Heavenly Handmark Hit: Pocket Express (4th Version)

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Handmark is one of the leading developers in the Windows Mobile arena today. Producing content for the mobile platform since late 2000 (formerly known as Palmspring), they have successfully marketed numerous mobile computing centric applications. While some of you may have heard of and used their popular Pocket Express program (a.k.a on Sprint devices as "On Demand"), others may be familiar with their Zagat or MobiTV titles. Handmark also markets many of their titles for the Palm, Blackberry, and Symbian platforms.

Handmark had a cute booth at CTIA, and I had the opportunity to sit down with the nice folks from there (that means you Andy and Erica:)).
After talking for a bit about their new program, “Pocket Express- Fourth Editionâ€, and where they were trying to go with it, I felt I just had to take a closer look at it. As it turns out, I was able to test drive it last week (the first external copy, I'm told), and I must say that many of my issues with the previous version seem to have been addressed. Please note that this version was an alpha, and therefore the usual pre-release mumbo jumbo applies (for more info on mumbo jumbo, look up mumbo jumbo on Dictionary.com). In this piece, I am going to focus on the differences/upgrades between the new and old versions- if you are looking for a full review of Pocket Express, head over here for many wonderful and comprehensive overviews.

PEX v. 3

The screenshot above was pulled from Handmark's site, and is the old version. Read on to find out what improvements Handmark made to warrant a Best of CTIA...

Until now, I rarely used Pocket Express (or PEX, as it is affectionately called). Although it has been pre-installed on some devices that I’ve tested, or been floating around on client’s devices, I really never got around to it. My chief complaints with the Third Edition were:

1) Large footprint
2) Slow to navigate between tiles
3) Long initial startup time
4) Caterpillar-like download of individual news items/updates

In the new version, however, Handmark has done a terrific job with almost all of the above- it appears each issue has been addressed except for 3)- the initial startup of the app took a bit of time
(20-25 seconds on a clean Sprint Treo 700wx). Unfortunately, Handmark informs me that they don't expect the startup time to change in the final release, but hey- you never know!

Fourth Edition, however, has far more to offer than simple speed fixes. The main upgrade, IMO, is with regards to its “Travel†related options. Handmark is apparently determined to compete with the long entrenched king of the so called "Flight Status" tool- and has done so with relative success. Flight Status is the useful tool that allows you to look up the status of flights on the go- e.g. delayed, on time, gate change, etc. The info is provided by the same people (OAG) who provide it to the airlines, and is the same information that you see on the monitors in the airport. Also included in the Travel section is a “Search Hotels†tool (self-explanatory), a Travel Numbers tool (listing of frequently used numbers when traveling- e.g. Airlines, Hotels, Car Rentals…), and a Currency Converter (I couldn’t seem to figure out how often this updates, though-if ever).

Flight Status

Other than the above improvements and changes, things are pretty much the same, as far as I can tell.
The area where Handmark clearly excels is in its focus on allowing the average user easy control of the application and information. The only serious issue worth mentioning that I have with the program in terms of UI design are the small buttons at the bottom of the program that dominate the interface. Pre WM 5.0, way back when before softkeys, there may have been an excuse or need for them- now, it’s simply so much clutter.

Conclusion:
PEX 4th Edition has some exciting improvements that make it a definite, must-upgrade; especially for a frequent traveler. New users will enjoy the application’s speed of use, although they probably won’t notice it specifically- the slowness of the old versions was a problem that should have been remedied long ago.

Overall, though, I’m excited about the application, and the Bottom Line score is: (Out of a possible 10):

You can purchase the 3rd Edition now here. The 4th Edition is due out in this summer.

The pricing scheme will remain the same as the current model, with the addition of the new features (Flight Status, etc) into the Elite versions.

Bottom Line Score: (Out of 10)
For the typical user using the news/weather/entertainment sections: a glorified, though easy to use and visually pleasing news reader- 6.4
For the frequent flyer using the currency/flight status: time saver useful for traveling- 7.7

Disclaimer: Many of the units/applications I review are sent to me at no charge. Sometimes I keep these, and sometimes they are loaner unit/trial applications. Whatever the case, I do my level best to remain impartial- however, we are all only human- me included:).

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