Palmtop Porridge

The Lowdown

These small computers carry a surprising variety of programs in addition to built-in modems. Common applications for Jupiters include Microsoft Pocket versions of Access, Clock, Internet Explorer, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. Hewlett-Packard's HP Jornada 680 manages your phone book and cell phone with TrioPhone Manager 2.0, views e-mail attachments in multiple formats with Inso Outside and manages personal finances with Quicken. Compaq's Aero 8000 includes the Audible Content Player for playing digital audio files downloaded from www.audible.com, while IBM's WorkPad z50 adds its own IBM Global Network Dialer.

NEC MobilePro 780's bonus applications include ArcSoft cePhoto, a digital photo editor, and a Status LED to keep you informed of battery power and remind you of scheduled appointments via a flashing amber light. Another program included is Microsoft Streets, a mapping and routing application to help you find your way over 6.3 million miles of U.S. and Canadian streets and highways. Not too shabby for a little computer sans hard drive that weighs a little less than 2 pounds.

Another alternative is Psion's Series 7. It uses its own operating system spreadsheet, time manager and contacts database but is compatible with Windows 95/98 and NT and can synchronize information with a network. A snappy blue-leather covering sets it apart from the pack.

Although Windows CE comes pre-loaded in ROM in most handheld PCs, additional software must be installed on your desktop using a CD-ROM disk. Because PC companions have no CD-ROM drive, the operating software uses your laptop or desktop's CD-ROM drive. Additional storage can be added using CompactFlash cards, and most Jupiter handhelds have slots for PC cards. Compaq's PC Pro includes a SmartCard, similar to a CompactFlash card. PC cards can use up power pretty quickly, so manufacturers recommend using AC power when you've got a PC card in the slot.

One feature that sets some of these devices apart from standard notebooks is their touch-sensitive screens that use a stylus to activate functions and move the cursor. NEC's MobilePro 780 emits reassuring clicks while you use the stylus to let you know it's working. A few handheld PCs even provide a standard touchpad, too. And if you prefer to dictate rather than type memos, most handheld PCs come with voice recorders-but don't expect high-quality audio. Just remember to have plenty of battery power before you begin.

In terms of weight, Windows CE-based Jupiter devices average less than 2 pounds. The screens measure about half the size of a typical notebook display-and at 10 diagonal inches, Compaq's Aero 8000 Handheld PC Pro has the largest on the market. Displays can be adjusted for brightness, and most darken to a sleep mode to save energy.

Compared to standard laptops (which have greedy hard drives that quickly drain batteries), the battery life of handheld PCs averages a full eight hours-meaning you can put in a full day's work without having to find an electrical outlet. And once back home, with your mobile PC connected to your desktop, you can slip it into its recharging cradle as it simultaneously transfers files.

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This article was originally published in the July 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Palmtop Porridge.

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