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Book Review: Palm Pre: The Missing Manual by Edward C. Baig

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Learning how to use a new electronic product can be a challenge. The days of the printed manual are gone; instead, a brief brochure, CD, or online manual can be the only introductory guides the manufacturer provides. Some consumers, however, prefer a hard copy for quick and easy reference instead of reading text on a screen. In addition, they may want more detailed information concerning accomplishing specific tasks, or even useful shortcuts. The Missing Manual series targets this audience, offering smaller-sized books that explain, in user-friendly language, the inner workings of a product. The latest edition in the series, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, is no exception to this rule. Author Edward C. Baig thoroughly explains virtually every facet of the Palm smartphone, anticipating virtually every concern a first-time or experienced Palm user might have.

Baig, a USA-Today technology columnist, writes in a clear, simple style that first-time smartphone owners can easily understand. Each chapter details a different aspect of the Pre, such as the organizer function, web browser, message center, media center, camera, and phone. Clear, full-color photographs illustrate the phone along with screenshots, accompanied by detailed descriptions of how to set up the phone, how to multitask while on a phone call, and other functions (such as what exactly "airplane mode" means).

What sets the Missing Manual apart from other "how to" technology books involves its attention to detail. Baig clearly explains such issues as overseas phone calls, including which options may be the least costly for consumers. Choosing the best phone plan, buying and downloading apps, and switching from one Bluetooth set to another are just a few examples of smaller but important details addressed in this book. A troubleshooting section in the appendix covers issues from conserving battery usage to screen freezes.

The book's compact size makes for easy storage, yet font and picture size are not sacrificed. Large section headings organizes the material, allowing for easy reference. On virtually every page, Baig includes boxes titled "note" and "tip" that disclose additional information. These boxes typically contain extremely useful information about shortcuts and warnings concerning memory usage, possible erasure of data, and other issues. While this supplementary material is helpful, the "note" and "tip" boxes look identical: both are shaded in yellow, use the same icon, and differ only slightly in font. Other equivalent "how to" manuals use different icons to clearly distinguish between the two, and therefore make it easier for the reader to quickly locate particular information. Having crucial information about potential dangers more prominently highlighted, for example, would be an important feature for many users.

Overall, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual is a valuable resource for first-time and experienced smartphone users alike. Its convenient size, full-color, glossy reproductions of photographs, and very user-friendly, economical writing make for a useful, if essential, manual for Palm Pre users. Baig's book indeed fulfills its promise of being the "manual that should have been in the box."

For more information, visit O'Reilly's Palm Pre: The Missing Manual site, or the Missing Manual page, which includes additional tutorials and downloads.

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About Kit O'Toole