB per minute. PiViewer is useful if you also use your SmartMediaTM card in your digital camera. It allows you to view JPEG images directly from the card itself. Luckily, I have access to a digital camera that uses SmartMediaTM cards. I also have a floppy disk adapter so I can transfer JPEG files directly to the memory card. Even if you don't have a Visor Prism, PiViewer still works with the other gray scale Visor models. The quality of pictures on my Visor Platinum are decent. However, there is no doubt that Prism owners will have a much better experience here.

gMovie is probably the best application included with the MemPlug. Earlier, I had recorded some movies of my friend's birthday using a FujiFilm FinePix 4900Z (look for the review on this soon). So what better way to test this than to convert those movies into gMovie files. I fired up gMovie Maker and selected the files I wanted to convert and set the various properties of the movie (size, color, frames per second) and where the final files should be saved. Then I clicked on the convert button and off it went. The process is fast, and you can convert multiple files at once. After that, I then had to install the files using the Palm install tool. A hot sync later, and I was good to go. Now, I could play the movies on my Visor's internal memory directly, or transfer the files to the memory card and play them from there. The movies looked ok in my Platinum's 16 shades of gray, but I would love to see them in color on the Prism. PiPrefs basically just has options to get information about the SmartMediaTM card. You can also format the memory card, and change some preferences about gMovie. Nothing really spectacular. Not one time during all this did any of the applications crash on me. Actually, my Visor Platinum has been pretty stable since I bought it. Over-all, the MemPlug performed rather well, except for the file transfer rate, which I thought could have been higher.

Applications And Value

So what can this card be really used for? Is it really that useful? Well, if you already have a digital camera that uses SmartMediaTM cards or have other devices that use that, it's a good accessory to have. SmartMediaTM cards aren't that expensive, and you really don't need a large capacity one unless you view lots of pictures or watch movies on your handheld. Currently, I'm using my card as a backup module. I also have a few movies on it. The usefulness of this module can only be realized if you have a need for the unlimited storage. If you find you have lots of pictures that you want to view on the go, or just have a large number of files that you want to keep safe, the MemPlug is a good solution. You can backup your Visor data on the go and don't have to worry about losing it. You can also take pictures with your digital camera and view them directly on your visor. Visor Prism owners will really appreciate this device. As for me, I use it mainly for the backup feature. I also use it to store my pictures and movies so I don't have to fill the Visor's memory. The gMovie application that came with the MemPlug has exposed me to movies on the Visor. Now I carry around a few, and it's cool to show off to people. With a price of $49.95, the MemPlug isn't the cheapest solution out there, but it has features that the others lack. You should really ask yourself if you really need this type of storage before deciding to invest in it.

Pros

So what's good about the MemPlug? Well, it provides you a virtually unlimited supply of storage space for programs. You won't have to worry about running out of space for data files. The software package that comes with the MemPlug allows you to view JPEG images, watch movies and back up your data. That means you can view images as well as watch movies directly off your SmartMediaTM card. Also, the MemPlug consumes very little power so it won't drain your batteries. The low cost of the SmartMediaTM cards also makes the MemPlug a very cost effective product. It's very easy to use and install. Most of the software is automatically installed for you when the module is connected to the Visor. The GUI for the applications is straightforward and easy to use.

Cons

Even though the MemPlug has a lot of nice features, it does have it's drawbacks. For one, you can't run any programs from the module itself. That means that if you have programs on the SmartMediaTM card, you'll have to transfer them to the Visor internal memory. Also, when a SmartMediaTM card is in the module, it sticks out of the top slightly so that the Visor's cover doesn't fit on the back. Even though it serves a necessary purpose, it's still annoying as hell. The transfer rate from internal memory to the memory card is acceptable, but I'd rather have it be faster. I'm an impatient kind of guy, so I have trouble sitting there and waiting for things to happen.

Conclusion

Well there you have it. The MemPlug provides a good solution if you need extra storage for your Visor. It uses low cost SmartMediaTM cards for storage so you never run out of room. Installation is as easy as can be, and the software that's included is actually useful. Although you can't run programs directly from the memory cards, it's still a good storage solution if you're running out of space. The MemPlug isn't the perfect solution, but it's probably the best solution out right now that has all the features and software you want. The MemPlug isn't for everyone though. If you're looking for a cost effective removable storage solution for the Handspring Visor, I highly recommend you check out the MemPlug. If you already use SmartMediaTM cards in other devices, having the MemPlug will add convenience to your Visor handheld. Again I'd like to thank Portable Innovations for providing a review unit. I hope this review has been helpful to everyone.

Installation: 10
Features: 9
Value: 8
Performance: 8
Quality: 9
Final Score: 8.5

Rating: 8.5/10 SystemLogistics

Re-Printed From SLCentral