To get you started on your research, here's a rundown of the most popular PDAs on the market:
- Apple: The MessagePad 120 with a Newton 2.0 operating system is an organizer, minicomputer, and electronic notepad you write on with a special telescoping pen. This latest version has more features than its predecessor, including a date book, more storage, a fax-send feature, fax-receive onto the message-pad screen so you can read it, e-mail exchange through the Internet, and a vastly improved handwriting recognition function.
The $699 MessagePad 120 includes a telephone log, calendar and calculator, plus daily, weekly and monthly planners. Its Rolodex is presented in business-card format. It also includes Pocket Quicken software, which puts information about your cash, checking, savings and credit-card accounts at your fingertips.
You can hook the MessagePad 120 up to most bubble-jet and laser printers via an optional accessory, back up data onto your office desktop for safekeeping, and send messages to someone's pager. An optional add-on notebook-sized keyboard costs $89.
- Casio: While most people associate Casio with low-end pocket calculators and organizers, Casio's Z-7000 is a $599 pen-based PDA that is able to translate handwriting into text. The Z-7000 also organizes your date book, to-do lists, addresses and notes. It calculates; communicates with American Online (with the help of your modem); and has a dictionary, spelling checker, clock and reference sources. This PDA will also manage your expense reports and balance and summarize your bank accounts.
One of the Z-7000's strengths is its variety of accessories, such as the Z-125 PalmConnect, at $129, which links to your PC for data entry, transfer and backup.
- Motorola: This company is a relative newcomer to the PDA market, but its products, the Marco and Envoy, are becoming extremely popular. Both models have infrared receivers and rotating antennas for wireless communication. You can also send, receive and fax information through Motorola's integrated wireless modems. However, you must subscribe to RadioMail and ARDIS, the wireless data services through which the Marco and Envoy PDAs communicate.
Envoy is aimed at the mobile businessperson who wants wireless messaging, faxing, airline flight information and personal expense management. The $1,000 Envoy integrates e-mail, fax, telephone and paging abilities, and has all the bells and whistles of most pocket organizers, plus two slots for PCMCIA cards to add memory for more data or using other software applications.
Motorola's Marco pen-based notepad uses Newton technology and is best suited for users who frequently need to download databases on the road. With features similar to the Envoy, the $900 Marco is slightly less powerful, has just one PCMCIA slot, and has user interfaces that depend heavily on Newton applications.
- Psion: A worldwide leader in the mobile and hand-held computing industry, this company calls its Series 3a models "palmtops," but the $595 1MB and the $695 2MB fit into the PDA category.
Both models have multitask operating systems, weigh just under 10 ounces, have relatively large keyboards and are wider than most PDAs. You can send and receive faxes, manage your to-do list, translate words into several languages and find out the time around the world; a password protection feature keeps your data confidential. A computer connecting kit for advanced applications is available for $120.
- Sharp: This company's pocket-sized Wizard products have been consistently popular for the past seven years. But with businesspeople wanting more from their small organizers than just Rolodexes and calculators, Sharp developed two new models. The $599 Zaurus is a high-performance electronic notebook with a pen and keyboard. The $499 Wizard OZ-6500 is more similar to a PIM but has many PDA capabilities, including faxing. Add $100 to the base price of each for fax capabilities (sending but not receiving).
The Zaurus boasts a large easy-to-read screen and has an infrared port for wireless communication. Files can be uploaded or downloaded from other software, and, using optional mail software, users can send or receive e-mail messages using a Windows-based PC as an electronic post office.
Sharp's OZ-6500 features 512K memory and can display up to 40 characters on 14 lines. In addition to the organizing functions, calculator and time clocks, you can hook up the OZ-6500 to an online service or to your PC to exchange data. Well-suited for first-time PDA users, its on-screen instructions and graphics are large and easy to understand.
- Texas Instruments: Although this company refers to its low-priced PS-6700 and PS-6800 models as personal organizers, both have moved into the PDA market by virtue of a docking kit with Windows software that enables them to connect to a PC and exchange information.
The PS-6700 and PS-6800 are identical in styling and function; the only difference is the amount of their memory. The $69 PS-6700 has 64KB of storage; the $89 PS-6800 has 128KB. Both have keyboards but no electronic notepad.
Both models can store thousands of reminders, addresses, notes and secret data. Features include an audio alarm, dates and times for five world cities, a 100-year monthly calendar and password protection.