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Extending the Backlight

With battery life a consistent concern for any PDA owner, your Pocket PC, by default, is most likely set up to preserve power to its fullest. One of the features that preserves battery life is the automatic dimming of the backlight on the screen when the device sits inactive for a given period of time. Although Auto Dim is a handy and valuable feature, I think you'll agree that the default timeout period of 15 seconds is way too short. I don't mind a little extra battery drain if it means not having to worry about tapping the screen every 15 seconds. Besides, even the most battery-hungry Pocket PCs still have reasonable battery life. The battery life of Pocket PCs currently ranges from 6 to 14 hours, depending upon a variety of different things such as the type of battery and the type of screen, to name a couple.

Watch Out!

Not all Pocket PCs have an Auto Dim feature but most of them allow you to somehow control the backlight. If your device doesn't have an AutoDim tab in the Brightness/Backlight settings, then look for a setting that allows you to alter the backlight. For example, Compaq iPAQ devices allow you to select the level of brightness from several settings, although you might want to stick with the Auto setting because it does a good job of adjusting the backlight automatically.

To alter the backlight timeout period for the backlight, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Start, and then tap Settings.
  2. Tap the System tab, and then tap the Brightness icon; this icon is named Backlight on some devices.
  3. Tap the Auto Dim tab.
  4. Tap the combo box below the Battery Power check box and select a new timeout period for the Auto Dim feature; I prefer 2 minutes.
  5. Tap OK in the upper-right corner to accept the Auto Dim changes.

You might have noticed that you can also set Auto Dim to work with an external power source. This option is unchecked by default because there really isn't much of a power savings issue when running a Pocket PC off an external power source.

Remember

If you have a Casio E-115 device and really want to fine-tune the screen properties of your Pocket PC, you can alter the contrast and brightness from the same Brightness Properties page. To do so, just tap the Contrast or Brightness tabs that appear at the bottom of the screen next to the Auto Dim tab.

Extending the Power

Similar to the Auto Dim feature, in my opinion the default setting for the Power Off feature is too short. The Power Off feature is responsible for automatically turning off the device when it sits idle for a certain period of time. By default, this timeout period is set to three minutes. Although I can appreciate the logic behind wanting to save precious battery life, three minutes is likely too short for the tastes of most users. I would rather lose a little battery life than have to constantly keep turning the device back on. This is ultimately a personal preference, however, so by all means feel free to be as miserly as you want with battery life.

To change the Power Off timeout period, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Start, and then tap Settings.
  2. Tap the System tab, and then tap the Power icon.
  3. Tap the Power Off tab.
  4. Tap the first combo box and select a new timeout period for the Power Off feature; I prefer 5 minutes (Figure 3.2).
  5. Tap OK in the upper-right corner to accept the Power Off changes.

Figure 3.2 The Power Off tab on the Power Properties screen allows you to adjust the timeout period for the Power Off feature.

Similar to Auto Dim, you can also set Power Off to work with an external power source. Not surprisingly, this option is unchecked by default because power savings isn't a big deal when running a Pocket PC off an external power source.

Tweaking the Soft Input Panel

The last stop on this tour of Pocket PC setup and customization is to tweak the Soft Input Panel (SIP) to suit your style of input. As you might already know, the SIP supports two standard approaches to text input:

  • Character Recognizer
  • Keyboard

The SIP automatically appears in context at the lower-right corner of the screen when you are in an application that requires text entry. The first SIP customization has to do with the Keyboard input method. You can change the size of the virtual keyboard keys and establish gestures with the stylus that correspond to commonly used keys such as Shift and Enter. Gestures are special strokes that you make with the stylus that perform a special function such as capitalizing a letter, deleting a character, or imitating a control key such as Shift or Enter. Gestures are performed over the soft keyboard in the SIP, and are interpreted as control entries rather than character entries.

Gestures are available only with large keys, but I encourage you to try them out. I got used to them in a matter of minutes and found them to be quite efficient in avoiding having to peck the Space, Shift, Backspace, and Enter keys; you can perform the gestures anywhere on the keyboard. The main benefit is the Shift gesture, which applies to the key that you perform the gesture over. For example, to enter a capital M, you tap on the M key and drag upward with the stylus.

To customize the Keyboard input method, follow these steps:

  1. Launch any application that involves text entry, such as Notes.
  2. Tap the up arrow on the SIP, and then tap Options.
  3. To use large keys, tap the Large keys radio button (Small Keys is the default setting).
  4. To enable gestures, tap the Gestures check box.
  5. Tap OK in the upper-right corner to accept the Keyboard input method changes.

Another customization that is useful in regard to user input involves the Word Completion feature. Word Completion is the feature that suggests words in a pop-up window while you're entering text. Ideally, Word Completion suggests the word you're entering and you can quickly tap it to avoid the extra text entry. The default setting for Word Completion is to suggest one word after you enter two letters. Although the two-letter settings seems to work well, I prefer having more words from which to choose.

To raise the number of words suggested by the Word Completion feature, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the up arrow on the SIP, and then tap Options.
  2. Tap the Word Completion tab.
  3. Tap the first combo box and select a new number of words for the Word Completion feature; I prefer four words. I've found the default settings for the other preferences on this page to work well, but you are free to change them if you like. As an example, you can change the number of letters that are entered before the Word Completion feature kicks in (two is the default).
  4. Tap OK in the upper-right corner to accept the Word Completion changes.

You might have noticed an Options tab at the bottom of the screen when setting the previous input options. This tab allows you to customize input settings such as the audio format used for voice recording, the zoom level used for writing and typing text, and a couple of other neat text-entry features. I find it beneficial to make a slight modification to these settings. First, I think 8,000 Hz, 16 Bit, Mono (16 KB/s) audio provides a better tradeoff of quality and storage space for voice recordings than the default setting. If you aren't so concerned about minimizing storage space and you prefer higher-quality audio, then you may consider changing this setting to a higher quality such as "11,025 Hz, 16 Bit, Stereo (43 KB/s)." Just keep in mind that these settings apply to voice recordings, which rarely have to be of superior sound quality.

To alter the input settings within the Options tab on the Input Settings screen, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the up arrow on the SIP, and then tap Options.
  2. Tap the Options tab.
  3. Tap the first combo box and select 8,000 Hz, 16 Bit, Mono (16 KB/s) for the voice recording format; feel free to adjust this setting for your own purposes if you are familiar with audio formats.
  4. Tap the second and third combo boxes and select 150% for each.
  5. Tap OK in the upper-right corner to accept the input Options changes.

That wraps up the setup and most of the personalization of your Pocket PC device. I encourage you to tinker with the settings and tailor them to your own needs and preferences. Even so, I've tried to provide you with what I've found to be the most useful customization changes. Later in the chapter in the section titled "Decorating Your Pocket PC," you learn how to personalize the look of your device by changing the graphics on the Power-On and Today screen.

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