Our Take: OmniSky Meets Jornada

Many people have been considering a wireless ISP, and one of the first solutions for PocketPC users on the run is the OmniSky service for the Hewlett-Packard Jornada. Since we began our review, OmniSky has also introduced a more expensive service for the Compaq iPaq. Read on as BetaNews takes a look at wireless Net for the PDA, and stay tuned for more information on the new iPaq offering.

OmniSky for the Jornada is powered by a wireless modem from Novatel Wireless, the same company that manufactures the modems for OmniSky's
Palm V and Handspring services. Installing the device is fairly straightforward, although slightly awkward because you must first remove screws on the back of your Jornada to attach a bracket that supports the modem. Once you've done that, the modem slides on easily and stays secure.

One nice touch is that if you are charging the modem while in use, the adaptor will also charge your Jornada. This is great for bringing the device on the road, as you only need to carry the one AC adaptor. The OmniSky modem for the Palm V does not do this.

Installing the OmniSky software to the Jornada was very easy. Easier, in fact, than installing OmniSky's software to a Palm Vx. The OmniSky installer allows you to configure your e-mail accounts for use on the handheld, using
the included Inbox software with a few tweaks to speed up access over a wireless connection. At the end of setup, the software hung as it
transferred data to the Jornada, but after unplugging the PDA, installation completed without any problems.

Generally, using the OmniSky service on the Jornada was quite good. Aside from the inherent usability problems with the PocketPC interface, the OmniSky software and Pocket Internet Explorer provide a great way to access
information on the Web using the Jornada. Specially formatted pages for the
device's small screen are included as part of the OmniSky software, in addition to a portal site to access content optimized for wireless

If you start to browse regular Web sites in Pocket Internet Explorer, you will notice that it is quite slow. To speed things up, OmniSky makes use of a proxy server to compress images and improve transfer speeds. Unfortunately, if you need to access an image on the Web, this will degrade the display quality. To avoid this, you can temporarily disable the proxy server through the options menu in Pocket IE. It is not recommend that you disable this feature for an extended period of time, because it slows down Web access.

One of the main problems with using the Jornada and OmniSky to access the Internet is its bulkiness. For example, before the wireless modem
is attached, the Jornada is already the thickness of a Palm Vx with modem attached. If size is not of importance, or if you are a die-hard Jornada user, you should definitely give OmniSky a try.

When comparing the OmniSky service on the Jornada to that of Palm devices, usability was noticably better on the Palm, particularly the e-mail application. Browsing Web sites not formatted for mobile access is easier on the Jornada, but still very sluggish.

The bottom line: it's great for Jornada users, but if you’re new to the market, you may want to look into a Palm Vx with OmniSky. Either way, wireless Internet on a PDA is still an expensive proposition. The wireless modem is currently $349.99 USD, and monthly service from OmniSky is runs $39.95 USD a month. If you subscribe for a year at sign-up, the price is knocked down to $29.95 USD a month.

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