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Prevent BlackBerry Squint
How to avoid eyestrain when working on a small screen.

James A. Martin
PC World
Thursday, July 13, 2006; 11:10 PM

First there was "BlackBerry thumb." That's the ache you feel when you've been thumb-boarding too long on Research in Motion's addictive smart phone. Now there are reports of "BlackBerry squint"--the blurred vision or eyestrain that results from too much time spent viewing the small screen on Research in Motion's BlackBerry. I shudder to contemplate what the next gadget affliction might be named (iPod ear?).

But let's focus on this vision thing. It's true: BlackBerrys, Palm Treos, Apple iPods, and other handheld devices do have small screens. My Treo 650's display measures just over 2.5 inches diagonally, for example. These screens can be hard to read, particularly for over-40 eyes. Try viewing video on a cell phone for more than a few minutes and you're asking for eyestrain.

Here are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of suffering from BlackBerry squint.

Some PDA/smart phone applications enable you to adjust font sizes, making type larger and thus easier on the eyes. For example, the Calendar and Contacts applications on a Palm OS 5 device provide four different font-size options. To change font sizes, go to Options within those applications, choose Font, then select a larger size.

On a Pocket PC or Windows Mobile device, you can easily make fonts larger. To enlarge the fonts on a Dell Axim X50v, for instance, I went to the Start menu, selected Settings, then the System tab. From there I clicked the Screen button, chose the Text Size tab, then dragged the slider bar toward Largest.

I don't own a BlackBerry, so I can't tell you how to enlarge fonts from personal experience. But according to RIM's BlackBerry support pages, here's the formula: Select the Options icon on your BlackBerry, select Screen/Keyboard, then choose Font Size. Push the track wheel in to select the Change option. Roll the track wheel up to make the text larger, or down to decrease the size. Select the size you want, then push the track wheel in to save your selection.

Some third-party applications magnify what's displayed on your PDA or smart phone screen. One example is TealPoint Software's TealMagnify Plus ($16), which acts as a magnifying glass on most Palm OS applications.

Similar programs for Pocket PC and Windows Mobile devices include Adisasta's WinMobile Lens and Visual IT's Zoom . Both are $12 and are available as free trials from Handango.

Alternatively, you could actually add a magnifying lens to your handheld. Officeonthego.com sells a line of lenses called the Magnifico . The Magnifico Plus ($50), for example, clips onto many PDAs, GPS devices, and smart phones to magnify their screens.

One more option: Get an OWL card, which you've probably seen in cheesy TV ads. Roughly the size of a credit card, the OWL (which stands for Optical Wallet Light) combines a magnifying lens with an LED light. I bought one for reading menus in dimly lit restaurants. But you can also use one to help you read your PDA or smart phone screen. They're only $3 at Amazon.com .

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Creative's 1GB Zen Nano Plus, a full-featured MP3 player costing only $109, came out on top in PC World's new audio-quality tests. The flash-memory-based Zen Nano Plus earned a rating of 83 (very good). And unlike its competitor the iPod Nano, the Zen Nano Plus includes an FM tuner and can record from a variety of sources, including FM radio, an internal microphone, and a line-in port. Read " Small Players, Big Sound " for details.

Wouldn't it be cool to check e-mail or play a song on your notebook, without even having to power up the computer? That feature, to be available next year from Acer and at least one other computer maker, will be possible because Microsoft's upcoming Vista OS will support secondary displays --such as a small LED screen on the lid of a notebook screen.

A Taiwanese company, A-Zone International, has introduced an iPod docking station that features an elegant, 1940s-styled valve amplifier. The retro-looking accessory includes two 50W-per-channel speakers and is available in a glossy black, wood, or leather finish.

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it . However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

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