Burney's Legal Tech Reviews – Presentations Without a Laptop

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com’s Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal-technology questions at [email protected].

To deserve the title of “road warrior,” one must endeavor to continually search for ways to travel lighter while still retaining a high level of gadget superiority. Road warriors must often give presentations, and that means lugging a laptop around. Granted, today’s laptops can weigh less than 3 pounds, but a contemporary mark of a true mobile professional is to give a presentation from a PDA or handheld device rather than a laptop computer.

There are several ways to accomplish this extraordinary feat of mobility, but I’ll limit my discussion here to my current personal setup which includes 1) a Dell Axim X5 Pocket PC running Mobile Windows 2003; 2) the Margi Presenter-To-Go CF (Compact Flash) card; and 3) PocketSlides software from Conduits.

A Deal on Dell

The Dell Axim X5 has been out now for several months and has received rave reviews all over. Dell recently came out with the new Axim X3 which is a streamlined version of the X5.

The Axim X5 is a nice machine. I have the 400MHz model but there is a 300MHz version as well. I’m running Windows Mobile 2003 which is the latest version of the Pocket PC OS. The X5 offers 64 MB of SDRAM and 48 MB of ROM. You also get both a Compact Flash slot and an Secure Digital (SD) slot for expansion. The screen is brilliant and works well in a variety of different lighting scenarios. All of this for a great price now that an updated model is available.

I continue to be very impressed with the Axim X5 and it is my current recommendation for anyone wanting to purchase a Pocket PC. The X5 has rubber grips on the sides which some might think is a little cheesy, but really work out great for handling. And this is important since my only complaint with the X5 is that it’s a tad bit bulky compared to some of the other Pocket PC models on the market today. But if you can get past that, then you’ll be treated to a great all-around PDA. I would also highly recommend getting a CF Wi-Fi card to use with the X5 since the handheld works well on a wireless network.

Presenting the Hardware

To give a presentation from your PDA, the first thing you need to do is get an adapter card that will allow you to plug up a video projector to your PDA. The most popular product in this category is the Presenter-to-Go from Margi Systems Inc. Margi actually offers different models of their Presenter-to-Go card depending on what kind of PDA that you have. Check this page to find your correct model. Since I had the Axim X5, my only choice was the CF card. That was fine because the great thing about the Dell Axim is that while the CF slot held the Presenter-to-Go product, I was able to pop in a memory card in the SD slot to boost the Axim’s holding capacity.

The Presenter-to-Go card protrudes slightly from the top of the Axim X5, which is where you plug in one end of the included VGA adapter cable. The other end fits the standard VGA cable from a projector.

Before you can show your show, you’ll need to install the software from the included CD. You install the software on your PC, and the programs for your PDA get installed on your next sync. This went very smoothly for me using ActiveSync to get the programs installed on to the Axim.

There are actually two different programs that get installed. The first is “Margi Mirror” which basically lets you mirror the screen of your PDA to a projector, or even a regular PC monitor. This is great if you’re doing some heavy duty work on your PDA and need a bigger display to ease your eyes.

The second program is the Presenter-to-Go software which 1) converts Microsoft PowerPoint presentations for use on the PDA and 2) lets you customize your presentations by selecting which slides to show, the proper resolution, etc.

The Presenter-to-Go software is a good application, but I’ll soon talk about something I believe is a little better. On your PC, the software installs a small button within Microsoft PowerPoint to let you automatically convert presentations. That’s a great thing, but the software also installs a printer driver which will allow you to “print” a file from just about any application on your PC to be converted for use on your PDA. This is a great feature.

Once your presentation is actually on the PDA, the Presenter-to-Go software allows you to re-arrange individual slides so that they show in the order you want them to. You can check and un-check slides to show in your presentation. This comes in very handy if you choose to have your presentation “auto-show” and loop for un-manned presentations.

When you’re ready to show your presentation, you simply click a small icon at the bottom of the application and adjust your settings appropriately. Then you return to your main screen and click the icon to go into Presentation mode. You’ll see your presentation appear on both the PDA and the projector. You can advance the slides by using the buttons on your PDA. In my case, I used the Axim’s rocker pad on the front of the device to go back and forth between my slides.

I should mention that the Presenter-to-Go product comes with a small credit-card sized remote control if that kind of thing suits your fancy. I got the remote to work, but it functions on infrared technology which means that you have to make sure the remote is pointed directly at the top of the CF card to get it to work.

The Presenter-to-Go retails for only $199 but you might be able to find a good deal online somewhere.

Is That A Slide in Your Pocket?

If you’re looking for a little more functionality in working with your presentations on your PDA like making changes to the slides, or getting easy access to your notes during the presentation, then you should definitely look at PocketSlides from Conduits Technologies, Inc. PocketSlides is literally the “pocket” version of Microsoft PowerPoint. Viewing your slides in PocketSlides on your PDA looks very similar to PowerPoint on your PC with your slide above and your speaker notes below. You can jump to “Slide Sorter” view where you can move your slides around and determine what transition you want to apply to your slides.

PocketSlides not only allows you to edit the text of
your slides, but you can apply and preview any animation you put into your slides. I did notice that higher-resolution presentations tended to take a few seconds extra to process any changes, so keep that in mind. Also, we’re talking about giving a presentation from a PDA, so don’t expect that you can use every bit of fancy animation like you can from a laptop. Some of those animations even tax the power of a laptop, which should be a clue to many people that they really don’t even need to use them.

You can set several options within PocketSlides that will dictate how your show is presented. Once you’re ready to go on with your show, you simply click Tools and “Set Up Show.” Here you tell PocketSlides that you want the projector to show your presentation in full screen mode and whether or not you want to advance the slides manually or automatically according to your timings.

To start the show, you click a little icon at the bottom that happens to be identical to the icon you can hit in PowerPoint to go into “presentation” mode. To advance slides, I either used the rocker pad on the Axim, or simply tapped the screen.

PocketSlides is only available for Pocket PC PDAs. This is truly unfortunate since it’s such a great program, but I believe they made a sane decision since it appears that were focusing on seamless integration with Microsoft PowerPoint.

Moving your presentations to the PDA is simple. You open ActiveSync and hit the “Explore” button which opens a window from the Pocket PC. All I had to do was drag my presentation from my local PC into the PDA window. A PocketSlides dialog box appears and asks you a question or two on resolution, then converts the file for you while copying it on to your PDA.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with PocketSlides and kept discovering new functions every time I used the product. I believe the software to be well worth the $39.95 price tag, especially if you are serious about giving presentations on your PDA. PocketSlides also works very well with the Margi Presenter-to-Go card, as well as several other similar products on the market.

Please feel free to e-mail me ( [email protected] ) with any questions, suggestions, comments, or any helpful tips and tricks that you might have relating to technology used in the practice of law.

Posted in: Burney's Legal Tech Reviews, Gadgets/Gizmos, Presentation Software, Product Reviews