From the November 1999 issue of Startups

Personal Digital Assistants: a big name for some small devices. You can call them whatever you want--palm PCs, handheld devices, Bob or Sally. We'll call them PDAs. They've come a long way since the original Newton, baby. Whether you're first on the list for a model with all the bells and whistles or just looking to keep track of your contacts while away from your desk, these miniwonders can really take care of business.

Just a few years ago, your PDA choices involved either an Apple Newton or a Rolodex, but the features and price options have since exploded. Microsoft has busily propagated its Windows operating system to include Windows CE for handhelds, kind of a super-low-cal Windows 95. Most handhelds come loaded with this, the main advantage being easy synching with your Windows desktop OS. 3Com's Palm Computing is the spoiler in Windowsville: Its Palm OS is compatible with both PCs and Macs.

PDAs started coming out in color just this year. Color makes things pretty, but in a computer that's running on batteries, it can be a big power drain. You'll have to weigh the aesthetics against power concerns and whether you really need to see Aunt Edna's phone number in some shade of puce. After all, despite recent leaps in PDA capabilities, including wireless Internet access, their primary functions are as organizers and notepads. What they all have in common is a touch-screen display for using either your finger or a stylus to control the PDA.

Compaq Aero 2100

Manufacturer: Compaq

Model: Aero 2100

Operating system: Windows CE

Street price: $449

Phone: (800) 345-1518

Web site: http://www.compaq.com

A speedy 80 MHz processor powers the color Aero 2100. Its high-resolution display comes with 256 colors. The standard RAM is 8MB, but 16MB is available (expandable to 24MB). A lithium-ion rechargeable battery means never having to purchase AAs in bulk. Included is a cradle with an AC adaptor for charging the battery. The Aero 2100 requires Windows 95/98/NT 4.0 with a 486 or higher processor. For recording short voice memos, a built-in microphone is standard. This PDA also comes with a one-year warranty and 24-hour technical support.

Philips Nino 510

Manufacturer: Philips

Model: Nino 510

Operating system: Windows CE

Street price: $449

Phone: (888) 367-8356

Web site: http://www.philips.com

No relation to El Niño,the Philips Nino 510 comes ready with 16MB RAM and a 256-color display. The included NinoVoice software allows you to control the PDA with voice commands. A one-touch button lets you record voice memos. A rechargeable NiMH battery with about an eight-hour life comes with the Nino 510, or you can choose to use AA batteries. CompactFlash storage cards can increase the Nino's memory to a whopping 48MB. A one-year warranty, docking cradle and AC adaptor are also included.

Hewlett-Packard Jornada 420

IBM Workpad 8602-30X

Manufacturer: IBM

Model: Workpad 8602-30x

Operating system: Palm OS

Street price: $AC372

Phone: (888) 411-1WEB

Web site: http://www.ibm.com

At only 6 ounces with batteries installed, the Workpad 8602-30x is a lightweight when it comes to PDAs. Notably, it's the only other PDA in the bunch with the Palm operating system. (However, it's not Mac-compatible.) The batteries on this model are two regular AAAs. Though PDAs so far aren't great e-mail machines, they are good for transferring e-mails from your desktop for easy transport and viewing. The Workpad 8602-30x is compatible with Lotus, Microsoft Outlook, Exchange and Eudora. As with the other PDAs in this column, an infrared port comes standard.

Casio Cassiopeia E-100

Manufacturer: Casio

Model: Cassiopeia E-100

Operating system: Windows CE

Street price: $499

Phone: (888) 204-7765

Web site: http://www.casio.com

The Cassiopeia E-100 may be hard to spell, but it comes pretty well loaded. 16MB RAM is enough to hold thousands of addresses, just in case you know that many people. The LCD screen has a brilliant 65,536 colors. A 131 MHz microprocessor helps it keep up with its multimedia aspirations. Also assisting are a microphone/speaker and stereo headphone jack. Power is supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or the included cradle and AC adaptor.

3Com Palm VII

Manufacturer: 3Com

Model: Palm VII

Operating system: Palm OS

Street price: $599

Phone: (800) 881-7256

Web site: http://www.palm.com

with its 2MB Palm VII, 3Com has stuck with a keep-it-simple, keep-it-in-gray-scale philosophy, so the battery time is lengthy. A wireless network allows you to download "Web clippings" from the Net--think distilled bits of info like stock quotes or travel itineraries that you really need. An iMessenger feature wirelessly sends messages via the Palm.net service. A monthly connection fee starts at $10 with limited transfer amounts included.