ZipIt, a nifty and cheap Wi-Fi Linux handheld

100_0783 My favorite retail establishment for general merchandise has done it again.  Target has put on clearance a bunch of interesting merchandise again and lured me straight in with a few really nice deals.  Among the items on sale is a nifty little device called the ZipIt.  ZipIt is wireless communicator that was designed with teenagers in mind.  While I am far from a teen, I can see the usefulness of this little device. 

It looks like a really small laptop.  In fact, it is really a palmtop Linux-based computer complete with a nice little color LCD panel and 802.11b Wi-Fi.  It also has a Micro-SD card slot for MP3 and jpg files.  In addition to its limited multimedia abilities (viewing photos and listening to music) the device will allow you to connect your AOL AIM, Yahoo! and MSN instant message accounts AND send SMS messages from your ZipIt account.  You are also SUPPOSED to be able to receive SMS messages, but I have yet to successfully do that. More on that in a bit.  Oh, it’s music player can also stream audio from a multitude of sites.  You select those sites by logging into your ZipIt account using your computer. 

z2a (Small) A quick Bing search revealed a small but active ZipIt modding community.  One site in particular has a nice collection of videos and tutorials on flashing the device’s ROM and placing an open Linux distro in place of the shipping OS.  This allows you to use the device as a full blown computer.  I had seen a posting on doing this before I purchased the device, but didn’t feel ambitious enough to spend the $40 plus shipping to order one.  However, while at a Target, I saw it on clearance for $24.95 and decided to buy one.

After playing with it and connecting my IM accounts to the device, I’ve decided to hold off flashing it for awhile.  I’m a bit lazy when it comes to things like this, especially when you have hack and/or compile a bunch of stuff just to get an operating system to work on anything.  And that is one of my biggest complaints with Linux and the number one reason why it will be relegated to an enthusiasts niche.  I just don’t care for intricacies of command line compilers, messing with kernels, etc. just to turn my twenty-five dollar Wi-Fi device into a small computer that then requires more command line mess to use.  I may dive into it at some point, but, for now, I have something else in mind.

The device is pretty useful as is.  Its a quite capable IM device, and the ability to play audio as well as view photos adds to its utility.  Something I’m playing around with is writing some code to pipe over info like my Twitter feed, Friendfeed, Digg and other snippet sized info to the device via said IM accounts.  What I’m finding, though, is that interfacing to AIM, Messenger and even Yahoo! is not as straightforward as I thought.  It might turn out to be just as much a pain in the rear as putting a full Linux client on the device.

I do have a few complaints, but mostly due to poor documentation and a confusing web site.  My biggest complaint is that they are not very clear about your ZipIt texting account.  I sent a couple of SMS messages to my Pre.  I got them correctly, but was not able to reply.  I kept getting an undeliverable error message.  I have to do this successfully.  Also, the on-device GUI is a bit confusing in places, but I suspect it is a result of me not understanding a few of the features more than a real issue with the GUI.  My son would probably find it easy.  The ZipIt website is just awful.  You have really look at the ‘fine print’ to be able to find what you want, including the ‘manage your ZipIt’ feature.  From here, you can set the theme for the GUI as well as the background image and the aforementioned streaming audio sites.

The biggest area of confusion for me were the constant references on the site and the documentation about the MP3 player and the photo viewer.  These options ONLY show if you have a recognized Micro-SD card in the device.  I had one in there, a Dane Electric 1gb card, but the device did not recognize it.  A San-Disk branded card worked fine.

In order to use your own media, you have to put your MP3 files in a directory called ‘music’ on the card and photos go in a ‘pictures’ directory.  There does not seem to be any limits on the JPG or MP3 files.

At the very least, I have an OK audio player and jpeg viewer.  At best, I’ll have a nifty little Linux netbook like device. It’s a cool little device no matter what and the price is definitely right. 

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