Visor Pages

Posted 2001.03.31 10.53 in Computers/Internet/Technology

Please Note: I only used the Visor for about 3 months at the start of 2001.  For the (approximately) 3 months that I used it, I loved it. To my mind, it was better than the Palm Pilot that spawned it. It’s springboard module gave it expandibility, and that made it very powerful. However, late January / early February 2001, I started to get to know Apple’s Newton. Since then, my Visor has been shelved, and now it’s prime function is dust-gathering. I will keep this page posted, as I feel it still serves a useful function for people who own and wish to modify their Handspring Visors. I am also posting a FAQ to hopefully address most of your questions. I apologize if I am unable to respond to your emails in a reasonable amount of time, as my business is starting to take more and more of my time. Thanks again for your interest.

The Handspring Visor is a handheld PDA which uses the Palm operating system. The Deluxe model comes in 5 different colours, has 8Mb of RAM, and uses a USB docking cradle. It is Macintosh compatible right out of the box. See the reviews by The Gadgeteer

While I think it’s a super piece of equipment right out of the box, and at a very good price, there are still a few things that I felt would make it just that little bit better. The first thing I wanted, was to have a Tale-Light style device. Basicaly this is a blinking light, which some hacks and apps use instead of audible alarms, or to augment games and other apps. While a commercialy-made Tale-Device is available for the Visor (see review by The Gadgeteer), in my opinion it is over-priced, especially when taking into account that it does not conform to Handspring’s Springboard specifications: It requires you download and install software from a 3rd party.

So I set out to get me my blinking light on the cheap. While working on this project, I came across the idea of using rechargeable batteries in my Visor, and having the Visor charge the batteries while it was in the cradle. This was a much easier (and way more useful) ‘hack’, so I will describe it first.

The Warning

Doing any of the following things to your Visor could kill it dead. Doing any of the following things to your Visor will void your warranty. The following things I have done require a steady hand with a soldering iron, tweezers, and sometimes a magnifying glass. If you drop a blob of solder in the wrong spot, your Visor will die. This is not my fault. By reading this sentence you have automatically agreed that I am in no way liable or responsible for anything you do with the information contained on this web page.

A Thought About Upgrades

Take a look at the above images of the Visor’s insides. Especially the memory board. Click here for a close-up view of this board. With the RAM and ROM both on the same daughter-board, it is conceivable that Handspring, or more likely, a third-party might one day offer upgrades, like ROM in Flash-memory or more RAM. However, it would probably not be something the end-user would install themselves. If I knew more about memory chips and things, I’d almost consider messing with it myself. There is ‘lots’ of clearance between the motherboard and daughter board for small circuit modifications. There are some websites out there describing D-I-Y memory upgrades for Palm Pilots. (See the hardware mods pages at The Gadgeteer’s Palm page) so maybe someone with some more know-how could ‘hack’ this. A 16Mb Visor sounds good…


Charging Batteries While In The Cradle

This mod requires a quick bit of work in the cradle (USB only I’m afraid. If you can do it with the serial cradle, let me know!) Then there is some more intense work inside the Visor itself. You can do this on the Visor or the Visor Deluxe. I’m unfamilliar with the Visor Platinum, and the Visor Prism already works this way. If you are careful it requires no cutting or modifying the plastics.

About The Batteries

After reading some research on the ‘net, I elected to use so-called rechargeable Alkaline batteries. The reason in the long-run is that when NiCd’s and NiMH’s start to wear down, they go from useful to stone-dead in such a hurry that you may not get any warnings at all. ‘Renewals’ are basically just normal Alkalines, that the manufacturer says can be recharged. Their ‘drawback’ is that if you let them get too low in power, then they won’t take a new charge. So the trade-off is that if you can leave your Visor in the cradle for an hour each day, you’re laughing, but if you do run the batteries down low, you may have to get new ones. On the other hand, they will behave with the same usage curve as normal Alkalines, so depending on your useage, you could go a few days to a week before you actually needed to top them up. Though I imagine most people hot-sync at least once a day. I make heavy use of my back-light, (I play games on the Palm in the dark before falling asleep, or read e-books on it) and with my ‘Tale-Light’ mods, use the serial port a fair bit too. I made the recharging modification on 05 December 2000, and in the evenings I leave my Visor in the cradle for about an hour or two, while I’m working at my desk.
As of February 7th 2001, my batteries are starting to wear a bit. I’d run them down to about 2 volts, and getting them back up to the 3 + volts is taking some more time. If I leave the Visor in the cradle overnight, that does the trick… Still, it remains fully useable, and I’ve only actually been recharging it ever 3 or 4 days.
The Cradle: If you use the stock USB cradle with your Visor, and you have that cradle plugged into a powered USB hub, then your cradle has access to 5 volts at up to 500 milli-amps. What does this mean? Well, by soldering one jumper into the cradle, you have changed the stock cradle into a ‘Charging Cradle’. If you look at the 8-pin connector in there, with the cradle facing you, the 2nd button from the left is pin 7, officially called VDOCK in Handspring literature. It is not connected to anything ‘out of the box’. But Handspring’s documents say it is designed to be connected to a source of 4 to 6 volts, with a maximum of 500 milli-amps. Hmmm.
Though I started with a simple wire jumper, I have replaced that with a 10-ohm resistor. This does not affect the voltage noticably, but it does help limit any current surges when first placing the Visor in the cradle. Solder the resistor between Test Point 1 and Test Point 4, as in the following image. It doesn’t matter which direction the resistor goes, they aren’t polarized.
Visor USB Cradle circuit board
Please Be Careful!! The little plastic hot-sync button is not attached and YOU CAN LOOSE IT when you take the cradle apart. Then, when you finaly break down and buy a new cradle just to have that little button, you have to buy a serial cradle so you can claim you’re really buying it to see how it works, to try to feel a little less foolish. Until a week later, when you find the original plastic button, where the cat left it.
If you are using a serial cradle, click here. Also, some instructions for testing.
The Visor: This is where things get complicated and tricky. You will be soldering very small things onto other very small things, in proximity to other small things.
Let’s get started. Take your Visor apart (see below for details). You only need to go as far as getting the button-board free. In a nutshell, what we want to do is connect the +5 volts from the VDOCK pin at the hot-sync port, to the positive battery terminal. Along the way, though, we need to get the voltage down to about 3.2 volts. Those of you who know what you are doing and know electronics might roll your eyes, and point out that there is just gobs of space in the cradle for a full-blown voltage and current charging regulator system. If you want to do this, fine, just hook a small wire from VDOCK to the positive battery terminal on the button-board and you are done.
However, the Handspring specification says for 4-6 Volts at 500 ma to be on that pin, and they did this for a reason. VDOCK is a direct connection to a pair of VDOCK pins in the springboard port. For those springboards with their own rechargeable batteries. So to adhere to Handspring’s specs, I’ve elected to do the voltage regulation within the Visor, without affecting the voltage that goes to the springport.
What I have done is pretty cheap, pretty simple, and cuts a few corners. I have taken two 1N914 diodes, soldered them in series, and put them in between VDOCK and the positive terminal. I would have liked to add a 10 ohm resistor in this series too, but was unable to locate a chip-sized one, so I put the resistor in the cradle (above). I have positioned the diodes and the rest of the wire, so that they do not interfere with any of the Visor’s plastics.
Diodes are polarized and it makes a big difference which way you put them in. Most diodes have a line or bar indicating which lead is the ‘negative’ lead. When diodes are installed ‘forward-biased’, the ‘negative’ lead is at a lower potential than the ‘positive’. Anyhow, you want to solder your diodes with the ‘positive’ lead of the first diode connected to the VDOCK pin of the hotsync connector, then the ‘negative’ lead of that diode to the ‘positive’ lead of the second one. The ‘negative’ lead of the second diode is connected, via a small piece of hookup wire, to the positive Battery connector.
Click here for a Very Simple Schematic.
Visor button board
The voltage-drop across the two diodes brings the 5 volts down closer to our desired 3.2 volts. Important: Never put your Visor into the charging cradle without any batteries in it! The diodes alone will not bring the voltage down to safe levels – the batteries are part of this circuit, and without them, the cradle-voltage may kill your Visor. If you do these modifications, then try to use the Visor in the cradle without batteries, you could kill it!
Now, it’s one thing to just say your Visor Deluxe recharges in the cradle, for my money, it’s not complete without a light to tell you it’s getting power. So I have added another wire to that VDOCK pin. Over at the backup-capacitor, I have fixed an LED. The short-lead of the LED goes to ground of the capacitor, and the long-lead of the LED is connected to the VDOCK line. To limit it’s current a little, I added a 120 ohm chip resistor. Obviously the LED’s leads have been trimmed and shaped to make it fit nicely. My Visor is ‘Ice’ colour, so I went with a white-light LED. Whatever colour you use, be sure to get a 5-volt LED for this application. If you want to use a 3-volt one, you must increase the value of your resistor. I believe, 1000 ohms is the value for a 3-volt LED.

I should point out that if you have a Visor in an opaque case, you will probably want to make a very small hole in the case, so that you can see the charging light. It is inconceivable that you would want to simply not have a light. “Real electronics should glow in the dark.”
Now, if you have been careful about positioning these new components, you should be able to fit the button board back in place without trouble. First though carefully check your work to ensure there are no short-circuits or solder-bridges. Another hint here, test the button-board’s fit while doing the work, add a part, test for fit, etc. so you can make adjustments as you go.
To test, reassemble your Visor, put in the rechargeable Alkalines, pop it in the cradle, and monitor the voltage. There are lots of 3rd party programs which give you very accurate readings of voltage. Check it in the cradle. Check it out of the cradle. I get a steady 3.27 volts while in the cradle. This is a good level, to ensure the batteries will get a full charge, without being too high for the rest of the Visor’s circuitry.


Disassembly

(Go on, void that warranty. Yeah, feels good.) You’ll need a small Phillips screwdriver, and a small slot screwdriver. I use a #0 Phillips and a 5/64″ slot screwdriver, from a Radio Shack precision screwdriver set.

Step One: Do a Hot-sync! And better still, use the Backup springboard. I can’t say enough good things about the Backup springboard. When I used to take apart my old Palm Personal, a hot-sync only restored the standard data files, all my apps I had to re-install each and every time… You don’t even have to worry about the hot-sync if you have the backup-module. A few minutes to do a backup, a few minutes to do a restore, and the Visor is right back to normal. In fact, if your Visor is lost or stolen, buy a new one, pop the backup-module into it, restore, and your Visor is back! No fuss, no muss.

Step Two: Remove the stylus, anything in the springboard slot, the battery cover, and the batteries. With the Phillips screwdriver, remove the four screws (two in the springboard bay, two at the corners to either side of the hot-sync port). With the slot screwdriver, very carefuly pry open the Visor along one side. I tend to use the stylus side, so that there is quick access to step three. If you have an Ice or transpearant colour Visor, you can see where the four plastic catches are. Gently pry at each of these four to pop the case open without marking the plastic. If you can’t see them, starting at the top of the seam by the silo, they are at: 15mm, 40mm, 64mm and 88mm – to the centres of each catch.

Step Three: The front-half of the Visor is attached to the back-half, by a thin and slightly fragile ribbon cable. You will see it fixed to the back-half, at a beige and brown connector. Using your slot screwdriver, carefully lift upwards, the edge of the brown part of the connector nearest you. This brown part swings up and out about 45 degrees. This action unlocks the ribbon cable. You can then carefully pull the ribbon cable upwards and it will slide out of the beige connector. Set the face of the Visor aside somewhere safe.

Step Four: The button board is held in place by friction. The rubber microphone-boot fits into a plastic ‘hole’ in the casing. Use the slot screwdriver to gently pry this up and free. Be cautious, as the microphone’s wires are thin and fragile. With the microphone loose, you may gently remove the button board by pulling slowly at the right side. You may rock it forward and backward slightly, to help work it loose of the electrical plug. Be careful though not to stress either the button board, or the mother-board beneath. Set it aside when it is free.

Step Five: Using your Phillips screwdriver, locate and remove the two remaining screws. They are located at about the middle of the device, one on each side. With the screws gone, you may gently lift out the mother board. Or carefully turn the Visor over, and the mother board should drop out into your free hand.

Step Six: The memory board is held onto the back of the mother board by some two-way tape and an electrical plug. You may remove it by carefully pulling the board free at the plug side, then gently pull it free of the tape. Gently rocking it a bit may help loosen it from the plug. Again, be careful not to stress it, or the mother board.

That’s it. Your Visor should now be reduced to it’s component parts.

Visor's guts
Here’s a view of the three boards, from the ‘bottom’. These three are part of the lower half of the Visor assembly.
Visor's guts
This is the same 3 boards but from the ‘top’. Note the beige and brown connector for the screen’s ribbon cable.

Re-Assembly

Putting it all back together is just the reverse of taking it apart. The bottom line is, be careful when taking it apart, take it slow and easy, know what you are doing. When putting the screws back in, be careful not to over-tighten them or strip the plastic holes. When it’s all intact, stick the batteries back in. It will behave as if a hard-reset was done, or more accurately, it will behave as though it had just been put together. You will have to go through the routine of setting up the digitizer, setting the country and time and date and all. Now just pop in that backup module, hit restore, and feel glad you spent the $$ for that module.

Please note: I have only had experience with Handspring’s Visor Deluxe. I have never used, handled, touched, or seen in person, any other Visor, and cannot answer questions about them.



The Blinking Light!

Here’s what we wanted in the first place. The way the original Tale-Lights worked, is by putting an LED between the serial TX line and Ground. Programs and hacks that use the Tale device, do so simply by turning the serial port on and off. Although the serial port in the Visor does not work like it did in the Palm Pilots, it is still there, and when the serial port is active, Handspring’s specs say that you can find 2.7 volts. You can ‘test’ for yourself how this works. You need to turn on your serial port first. You can find programs for the Tale-Light, or use the dot-command to activate the serial port. Whatever method you use, once you have the serial port active, place the Visor face-down. Now use a 3-volt LED, and just touch the long lead to pin 8 of the hot-sync port, and the short lead to pin 4. The LED should light. Now, turn off the serial port, and repeat. The LED should be out. (If the LED is not out, you have to go into Prefs / General and set Beam Receive to ON. Otherwise the Visor will never turn off it’s serial port and your batteries will go quickly.)
Test the light

Mounting the LEDs
I have mounted not one but two blinky lights in my Visor.
One is opposite the stylus silo, facing upwards, so it is visible if the Visor is in it’s leather pouch or a shirt pocket or the sort.
Blinky Light 1

The other is mounted on the top of the button-board, next to the microphone, so that it is visible when the Visor is in it’s cradle or resting on a desk.
Blinky Light 2

So here’s how to do it. I’ll talk about the blue one first, it’s easier to get to, though both of these are somewhat difficult as far as making them. The blue LED is a surface-mount device. This means it is really really tiny, and has no leads. It is so tiny that it just sits on top of the button board, it’s so small that it has no affect on the plastic case or buttons. The LED is held in place by the two tiny bits of wire connecting it to the circuit. You might prefer to use a dab of glue to hold it down. Make sure your glue is non-conducting. Electrically, here goes. Look up at the image above, of the Visor Button Board. In the upper left side, you will note a bit of pink wire near the microphone. This pink wire carries the positive voltage to the LED. It is soldered to the middle resistor out of the three surface-mount components you see there. It is soldered at the end of the resistor facing upwards in that picture. (For those of you who want details, this is the TX-Power signal between the microprocessor and pin 8 of the Hot-sync port.) Now look just to the right of there, and see the silver solder-pad just at the end of the hot-sync connector. This is Ground. A tiny bit of wire goes from there, to the negative end of the LED. In the picture below you will see the top of the button-board, and the LED.
Blinky LED 2 circuit
I have found Surface-mount parts hard to acquire, and they are tricky to work with. But for adding lights to something as small as a PDA, they are great.
This mod puts an LED in parallel with your serial TX line. While I don’t use serial hot-syncing, I did recently use the serial hot-sync cradle to copy the ROM file. It ran at 9600 baud, and took about 7 or 8 minutes of non-stop transmitting, without any trouble. So I don’t think this mod will have any affect on your ability to do serial hot-syncs. As always though, your mileage may vary.

Now for the green LED. This one is sort of easier on the one hand, because you can use a normal LED in a T1 case. However, it is mounted on the motherboard next to the infrared assembly, so you really have to get your Visor completely apart to get to it. Also — I lied, I did have to cut a little bit of plastic. The red IR window, internally, has a bit of plastic that I shaved to make some space. This is inside, and it doesn’t involve cutting or removing the window.
So here’s how we do it. The metal enclosure of the IR assembly is at ground. This is where we solder the negative-line of the LED. I’ve actually cut the negative-lead very very short, and between it and ground, I have soldered a 120 ohm chip resistor to limit current. As you can see below, the LED is positioned over C1, facing away from the IR assembly. The positive-lead of the LED is bent and goes along the back of the IR assembly. See the images below for wiring. The positive lead of the LED goes to the back of the IR assembly, to the 2nd trace from the right. Carefully solder the positive lead of the LED here. I used a tiny piece of tape to cover all the other solder traces to prevent the chance of a short circuit. That’s all there is to it.
Blinky Light 1 circuit
Blinky Light 1 circuit
What we have done here is wired a visible LED in parallel with the TX IR LED. I have verified that after doing this mod, I can still send files via IR. I tested it at a range of 30 inches. Your mileage may, as usual, vary.


Visor FAQ

Following are some of the questions I get most often, and their answers. I’ve tried to group them into logical sections, but they may be in no particular order.

Please note: I have only had experience with Handspring’s Visor Deluxe. I have never used, handled, touched, or seen in person, any other Visor, and cannot answer questions about them.

What is the Pinout of the Visor Connector?
With the Visor screen up and the buttons at the bottom, pin 1 is on the right-hand side. The pinout is as follows:
1. RX Data (Serial)
2. Keyboard Detect
3. Hotsync Interupt
4. Ground
5. USB + Data
6. USB – Data
7. VDOCK (Cradle Power)
8. TX Data (Serial)
Please note this is applicable for Visor Deluxe only! If it works for any other Handspring product that is strictly coincidental.
Can you send me Circuit Diagrams / Schematics for the Visor?
A) I have never had access to the circuit diagrams / schematics for the Visor. It would have made my life a LOT easier, let me tell you. B) What documents I did get (lots of stuff used to be available from Handspring’s website) is all copyrighted and I can’t distribute it. Sorry. C) Even if I could share what info I did get, it’s all archived somewhere on a CD and I don’t have time to go looking for it. So sorry, the answer is no.
Is the battery modification safe?
Safe is a relative term. The modification *seems* to be ok. If it is done correctly by someone who is competant and experienced with soldering, and who understands the process, then there should not be any trouble. On the other hand, if done by someone who has never soldered before, doesn’t know which end of a diode is which, and is trying to duplicate what is seen in the pictures and hope for the best, then no, it is not safe.
The modifications will most deffinately void your warranty.
I do not guarranty, warranty, or otherwise claim you will not kill your Visor. Re-read the warning and disclaimer.
On the other hand, from an electronic theory point of view, if done right, there is no reason why it should not work fine.
Does the battery modification have protection for over-charging? How is the charging controlled?
The charging is done by trickle-charging. The batteries are fed a relatively low current. There is no circuitry to monitory them, or to tell when they are full. Fancy battery chargers with such control, tend to use high current to fast-charge batteries, then drop to a trickle-charging mode when the batteries are full. My mod is trickle-charge only. I’ve left the Visor in the cradle for over 24 hours, with no ill effects. If you are worried about some malfunction drawing too much current, this is taken care of by the USB hub. Powered hubs provide a maximum of 500 mA to each port. If the cradle draws more than 500mA the hub shuts that port down. Computer USB ports *probably* work the same. I have always used a hub though, so I cannot say for sure.
If you aren’t comfortable with this, then don’t do the mod. Read the warning and disclaimer again.
Will the mods work with my Visor Platinum / Prism / Etc?
I have never worked with anything other than a Visor Deluxe. I happen to know that the only difference between the Deluxe and the Solo is that the Deluxe has more memory. Therefore I know that it will work with the Deluxe and the Solo. I cannot help you with any other Handspring product.
Can I use NiCd or NiMH batteries, instead of Rechargable Alkelines?
You can do anything you like. I don’t know how NiCd or NiMH batteries will perform, so back-up often. My research suggested that rechargable alkelines were the best bet for what I wanted to achieve. Your mileage however, may vary.
How long will a set of rechargable batteries last?
I wish I had a good answer for this one. In my case, the batteries lasted pretty much through the life of the Visor, until I shelved it. I would estimate that 2 or 3 months at minimum, if you top up the charge regularily.
Will the mods work with my 3rd party cable / cradle for other Handspring models?
As noted above: I Don’t Know.
I heard of a mod to increase RAM / change RAM into Flash, can you help?
No. I have looked into the possibilities of increasing RAM, but it is beyond my capabilities to figure out how to do it. The Visor cannot be modified to use Flash instead of RAM. It has different electrical characteristics so it isn’t ‘drop-in replacable’, and the Palm OS treats Flash as ROM anyways so it won’t let you save anything. 
Have you ever heard of a Springboard module that does xxxxx?
Probably not, I’m afraid. I have not been active with Handspring’s products for about a year. I know there were a lot of nifty modules planned, I don’t know what was made. Visit Handspring’s web site, they have a page that gives info on new springboards.
Do you know about software to do xxxx?
Nope. Again, I have been away from the Visor, and the Palm OS, for about a year. I never learned how to write software for them. Try www.palmgear.com or Tucows.
I’d like to modify my springboard module xxx so that it does xxxx. What do you think?
I like to encourage experimentation. A little knowledge can be dangerous, but I learn-by-doing and like to see other people learn the same way. I cannot help you with your individual project, other than with moral support: Good luck, go for it, and have fun! When I did my first Visor modification, I knew that I might end up with a $300 paperweight. Be aware that when you pop the top and go in with the soldering iron, you might fry / kill / destroy something. That is the risk. If the desired outcome is worth the risk, or the learning experience worth the risk, then do it! Read the warning and disclaimer again.
Why did you stop using the Visor?
I found out that Apple’s Newton was better. Sure, it was discontinued in 1998. It was way ahead of it’s time then, and it still has better hardware, a better OS, and a better User Interface than any PDA on the market.
Think, cancelling the Space Shuttle, and focusing on the Wright Flyer. Yes, that is a bit of an exageration, but when the Palm Pilot had a teeny screen and a 16MHz processor and you had to write in a tiny little box at the bottom of the screen, the Newton had a big screen, a 162 MHz processor, and you wrote where you wanted your text to appear. And it learned to adapt to your handwriting, rather than you having to learn a new way to write.
Oh wait, they still sell 16MHz Palm OS devices, with teeny screens, and you still have to learn a new way to write, and keep it down in a little box at the bottom.

Visor Springboards

One of the key reasons I bought a Handspring Visor, was the expandability via the Springboard slot. There are modems – wired and wireless; MP3 players; voice recorders; memory modules; backup modules; pager modules; cell-phone modules… the list goes on. And new modules are being announced regularly.
I have a couple modules myself, naturally I have taken them apart to see how they work and what, if anything, can be done to or with them as far as modifications. So far, the answer has been, not much. Though I have at least got to see the insides, and I’ll share that with you.

Some Basic Information

The Springboard specifications were set out by Handspring as they developed their PDA. Though it is a ‘proprietary’ solution, they seem to have been successful in getting a lot of other companies interested in making peripherals and accessories for their platform, and have also licensed the Springboard slot to a few companies who will use it as part of their own products.
The connector itself is actually identical to the 68-pin connector of a PCMCIA device — mechanically identical, but electronically, some of the pin assignments are different. The slot is ‘keyed’ so that PCMCIA cards cannot be inserted.

Innogear’s InnoPak/2V

The InnoPak/2V from Innogear contains 2MB of Flash memory, combined with a vibrating silent-alert. It contains three applications preinstalled:
File Mover (For moving data and apps between the Visor and Springboard memory — essentially the same app as in the 8MB Flash Module.)
IP Test (To test the function of the vibrating motor)
IP Conf (Toggles between audible or vibrating alert mode).
When the InnoPak/2V is plugged into the Visor, a logo is briefly flashed, and the 3 applications automatically appear in your Launcher. To toggle the silent alarm, you can either run the IP Conf application, or you can simply tap the screen in the very lower right corner of the Find box, which is a shortcut to the IP Conf program.
The vibrating alert is powered by your Visor, so there are no extra batteries to worry about. The size of the InnoPak/2V is identical to that of the backup module; it fits flush with the back of the Visor and does not protrude at all.
I have tested the vibrating alert on my desk, and with the Visor in the cradle, and I don’t think there is any worry of this not being noticed. If anything, I almost think it is a little too strong. The first time it went off, I thought it was going to shake apart! While the Visor is in the cradle, when the alarm goes off the cradle takes a little ‘walk’ around. It may not be so useful in a purse or briefcase, but in a pocket or on a belt, you will not miss this.
In the IP Conf application, you can set how long you want it to vibrate for, you can set it from 3, 5, 10, 15, or 30 seconds. There is also a little Speaker Icon on the IP Conf screen, which tells you if you are currently set to audible or silent alert (a line appears through the speaker to indicate it is silent). At the risk of being picky, this Icon only shows the state of things when IP Conf is first run. The Icon won’t change while IP Conf is running, so it won’t reflect the change of state if you have just done it. You would have to close then reopen IP Conf to see the changed Icon. This probably won’t be a problem to most, but it did confuse me at the very beginning.
A single 2-sided page of instructions was included, one side explained the use of the IP Test and IP Conf programs, insertion and removal of the module, etc. The other side explained use of the File Mover application. For information on the File Mover app, please see below. I found that all three applications were intuitive enough that I didn’t really need the instructions — though without them I wouldn’t have found the shortcut tap for IP Conf.
InnoPak/2VI’ve used the InnoPak/2V for several days now, and I have not noticed any ill-affects that the motor has on the batteries of the Visor. I’ve had all of my alarms set for vibrating, configured it for 5-second duration vibrating. In Datebook+, I have set it to alarm three times in a row, which means that each alarm results in 15 seconds of vibration. I’ve made sure to have 4 or 5 alarm events each day. It has run pretty smoothly on the whole. I’ve tested it with the regular Datebook and the Datebook+ alarms, both worked fine. It should work fine with all alarm events.
Although there is no need to install any software from disk or CD, a CD was included in the package. It contained hundreds and hundreds of shareware and freeware files from PalmGear HQ, and a nice interface for browsing and searching the archives. I was pleasantly surprised by this ‘bonus’.
The only thing about the operation which I think could be improved, is that if you have set it for vibrating alerts, then remove the InnoPak/2V, it reverts to audible alarms. In itself, this is not a problem, in fact this is how it is supposed to work and is preferable. However, when you reinsert the module, it does not switch back to vibrating by itself, you have to remember to manually enable the silent alarms again. I guess it saves a few bytes or so of memory in your Preferences file, but I have so far never remembered to enable the silent alert when putting the module back in. It’s always later on, (after the first beeping alarm) that I remember to do that. If you never (or seldom) remove the InnoPak/2V, then this may not be an issue for you. But I use the Handspring Backup module every night, so it’s something I’d prefer to see ‘fixed’.
The only real problem I have encountered, is that once in a while when I insert the InnoPak/2V, the motor starts up on it’s own, and won’t stop. Turning the Visor off won’t even stop it. To stop it, I have to run the IP Test application, and click the ‘Stop’ button. I have tried to figure out what causes this, by trying inserting it with the Visor on, with the Visor off, removing the module while it was set to Silent alarms, etc., without success. It is possible that when the module is initialized after insertion, that the signal to make the motor go sometimes ends up ‘on’ during the reset (See below). However, this does not happen too frequently. Maybe one insertion in ten or fifteen. As the three applications are on the Flash memory chip, Innogear can release an upgrade or bug-fix to the software as required.
All in all, I think this Springboard was worth the $44.95 (US), considering you get not only the silent vibrating alert, but the 2MB Flash memory as well.
I am looking forward to the release of Innogear’s ‘SixPak Combo’ module, their website claims it will include: a land-line modem, a cellular modem, a voice-recorder, a memory upgrade, a vibrating alert, and a flashing LED alert; all within the same size package as the Innopak/2V. If it’s reasonably priced, then I’ll be picking one up, and you will find the review and inside pics here!

InnoPak/2V’s Insides

InnoPak's guts* R1 was originally a 0 Ohm chip resistor. I felt like the motor was running too fast; I didn’t like how strongly it was shaking the Visor, so I have replaced it with a regular 10 ohm 1/4 watt resistor. I should point out that if you solder and de-solder things to the teeny solder-pads they make for surface mount components, you will eventually cook the solder pads right off the circuit board, and then have to get rather creative as to how to save your Springboard. R1 connects the positive lead of the motor, to VCC (springboard pins 17 & 51). The motor runs at the 3v supplied by the Visor, Q1 (just below & right of the motor) is an NPN transistor, which controls the motor’s connection to ground.
** U3 is a Programmable Logic Device. It is CMOS programmable, and electronically erasable. It is in control of the motor. A signal from pin 16 goes through R5 (470 ohms) to Q1. I have confirmed that this device acts as the motor controller. CS1 (chip select 1) goes to this IC, while CS0 goes to the memory chip. From what I can tell, when CS1 and WE (write enable) both go low, the motor is triggered (though this is only a guess, from poking around at the control lines while the card is in the Visor). It is possible that the problem I’ve encountered, with the motor starting up during module insertion, is due to the initialization of the module inadvertently dropping these two signals low.
R2 (0 ohm jumper), R3 (empty), and R4 (empty) are jumpers for the memory chip. By tracing the circuits, I have confirmed that R2 and R4 control address line A20: R2 sends A20 to pin 10 of the memory chip, and R4 sends A20 to pin 15 of the memory chip. R3, when in place, sends address pin A22 to pin 10 of the memory chip. I don’t know too much about these chips, but here’s what I have deduced: As it stands, A20 is tied to pin 10 (R2 in place, R3 & R4 empty) for the 2MB flash chip. If you remove R2, and jumper R4 and R3, this reconfigures the card to use a different flash chip (perhaps an 8MB one?). Again, this is just my guessing. I need to learn more about flash chips before I can be more certain.
*** I added this LED. It’s rated for 3 volts, in a T1 package. It lights when the motor is triggered. It’s presence does not affect the strength of the motor at all.
Other than my LED, and changing the value of R1 to control the strength of the motor, there aren’t really any mod opportunities. U3 might have some possibilities, the spec sheets for that part were interesting, and it is possibly being under-utilized as simply an addressable motor-controller.
Software-wise, if I can figure out exactly what software function activates and deactivates the motor, then maybe the vibrating action could be incorporated into home-made programs.

Handspring’s Backup Module

This module is made by Handspring. I love it. I’ve got about 2MB of stuff on my Visor, and it takes about a minute or two, to fully back it up. It takes about that long to do a full restore as well. In my opinion, if you own a Visor you should own one of these modules. If your Visor is lost or stolen, get a new one and do a restore, and it’s like nothing happened. Likewise, if you take your Visor apart on a regular basis, this is a huge time-saver. No reinstalling applications through hot-sync, no concerns about data files that maybe aren’t backed up during a sync or have no conduit… about the only thing that isn’t saved on this module, is the time and date. It makes a ‘mirror’ of Visor’s RAM. For a thorough review, please refer to the Gadgeteer’s web reviews.
About the only negative thing I can say about this module, is that from time to time when I try to back up my Visor, I get a message that the Backup Failed. Since this message appears in exactly the same place and font as the Backup Complete message, and there is no beep or warning or message box, if you are not looking closely you might not notice this message. And if you later on needed the backup, you would not be a happy camper. This has not happened too often, maybe one time in ten, and there is never an explanation as to why the Backup Failed. I think though that when the Backup Fails, there should be a little more fanfare or a beep or some kind of attention-getting message, so you will know to try it again.
Aside from that one complaint, I’m all for this module. After the price of your Visor, this will be the best $39.95 (US) that you can spend.

Backup Module’s Insides

Backup Module's GutsAs you can see, there are a minimum of components here. U2 is a 64KB memory chip which contains the Backup program. The standard Info screen lists 12k free of 63K, with the Backup application taking 52K.
I am not familiar enough with the part number on this chip (MR1MX16HDSB001) to know if this ROM is erasable or not. I have a feeling though that the MR stands for masked ROM, which means that any upgrades will be software patches that go into the Visor’s memory instead of the module’s.
The 8MB Flash chip does not appear to be directly available to the Visor at all. The OS reports Card 1 is a Backup Module v256, with a Romsize of 65276 and Free RAM of 0.
I’m not too sure what the missing U1 is supposed to be for. I initially thought it might be for a different ‘footprint’ of flash chip, but now I am not so sure. By tracing the pins to the module connector, I’ve found out that it’s not a U1 vs U3 choice, but a U1 vs U2 decision. Chip-select 0 is shared by U1 and U2, while Chip-select 1 makes it’s way to U3, by way of the IC package U4. Perhaps before going to the Masked ROM chip at U2, Handspring may have initially prototyped this module with a Flash chip at U1 to facilitate debugging. If that’s the case, then perhaps by soldering an appropriate Flash chip at U1, and desoldering U2′s VCC and CS pins (23 & 12 respectively), you could get both Backup functionality and have some Flash memory to play with. Though this is a long shot, and you’d need to copy the Backup app out of ROM before you disabled it. Bottom line is, though, I wouldn’t even think of trying to do ‘mods’ with this module. The ability to back up your entire Visor’s contents with one tap, and restore it all with one tap, is way too important and cool, than anything I could think of.

Handspring’s 8MB Flash Module

This module is also made by Handspring. It is basically for those who have so many applications that they’ve run out of space on their Visor. It can also be used in lieu of the Backup Module to save data as well as applications, but you have to move them over one by one, rather than a one-touch backup. The module comes with only one application pre-loaded on it, called File Mover. This application is very straight-forward, and easy to use. When the module is inserted, File Mover automatically appears in your Visor’s Launcher. You can then use it to move, copy, or delete Applications and Data to and from the module / Visor memory. The File Mover app is stored within the same Flash memory, but in a protected area so the user can’t delete, move, or copy it. However, it can be updated if newer versions come out.
In terms of ease-of-use, this module ranks very well. Like Handspring’s Backup module, this is what Plug and Play is all about. Insert the module, and it works. The File Mover app, and any applications you have stored on it, automatically appear in the Launcher and can be run like any other application. Remove the module, and the applications on it automatically disappear from your Launcher.
If you have large applications that use a lot of memory, you can move them to the Flash module and free up Visor memory. You can also move large data files to the module, but because of the nature of Flash memory, the Visor cannot edit data files while they are on the module. The Visor views this memory as ROM rather than RAM, and if an application tries to edit a data file which is on the Flash module, you will get a fatal error message. The File Mover application warns you when you attempt to move a data file to the module; it suggests you Copy rather than Move the file. However, it will allow you to move the file if you insist.
For data files which are not edited (or at least, not edited in normal use), you should be able to get by with the data file on the module. I tested this by moving a couple large Doc files onto the Flash module, then running TealDoc by TealPoint. TealDoc recognized the Doc files as though they were still in the Visor memory, indeed they were still in the appropriate category within TealDoc. I was able to load them and view them without difficulty. I also tried this with a game program called ZIP - a game engine for those old text-based games like Zork that we played before computers had graphics. The engine is a .prc file, and the games are .pdb files. I moved a couple game files onto the module, and then confirmed that I was able to run them.
In my opinion, the ability to put large Doc files or other non-editable data files on the Flash module makes this module worthwhile. I’m sure that there are people out there who have used up their Visor’s 8MB of RAM with huge applications, and are looking for the extra 8MB so they can put another 200 applications into their Visor… but I think it much more likely that someone might want to fill the module up with, say, a few dozen e-books and a Doc reader for instance.
To be honest, I did not need to buy this module, I’ve still got 5.5 MB free in my Visor. Another feature of this module, that Handspring mentions on their website, is that it may be used for prototyping new Springboard applications. Handspring’s SDK’s are freely available, and with their available software, you can completely erase the module (including the File Mover app) and then fill it with your own programs. As such, you can use this module to design and test your own custom Springboard applications.
At $80 US, I think this module is a little bit pricey for what it does. However, what it does, it does very well. I would rate this as another ‘winner’ for Handspring. If you’re just looking to backup your Visor, go for the Backup module, at half the price. If you’re looking for a way to carry around an extra 8 MB of apps and data, and/or backup a handful of individual files, then this is a good buy for you.

8MB Flash Module’s Insides

flash module gutsI was surprised to find this module used four 2MB Flash chips instead of just one 8MB flash chip. I’m sure there is a good reason for this, and I’d love to know what it is. With one 8MB chip, this module could well have looked like the Golf module below. Instead, the module has to include address decoding, to let the Visor access the four chips as though they were one. The smaller IC (labeled Decoder Chip) performs this function. It monitors the upper address bits, and depending on which bits are active, it directs the Chip Select signal to the appropriate memory chip. This module only uses Chip Select 0; CS1 is not even connected to anything.
What could you do with this module? Well the first thing that comes to mind, is doubling the size. If you were very, very desperate for a 16MB Flash module, you could get 4 more of those memory chips (Toshiba TC58FVB160FT-10), plus one more of those decoder chips (74AC139), piggy-back all the new chips onto the existing ones, except leaving the chip-select lines of the memory chips unconnected, and leaving the corresponding chip-select pins of the decoder chip unconnected, then using bits of wire, solder the chip-select lines of the new memory chips to the corresponding pins of the decoder chip, then solder the chip-select input of the decoder chip to the unused CS1 of the Springboard connector. Then reformat the module, and it ought to read as 16MB. Of course, this ought only be done by someone who knows exactly what they are doing with these delicate memory-chip components, and so far, that rules me out. Plus, I just don’t need a 16MB module. I don’t even need the 8MB module.

Tiger Woods PGA Golf Game

Ok, I’m not a golfer, I’m not a computer-golfer, and I don’t even watch golf on television. I bought this module because I wanted a Springboard to rip open and mess with, and it was the cheapest one available. (Once I found out how easy they were to open, I proceeded to open the other two as well of course.)
I don’t really want to ‘review’ the game itself in much depth, because of my disinterest in the sport, but I will give a brief overview.
When you insert the module, it automatically runs the game. You can click the applications button to exit of course, and if you do, then the game icon appears in your launcher. The start-up screens of the game take a while to come and go, and I find it a bit annoying to have to see 6 screens of advertising and legalese every time I insert (or just run) the game. It takes 10 or 12 seconds for all of this to flash by, each and every time this game is run.
You can play a couple different kinds of games, from a quick round, to a full tournament against up to 3 other human or computer players. There are three courses to choose from. The interfaces are pretty straight-forward, though it comes with a fairly comprehensive manual as well.
The game also installs two very small files on your Visor, TIGRsave and TIGRxtra. They are just 1K each, and keep track of your name and score I believe (though I am not sure). If you delete them after removing the Springboard, they will reappear when you reinsert it.
I’ve played the game 3 or 4 times, it’s Ok, but as I have indicated, it is not really my sport. A golfer though might find it more useful.
The bottom line for me was, I ought to have saved my $29.95 (US). The game does nothing for me, and there was nothing inside of interest (see below). However, if you like computer golf games you may enjoy this module.

Tiger Woods Golf Game Insides

As far as circuit boards go, this has to be the most boring one I have ever laid eyes on.
Tiger Game InsidesAs you can see, there is just one memory chip and one capacitor. The memory’s part number is MR1MX16HDBTW02. The OS reports it as Card 1: Tiger Woods V1.1 v257, with a Romsize of 511740 and Free Ram of 0. The standard Info screen reports Free Memory 64K of 498K and a single file, Tiger at 435K.
Basically, it’s a single 512K ROM chip wired to the address and data lines to the Visor. Not too much that’s doable here as far as modifications, I’m afraid. Though if I do want to try building my own Springboard at some point, I can remove the ROM chip, and use this board as the basis for some prototyping. It will give me access to the IO lines and power and interrupts and so on.

So you want to pull apart a Springboard?

As usual, when opening up these things, you kiss your warranty goodbye. Further, when prying it open, if you are careless or using the wrong tool (say, an axe) you could damage the module inside. Though for the ones I have displayed above, I must say there is not much you can break on them. Your worst case would be scratching the board and cutting traces, or cracking the board and breaking traces. Either way, you toast the board. I am not liable or responsible in any way for damage you do to your Springboard or Visor if you try prying them apart or messing around with their insides.
Of the ones I have worked on so far, they have either been glued or they have been ‘welded’. All of them have been the smallest kind, not the larger modem, MP3, or GPS style Springboards. Just the ones that fit flush with the Visor. Those larger ones will likely require a different method. In the cases I have done, the plastic top has been fixed to the plastic bottom in a ‘permanent’ fashion, while the circuit board itself is not fixed at all, but held in place by friction and by a tongue-and-groove fitting at the 68-pin connector.
Using either a very small slot screwdriver, or (be careful!!!) a small hobby knife (like the OLFA Touch-knife), probe along the visible seam, to find a weak spot. Once you have found it, press the knife / screwdriver blade inwards, get a bit in, and then twist gently, to try to pry the thing open. If you are lucky, the glue / weld will start to give, and you can insert your tool a little further, and repeat. Start following the seam all the way around, go one direction then the other, till you have opened all three sides. The module will then simply come apart.
If you are not so lucky, the glue or weld will be stronger than the plastic, and you will end up with unsightly marks along the seam where you have tried prying it open. If these marks protrude, you can shave them off with a hobby knife, but they’re tough to get rid of. One of my module cases ended up this way, and I even lost a corner of the plastic where the plastic tore rather than the glue releasing. (That’s now the golf module of course.)
Whether using a screwdriver or a hobby knife, do be careful not to go too far into the module with it. As mentioned above, you could scratch the circuit board, or possibly even ‘bump’ a small component. Those chip resistors and chip capacitors can be brittle and can crack or break if hit right. Or a weak solder-joint could give way and set the tiny part free.
Putting them back together, is pretty easy. Just set the circuit board in it’s place, stick the top on, and you’re done. Ok, it won’t stay put together, unless you use some glue. It’s a bit of a quandary now, if you use glue you’ll have to go through all this again next time you want in. If you use nothing, then the modules will keep falling apart. I opted to leave them all apart. When you put them together and put them into the Visor, they cannot fall apart as the rails of the Visor holds the module firmly in place. Just don’t loose any bits and pieces if you leave them strewn about your desk. And you share your place with a mischievous cat.

Doll Cards?

Here’s a little curiosity that you may not have noticed. Handspring’s 8MB Flash Module’s circuit board is labeled as a ‘Ken Board’, and the Tiger Woods module’s board is labled as a ‘Barbie ROM Card’. Further, the OS identifies the InnoPak/2V card as ‘IG_Barbie_1′. I guess naming conventions have to come from somewhere, but I wonder what inspired then Handspring folk to go with Ken and Barbie.

What NOT to do to your Springboard module:

It's dead, Jim...
This is the Tiger Woods golf module, after I desoldered and removed the ROM chip. I did a terrible job with it, I damaged 4 or 5 traces on the board. This is what you can expect, when trying to remove a surface-mount IC with 40+ pins, with a $10 soldering pencil and an X-acto knife. Needless to say, this module is now destroyed, as far as playing golf. However, it may see life again as a home-brew board doing something interesting.

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