PC Pro Review, 1 Oct 1998: "Verdict - A good-looking device held back by some poor design features and an overblown operating system. Price when reviewed: inc VAT street price £299 inc. VAT.
The Philips Nino was a so-called Palm-size PC, a predecessor to the Pocket PC platform. It was a PDA-style device with a stylus-operated touch screen. The Nino 200 and Nino 300 models had a monochrome screen while the Nino 500 had a colour display. The Nino featured a Voice Control Software and Tegic T9.
The Philips Nino is a PDA which is very much in the mould of the 3Com Palm range of organisers. You hold it in one hand and then operate it using physical buttons and on-screen controls. There's no physical keyboard, and data input is by means of an on-screen keyboard or various gesture and handwriting recognition systems. Where it differs is that the Nino runs Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, albeit with a reduced set of apps. Physically, the Nino looks very futuristic. Its silveræfront and waisted profile, along with the space bubble docking cradle, suggest that this is something quite special. Unfortunately, it's average as PDAs go and is also hard to use in many ways. Along the left-hand edge of the chassis are two buttons, with the upper one embedded in two larger rocker buttons. The top button acts as an OK button, and the lower one as an Escape or Close key. The rocker buttons allow you to scroll up and down lists. You can use them to scroll through your incoming mail and then press the OK button to open the mail. Strangely, you can't use the rocker buttons to scroll through the actual mail message. These buttons (and identical ones on the right-hand edge) are widely spaced, so they're difficult to move between unless you have a very long thumb. The four buttons on the right-hand edge can be customised to launch specific apps. Beyond these, the power-on button doubles as a backlight switch and there's a thumbwheel for adjusting screen contrast.
On the downside, the Nino often requires quite a firm push in order to make proper contact in the cradle and it's easy to misalign the pins in the connector. Files on the Nino can be seen in a folder on your Windows Desktop but you can't work on them directly - they have to be dragged onto your own PC before they can be edited.
Aside from the design of the buttons, the major drawback for the Nino is the software. In one sense there just isn't much of it. There's an address book, task list, expense manager, diary, note taker and mail client. There's also a voice recorder but the sound quality was variable, which is surprising given that the Nino sports a rudimentary form of voice recognition. The Pocket Commander lets you record yourself speaking various commands which it will later recognise. So, in theory, if you press a button and say 'calendar', then your calendar pops up. However, it's extremely slow and the vocabulary is very limited. So, while you can record 'today' you can't record 'tomorrow'. You can also train it to recognise the names of your contacts.
Handwriting recognition is another novelty. While it comes with Jot and T9 (the simplified keyboard system found previously on the TI Avigo), smARTwriter attempts to recognise your non-joined-up handwriting. Initially, you go through a series of training exercises and you can later edit the recognition tables. This would all be fine but for two problems: it's extremely slow and it doesn't start recognition until you stop writing. Unless you've got very small handwriting, you're likely therefore to fill up the display after only a few words and then have to wait until it tries to recognise your writing before you can carry on. The voice and handwriting recognition systems seem more like a gimmick than a productivity aid. There's always the on-screen QWERTY keyboard for those who can't be bothered to learn Jot or find the built-in word predictions of T9 too scary."
Our model is the 300 Series unit and was kindly donated by William H L Williams.
Date: October 1998
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