From the April 2000 issue of Startups

It reads like a James Bond novel: lighter than a laptop, more powerful than a palm PC and code-named "Jupiter." These sub-subnotebooks are a little heftier than Palm PCs but share many of the same traits. They all run Windows CE (you Mac users will want to go read something else), Microsoft's low-cal version of the Windows operating system. The Windows CE interface synchronizes well with your standard Windows desktop but suffers from a shortage of applications and minor incompatibilities between what's available and the desktop versions.

The handhelds themselves are lightweight, cost under $1000 and usually feature a color touchscreen--sort of a Palm PC/laptop computer hybrid. If you've been lugging an 8-pound laptop around, a sub-3-pound handheld starts to look pretty good. Most of these machines feature "instant-on," so there's no waiting. CE software on all these puppies includes Microsoft Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket PowerPoint, Pocket Access (notice a pattern here?), Pocket Outlook and Pocket Internet Explorer. So what's it good for? Packing around, for sure. It's a nice mid-dle ground if you need more than a palm PC but don't need all the baggage of a notebook computer. Definitely take a field trip over to CompUSA or someplace similar and try one out. See if you can handle the less-than-full-sized keyboard. Glorified palm PC, or scaled-down notebook? You make the call.

IBM Workpad Z50

Manufacturer: IBM

Model: WorkPad Z50

Street Price: $780

Phone: (800) 426-3333

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

IBM describes its sub-subnotebook as a "portable PC companion." That's pretty accurate. The keyboard is 95 percent of IBM's Thinkpad keyboard size. The 8.2-inch display matches the HP and the NEC in size (see next page). Working overtime? The claimed battery life is a whopping 16 hours with an optional high-capacity battery ($200). The standard battery lasts up to 10 hours. Specs include 16MB RAM, a 33.6 Kbps datafax modem and a slim 2.6 pounds of heft. At 131 MHz, it's a little pokey compared to the HP and Vadem Clio.

Sharp Mobilon TriPad PV-6000

Manufacturer: Sharp

Model: Mobilon TriPad PV-6000

Street Price: $800

Phone: (800) 237-4277

Web Site:http://www.sharp-usa.com

The groovy-looking Mobilon has only a 33.6 Kbps modem, but it claims up to 12 hours of battery life. (That's your average workday, right?) The wild-looking screen is really pretty practical. It comes with 16MB RAM and an MIPS processor standard. A larger-than-normal 9.4-inch display is a nice touch. The versatile design looks great, but it might take a little getting used to. Try it out at a store and see what you think. Compare the Sharp to the nearly identical Vadem Clio.

NEC MobilePro 770

Manufacturer: NEC

Model: MobilePro 770

Street Price: $800

Phone: (888) 632-8701

Web Site:http://www.nec-computers.com

The specs on the NEC MobilePro read A lot like the HP Jornada 820: 8.1-inch color touchscreen, built-in 56 Kbps modem. The MobilePro is even more lightweight at only 1.7 pounds. Two major differences are processor speed and RAM. The MobilePro clocks in with a 131 MHz processor to the HP's 190 MHz. But the NEC sports twice as much RAM with 32MB. It's a tradeoff, but you can always add more RAM to the HP.

HP Jornada 820

Manufacturer: Hewlett-Packard

Model: Jornada 820

Street Price: $700

Phone: (800) 752-0900

Web Site:http://www.hp.com/jornada

The poster child for Jupiter subnotebooks is the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 820. At a svelte 2.5 pounds, the Jornada features 16MB RAM, a built-in 56 Kbps modem and up to 10 hours of battery time. The Intel strong arm processor clocks in at 190 MHz while the screen is a slim 8.2 inches with 640 x 480 resolution. The keyboard is 90 percent of full size and still touch-typeable. A touchpad mouse control is a familiar feature borrowed from laptops.

Compaq Aero 8000

Manufacturer: Compaq

Model: Aero 8000

Street Price: $875

Phone: (800) 345-1518

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

The Aero 8000 comes with a video-out port for running an external projector or monitor. The nontouchpad 10-inch screen is the largest we looked at, but the bundle still comes in under 3 pounds. Standard is 16MB RAM, expandable to 64MB. Processor speed is a not-so-peppy 128 MHz. The keyboard is 95 percent of full size. Standard battery life runs as long as seven hours.

Vandem Clio C-1050

Manufacturer: Vadem

Model: Clio C-1050

Street Price: $875

Phone: (888) GO-VADEM

Web Site:http://www.clio.com

The Vadem Clio C-1050 is almost the same machine as the Sharp. However, it features ParaGraph Calligrapher handwriting recognition software that the Mobilon is lacking. Otherwise, Vadem has the original innovative SwingTop screen for using like a notebook, tablet or presentation device. The MIPS processor is rated at a peppy 168 MHz. It gets a nice memory boost from its 32MB RAM. The battery is estimated to last up to 10 hours. For $75 more than the Sharp Mobilon, the Clio delivers a lot of extra power.