User Review: Ericsson MC16

by Monica Erdody
(der Anwenderbericht in deutscher ‹bersetzung ist hier zu finden)

About the purpose of this review

Iíve chosen to write a flashback kind of review about the Ericsson MC16 besides writing about one of the newest machines, as I believe thereís still life left in older HPCís, and I can still appreciate their abilities. There are really more possibilities with them than you would ever have thought, even though I only bought my first old HPC some months ago. So I would like to show them to others!

Now on to my first impressions about the hardware:

The MC16 is basically a clone of the famous HP 360LX, the ancestor of the great HP Jornada 720. Theyíre virtually the same, apart from some very minor differences. One of these is the design, the MC16 is a mild black as opposed to the grey 360LX. Personally I prefer the colour of the MC16, as it is more elegant in my view. Other than that, the casing is of quite a modest design, and it is completely black except for the white Ericsson and Windows CE logo. It is relatively lightweight compared to newer H/PCís and also a little smaller.

When you open up the machine, youíll find a typical H/PC keyboard inside from those old times when only Psion machines had a revolutionary, notebook style palmtop keyboard. This means you will not be able to touch type on this small keyboard, but two thumb style typing is acceptable for many users and it is still certainly better than the onscreen keyboards on newer keyboardless devices. I very much like the looks and colour of the keyboard though Iím not able to type comfortably enough for my needs as I prefer notebook style keyboards. Even so, I wrote part of this review on the MC16. :) Typing on it is definitely better than for example on the Philips Velo 1ís keyboard with those horrible round keys but far from the surprisingly usable Sharp Mobilon HC-4100ís. Finally, Iíd say that the responsivity of the MC16 keyboard is about average. If it were so exceptionally sensitive as the keys on a HC-4100 or on a Jornada 720, it would be much closer to perfection, at least for my taste.

After completing the usually required first steps, your next idea might be to try the backlighting if the circumstances donít provide enough lighting. You can turn it on with a nice blue key dedicated to this on the keyboard. The MC16 is not a colour HPC but it has a unique and fairly strong white backlight, which indeed makes the unit very usable even in dim lighting and maybe even look a little like real paper. Iíd always wanted a white backlight for my Psions (which I used before discovering and entering the HPC world), and finally I have one now! I still feel it is unbelievably nice and is one of the best points of the MC for me.

This unit while 8 years old has relatively many slots, a PCMCIA and a CF slot besides the almost ubiquitous infrared port and proprietary serial port. Well the serial port is not so proprietary if you consider all the newer HP H/PCís have the same serial port, including the Jornada 720 and that can be an advantage when youíre desperately in need of a serial cable for synchronizing.

You could ask what the use of the pcmcia slot is other than placing an old obscure modem or maybe a second memory card there. Iíll talk about the other possibilities later as there are many more!

The reset hole is located under the backup battery which is accessible only by releasing a little door on the bottom of the unit. It can be done by hand, but still it is a very unfortunate location as obviously, you are going to need to reset sometimes. This leads to the question of the stability of CE 2.0. Before I got the unit I was under the impression this OS was anything but stable. Actually it was a nice surprise to find out this was not the case Ė you donít have to do that so often, but when you definitely need to, the location of the reset button will prove a little bit annoying.

About the possibilities with the MC16:

  • Hardware

    I promised that I would talk about the expansion options. If you didnít have the slightest idea so far, youíll be surprised to hear that the MC16 (and basically every other CE 2.0 unit) can take a LAN or even WLAN card in the pcmcia or the CF slot. Not just physically of course, if you install the SP1 service pack and after that, the NSP network service pack, which will enable you to use networking with lan and wlan cards that have drivers for CE 2.0. If you remember when the 802.11 wlan standard was created and accepted (CE 2.0 had already been well matured and on its way out), it is quite an accomplishment for such an old device. The interesting news is that you can use many more wlan cards than was originally thought. Basically almost any card that uses the so-called prism chipset standard, at a hardware and at a software level (this is an important restriction sometimes) can be used with the MC16. Iíd like to express my thanks here to HPC:Factor, making it much easier for the average user by rewriting certain incorrectly written driver installs for CE 2.0. Finally, a few words about my personal experiences.

    The wlan card I tested was originally bought for my Jornada 720 when I didnít even know for sure it was going to work. I was just suspecting it as it uses the prism chipset and its own (pocketpc only) driver looked like the close relative of the standard prism reference driver. The results are that it works beautifully even in the MC16! Of course, my lan pcmcia card I got for my Toshiba subnotebook a long time ago, worked out of the box as the NSP install includes a generic so-called NE2000 driver for lan cards. Guess what, my lan card lying forgotten in one corner was a ne2000 compliant cardÖ You just need to type the ďne2000Ē string as the driver name and you can surf away immediately.

    By the way, this is one nice feature of CE 2.0: unlike under HPC2000, lan and wlan connections will work right away on insertion of the card with the MC16, no waiting is required for getting on the network and estabilishing a reliable connection. At least this is my experience with CE 2.0 as opposed to HPC2000.

    You wonít want to forget to always use AC connection when heavily networking. The AA batteries or rechargeable Ni-MH batteries running at only 2.2-3.0 volts absolutely canít live up to this task. Even a CF wlan card will require a constant 3.3 volts and hundreds of mA current.

    Iím a big fan of the always available mobile internet access. This means that the next thing I was going to try was GPRS internet by linking to my Ericsson T39 phone via infrared. As both devices are the same brand, they really should have worked together without any complaint. After installing the HPC:Factor generic IrDA driver specifically created for this purpose, and creating a new connection in Remote Networking, i was able to connect to my phone easily and immediately. Unfortunately I could not load any webpages whatsoever or connect to IRC / IM networks even though at the first moment I thought I was actually loading a new pageÖ it turned out Pocket IE was reloading it from cache. Iíve never seen IE cache working on my Jornada 720 or 728, so i didnít expect that on the MC16 either. But of course the versions of IE are very different on those devices which is another interesting issue.

    All in all, I firmly believe I just wasnít persevering enough with mobile internet as other users have reported success with other Ericsson T series phones.

    One last word on hardware expansion possibilities: you could even use bluetooth with this device if only it had a MIPS processor as Ambicomís earlier bluetooth cards do have beta MIPS only drivers for CE 2.0. Bluetooth is just a random example anyway!

  • Software

    The statement that almost no software is available for CE 2.0 is well known. This is not necessarily the case, depending on how we look at it.

    For example, if youíre thinking of the latest fashion in pda usage patterns, navigation, then sure, you cannot have a serious map software for GPS navigation though there are basic Pocket Streets maps available on the original CE Services CD for the MC16 (or any other CE 2.0 unit). Talking about this CD, you can even find a Pocket PowerPoint software on it. Not that you would want to use it much on a greyscale unit.

    By the way, Ericsson did not include any extra software in ROM but they did provide their software on another CD, the most notable of those an internet setup application and SMS software.

    In any case if you know where to look, youíll be pleased to find many nice little and handy applications designed for CE 2 H/PCís. Most of the typically indispensable applications have a CE 2.0 version: one of the more significant one is the latest version of Total Commander CE. You will gain access to many excellent features with this application, not to mention others. Even TCPMP, the best videoplayer has been compiled for CE 2, though I did not try it as I donít think it would have been a real pleasure to watch video on this device.

    All the stuff that are important for me, do have a 2.0 version, and one of these might interest others to some extent. This application is an irc client, namely IrcCE from mov Software and if youíre willing to learn a few commands you can use it to connect to certain irc servers that are meant to work as gateways to the most popular instant messaging services such as MSN, ICQ, AIM and Yahoo. The client is very easy to setup for IM access and then you can do MSN on any obscure long forgotten CE 1.0 device, let alone 2.0 or higher! Letís conclude that even the earliest HPCís arenít still completely abandoned.

    If you have a thing for benchmarks, Iíll say a few words about this topic as well. In general the OS and the 60 Mhz SH3 cpu isnít as snappy as with the newer units but it is performing reasonably, though it is far from the general speed of a Velo 1 HPC. The benchmarks themselves are quite surprising sometimes though. I tried to open a 1 Mbyte converted word file (with the pwd extension) and measured the time necessary to complete this task. Well the cpu underperformed beyond my expectations: it took exactly two minutes before it completely finished loading the document. At least it was able to open it fine, something that canít be said about the much newer pocketpcís!

    On the other hand, Pocket IE benchmarks had more unexpected results. By way of introduction, Pocket IE is not the same as the ported desktop Internet Explorer in newer HPCís - HPC2000 and above. Pocket IE was the only available browser up to HPC Pro devices and it has many usable features that have been left out of the Internet Explorer 4 and higher versions. Most notable is the rendering technology which is able to fit the text to the display and do continuous rendering of text while loading the page and images, resulting in a much faster web browsing experience if youíre strictly text orientated, for example reading news and forums. It is also very important that PIE wonít overload the whole system while trying to render a page. You can go on with your work as if you werenít waiting for a webpage to load at all. Unluckily it is not always true of IE4 on HPC2000, at least you need to be very careful sometimes before getting used to handling those cases smoothly. You donít need this learning curve in the case of PIE on the older CE versions. Of course donít forget that this old version of Pocket IE cannot handle many pages correctly. Still there are more compatible pages than I thought before trying it out actually.

    Now about the real benchmarks. I tested some pages I visit daily, a very complex news portal and a less complex pda portalÖ If it was only text rendering PIE 2 always won hands down over the newer IE4, regardlessly if I allowed images or not. Only Netfront3 could beat PIE 2 in this respect and only by a few seconds. Of course IE4 is light years faster with loading images so if you have a great need to see beautiful images on the web, forget PIE in CE 2 even if you happen to own a compatible lan or wlan card. Actual numbers were about 10-12 seconds with text only loading, and more than 5 minutes for the news portal in the case of PIE 2 (both other browsers could finish with the images well within one minute).

  • Other important matters

    For many users, synchronization is a vital issue. Iím pleased to report that the MC16 would connect immediately to my PC running Activesync 3.8 at first try with the serial cable. File synchronization or transfer is of course painfully slow with a 57 kbps serial connection and if you have the backlight on, itíll strangely slow down things further. Now if you have network access this is very useful for synchronization: just create a partnership once and for ever and after that youíll always be able to sync very fast via lan or wlan. 

    About upgrade options. Unfortunately, thereís no upgrade path to a newer version of Windows CE though I guess you could downgrade to CE 1.0 by acquiring and installing an MC12 ROM. The rom chip itself is very easily accessible by the user, and it is really inviting looking for the new rom chip which never came into existanceÖ

    Last but not least, Iíll mention power management. Iím not quite satisfied with the options available in Control Panel as it only shows three states of the battery, Good, Low and Very low. But you can rectify this problem by using a nice little utility for example BatteryState. 
    The most annoying problem is that the backlight will shut off after the battery reached a certain level of low voltage and it cannot be re-enabled. Though I think it is the case with most grayscale units and it does have a physical reason. The battery life itself is as decent as with other non colour units, several hours on one charge can be achieved easily, if you donít do much internet access.


So what would I say is the Ericsson MC16 suitable for?

I can recommend it for basic PDA uses and especially for ebook reading. I heard mobipocket reader can run on CE 2, but I can live with plain Pocket Word as well. I like the backlight and if you run out of battery power you can replace them easily. Oh and you can continue reading without a hitch if you happen to stumble on direct sunlight on a beautiful day in the summer. These black and white screens simply love sunlight.
Apart from these uses, you can even surf the web with the MC16, read your emails, and additionally use IM services. I was pleased with PIE in many respects, and many of the sites I frequently visit and where only text is important will still work with it.
Some users could even use this HPC for note taking, like some of my friends, though I would personally prefer the Sharp HC-4100 or even more a notebook style keyboard such as on the Jornadas or Psions. If you can come to terms with the keyboard itíll make a perfect companion as it is rather sturdy and small enough to carry it with you to many places.

What is that it isnít any good for?

Forget anything that vaguely resembles multimedia or that require very cpu intensive tasks and a lot of memory for example real GPS navigation or serious games!

My final conclusion is that the MC16 is a real value for the money as you can get them very cheap now, a couple of 10$ís or so, for example I got mine for a nominal price with all original accessories ranging from the CE Services CD to the spare stylus and the leather case. Go get one now if you want to feel what the old times were like and maybe even get a little use out of it!

05 October 2005
Monica Erdody (cmonex)

Namentlich gekennzeichnete Anwendertestberichte geben ausschlieŖlich die Erfahrungen und Meinungen des Autors wieder.

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