OmniSky Extends Net Service to HP, Compaq

A year ago, Omnisky Corp. launched its wireless Internet and e-mail service for Palm Inc.?s Palm V handheld, and the service has become one of Palm?s strongest selling points

A year ago, Omnisky Corp. launched its wireless Internet and e-mail service for Palm Inc.?s Palm V handheld, and the service has become one of Palm?s strongest selling points.

With the launch of its wireless service for Hewlett-Packard Co.?s Jornada 540-series and Compaq Computer Corp.?s iPaq H3600-series handheld computers, OmniSky has extended its wireless offerings to include devices running Microsoft Corp.?s Pocket PC operating system as well.

We tested an HP Jornada 548, teamed with the Minstrel 540 wireless modem from Novatel Wireless Inc., and a Compaq iPaq H3650, joined with Compaq?s PC Card Expansion Pack and the Aircard 300 wireless modem from Sierra Wireless Inc.

Although both wireless packages performed admirably in tests, the iPaq H3650 and Aircard 300 combination offered greater flexibility?we were able to use the Aircard 300 wireless modem in a laptop computer as well as with iPaq, an option the Jornada-specific Minstrel 540 modem does not allow.

The Minstrel 540 wireless modem with OmniSky service became available in December and costs $349 for the modem and $40 a month for unlimited wireless access. The OmniSky service for iPaq is in beta tests and is expected to launch next month. OmniSky has not announced prices for an iPaq service and hardware bundle, but Aircard 300 is available without service for $400, and the iPaq?s PC Expansion Pack costs $149?making the iPaq combo considerably more expensive than the Jornada one. OmniSky plans to launch a version of its software for Casio Inc.?s Cassiopeia late this year.

The OmniSky modem adds to the Jornada 5 ounces of weight, a half-inch of depth and a half-inch of length, not including the unit?s 1-inch fixed-position antenna. The iPaq combo adds a half-inch of depth to the iPaq and about 6.5 ounces. The Aircard 300 sports a 4-inch, detachable antenna that we could fold down alongside the iPaq when not in use.

The Jornada 540 slides into the modem, in a manner similar to the way the Palm V slides into its OmniSky modem. The iPaq slides into its PC Card sleeve, and the Aircard 300 slides into the PC Card slot.

The Jornada?s CompactFlash slot remains free, however; this is an advantage over the iPaq, which cannot use an expansion card and a wireless modem at the same time. Then again, the iPaq?s synchronization port remains free while the modem is attached and can be used with peripherals such as keyboards. The Jornada system connects via the sync port, so that port cannot be similarly used.

Speedy e-mail delivery

we were particularly impressed at the speed at which we could retrieve e-mail messages using the OmniSky service. The service enables users to collect Post Office Protocol e-mail at an OmniSky proxy server, from which they can wirelessly download the mail to their handheld device via a proprietary OmniSky protocol that is optimized for wireless. In tests, this resulted in a much faster download of e-mail, when compared with retrieving mail without the proxy.

However, we were disappointed to find that the OmniSky service allowed us to retrieve only prc, pqa, txt, Vcal, and Vcard mail attachments. The Palm application PQA and PRC files betray OmniSky?s Palm OS heritage, and an OmniSky representative told us that wider attachment support won?t arrive until the next version of the mail software.

In addition to e-mail, the OmniSky service provides access to a number of Web clipping channels, accessed through OmniSky?s servers and optimized for wireless transmission.

OmniSky provides optimized Web content through its servers, and we could wirelessly access any location on the Internet using Microsoft?s Pocket Internet Explorer.

Both the iPaq and Jornada modem add-ons have their own lithium-ion batteries and do not drain power from the personal digital assistant?s main battery. Both devices deliver roughly 3.5 hours of continuous use between battery charges.