Maximum Mobility

14 Jul, 2005 By: Ron LaFon

CAD options for Windows CE devices

Portable CAD doesn't necessarily mean having a copy of AutoCAD that you can use on site with one of the powerful mobile workstations reviewed here. Design applications are now available for Pocket PCs that can easily fit in a shirt or jacket pocket. Certainly you won't find the power, memory or storage capabilities to run a traditional PC-based CAD application, but an adept and sophisticated array of software makes it possible to do real work in the field on one of these diminutive devices.

The feature sets of both applications surveyed here, PocketCAD Pro 4.0 and PowerCAD CE Pro, are so extensive that I can do little more than list some of the salient features. Visit the vendors' Web sites to see how truly amazing these products are.

PocketCAD Pro 4.0
Arc Second, Inc.

PocketCAD Pro 4.0 is designed to be an easy-to-use, feature-rich CAD application for the Pocket PC. PocketCAD's extensive features make data creation, collection, viewing, and modification simple, easy and effective.

Based on technology from Autodesk and Bentley, PocketCAD is compatible with Autodesk DWG, DWF and DXF files as well as MicroStation DGN files. PocketCAD's EditTrak method of handling files ensures that drawing data doesn't get lost.

PocketCAD Pro 4.0 can display AutoCAD DWG and DXF drawings from Release 12-2002 and MicroStation V8 DGN files. Drawing navigation capabilities include pan, zoom in and out, zoom window, zoom previous and zoom extents. Users can query entities for properties and measure distance and angle between entities.

PocketCAD's extensive feature set provides tools for data creation, collection, viewing, and modification.
PocketCAD's extensive feature set provides tools for data creation, collection, viewing, and modification.

PocketCAD Pro 4.0 creates points, circles, lines, rectangles, arcs and both 2D and 3D polylines. Users can select point size and elevation and set points to define relative distances and directions, absolute x/y, relative x/y and freehand sketch. PocketCAD Pro 4.0 supports architectural, survey, engineering, decimal and fractional units. Users can create layers and blocks and blocks with attributes (blocks can also be exploded). Other tools handle annotations and labels—very useful in the field.

PocketCAD Pro 4.0 incorporates multiple Undo and Redo, dimensioning and the ability to edit drawings using extensive features, including multicutting edge trim and extend. The included CADExchange program can transfer files, or Microsoft ActiveSync can be used to drag and drop from the desktop. Users can also upload PocketCAD files as a new DWG, DXF or DGN file (version selectable). Incorporating work done on the Pocket PC is a relatively simple procedure because users can merge edits into existing DWG, DXF or DGN files on thier desktop. It's also easy to transfer work from a PC to a mobile device.

Mobile client requirements for PocketCAD Pro 4.0 include a Windows-powered Pocket PC or handheld PC with at least 16MB of storage. Desktop requirements are a Pentium-based PC running Microsoft Windows 2000/NT 4.0 SP 3+/98/95 and Microsoft ActiveSync 3.0 or newer (v4.0 was just released).

PocketCAD Pro 4.0 for AutoCAD (DWG and DXF) costs $199, as does the MicroStation (DGN) version. A version with support for both AutoCAD and MicroStation is $258. You must have MicroStation V8 installed on your PC to run the MicroStation versions of PocketCAD. Various viewers are available, as are add-ons for PocketCAD Pro 4.0.


PowerCAD CE is part of a family of affordable and easy-to-use CAD software from GiveMePower, built for 2D and 3D designing, viewing, markup and project collaboration using any Windows-powered computing device.

Using proprietary display-list acceleration techniques, PowerCAD CE gets the most out of mobile devices with fast loading, zooming, panning and command execution.

PowerCAD CE Pro directly supports AutoCAD DWG and DXF files (Release 12-2002) with round-trip retention of all 2D and 3D elements. It can export files in Autodesk's DWF file format. The application includes GiveMePower's VoiceNOTE audio note-keeping system and AutoHide screen spacesaver to make more efficient use of available screen space. PowerCAD CE features a new, simplified three-way user interface with stackable toolbars that toggle for optimum pen-based productivity. The interface also features plain-text menus and a built-in Command line for quick entry of 1- to 3-character AutoCAD-compatible command shortcuts.

PowerCAD CE Pro offers features designed to maximize a small workspace, such as keyboard shortcuts and stackable toolbars. A 3D drawing is shown opened here on a Pocket PC.
PowerCAD CE Pro offers features designed to maximize a small workspace, such as keyboard shortcuts and stackable toolbars. A 3D drawing is shown opened here on a Pocket PC.

PowerCAD CE Pro can be customized by using the visual DME (Desktop & Menu Editor) to create custom menus, dialog boxes and toolbars. Programmers can create custom extensions and applications using the Lisp application programming interface or the C/C++ advanced programming interface. This flexibility offers the potential to expand PowerCAD CE Pro and streamline its use for specific purposes. Such flexibility is unusual in an application for a Pocket PC. Both macros and scripts are also supported.

PowerCAD CE Pro incorporates more than 200 AutoCAD-compatible 2D drawing functions, including lines, polylines, arcs, circles, rectangles, ellipses and offsets. Among its full set of editing commands are erase, copy, move, mirror, rotate, trim and extend. The program supports cross-hatching, 2D solid fills and xrefs (externally referenced drawings).

Users can generate advanced 3D objects such as boxes, wedges, spheres and toruses. PowerCAD CE incorporates 3D face and polyface mesh support with surface of revolution, tabulated surfaces and ruled surfaces. It also supports digital image embedding with the ability to import TIF, BMP, PNG, JPG and RLC raster files.

In addition to PowerCAD CE Pro ($495), GiveMePower also offers PowerCAD CE Classic ($249), which provides fewer customization options and does not support digital image embedding or laser measuring devices. A PowerCAD CE Viewer ($99) is available. GiveMePower also offers SiteMaster ($995; also available bundled with a Leica DISTO Plus laser measuring device for $1,695), which creates laser-generated, as-built floor plans in AutoCAD-compatible format. For a product comparison matrix and additional details, visit

PowerCAD CE 5.5 now supports Windows Mobile 2003 SE devices and Pocket PC devices with new high-resolution VGA screens. It also now includes XpressUpdate capabilities for retrieval and installation of program fixes and minor updates via the Internet.

HP iPAQ hx4700

For evaluating the PocketCAD 4.0 and PowerCAD CE software, HP provided one of its current Pocket PC models, the HP iPAQ h×4700. Measuring a compact 5.17" × 3.03"× 0.59" with the standard battery, it weighs in at 6.6oz without the cover or accessory cards. Powerful enough to handle a broad array of applications, the iPAQ hx4700 is based on a 624MHz Intel PXA270 processor. Its default configuration is 192MB of total memory (128MB ROM and 64MB SDRAM). Up to 135MB of memory is available to the user, including an 80MB iPAQ File Store. The hx4700 is powered by Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 SE software for Pocket PC (premium edition). Pocket versions of Microsoft software are included, as are several HP-exclusive programs.

The Hewlett Packard iPAQ hx4700 is powerful enough to handle a variety of applications.
The Hewlett Packard iPAQ hx4700 is powerful enough to handle a variety of applications.

The HP iPAQ hx4700 features a 4" transflective-type VGA TFT color screen with 64K colors and an LED backlight with power save mode. The screen can be used in either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) mode. Currently priced at $599, the HP IPAQ hx4700 package includes, in addition to the Pocket PC itself, an AC adapter, USB desktop synchronization cradle, plastic flip cover, stylus, a Getting Started Guide and the HP iPAQ Pocket PC Companion CD-ROM.

Many accessories are available, including an extended removable/rechargeable 3600mAh lithium-ion battery that effectively doubles the capacity of the included 1800mAh lithium-ion battery. Though the 3600mAh battery slightly increases the depth and weight of the iPAQ, the extended battery capacity is often well worth the tradeoff.

As with most contemporary Pocket PCs, the HP iPAQ hx4700 excels at connectivity. Included are WLAN 802.11b, Bluetooth 1.2, IrDA (FIR), and USB and serial ports. The HP iPAQ hx4700 incorporates four programmable shortcut buttons, a navigation touchpad, a touch-sensitive display for stylus or fingertip, and a voice-record button. Warranty coverage is one year on parts and labor with 90 days of technical support in most regions.

The HP iPAQ hx4700 may not be what you want your next CAD workstation to be, but in many situations the Pocket PC is compact and powerful enough to get some real work done on your CAD projects—be it onsite or on an airplane. Combined with increasingly sophisticated CAD software designed for the Pocket PC, these devices can extend the reach of your design firm. —R.L.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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