The Windows handheld PC seems to be a dying breed. At one time, great herds of them roamed the computer-retailing landscape, but now there are only a few left. Too small to be laptops and too big to be palmtops, they have built-in, reduced-size keyboards and run Microsoft Windows for Handheld PC 2000 instead of regular Windows.
Two that are still alive and well are the HP Jornada 720 and the NEC MobilePro 780. At $999 and $899, re-spectively, they cost about as much as bargain notebook computers. So what's the point? It comes down to willingness to pay for portability and convenience. The Jornada 720 weighs a slim 1.1 pounds. HP promotes it as a "PC companion," and that's where it works best. A handheld PC won't satisfy as a desktop replacement the way some well-stocked laptops will, but it could be considered a desktop enhancement.
Handheld PCs aren't just limited by small size and memory capacity. (Both the HP and the NEC have 32MB RAM.) The Microsoft software programs that come with Windows for Handheld PC 2000 are merely toned-down versions of the regular software. Pocket Word, Pocket Excel and Pocket Power-Point aren't loaded with the same features as their big-program siblings. Pocket PowerPoint, for example, acts primarily as a viewer, limiting slide creation to title slides only. Still, handheld PCs can be hooked up to external VGA monitors or TVs for presentations just about anywhere.
Another consideration is size. The HP Jornada 720's keyboard measures in at three-quarters of normal size. It's best to get your hands on one and find out if it will work for you before you buy. (People with large hands may find it awkward.) Check out display size, too: The NEC MobilePro 780's 8.1-inch display tops the Jornada 720's 6.5-inch display, but the HP retains a slight edge in processor power.
Handheld PCs also sport integrated modems (like notebooks) and color touchscreens (like Pocket PC palmtops). Depending on your needs, these devices can be either the best of both worlds-or just an exercise in compromise. Either way, it makes checking e-mail on the go easier. Web surfing is also made possible with the addition of Pocket Internet Explorer to the software bundle. These devices are more flexible than the palmtops but lack the full gamut of features you'll get with laptops.