From the December 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Wireless PDAs: Cool gadgets or business essentials? You make the call. Hard-traveling entrepreneurs who want to lose their laptop ball and chain will find a lot to like in the current crop of connected PDAs. Your money can be better invested in other features if you don't venture out of the office much-but we're here to talk about what to look for in a wireless--enabled palmtop.

Though the lines are increasingly blurry (see the Handspring Treo Communicator), we try to differentiate between smartphones and wireless PDAs, which are PDAs first of all. Their primary wireless use is for data, Net surfing, checking e-mail and connecting to your own business network on the go. Generally, you'll get a bigger screen and more expansion options than with a smartphone. All those things that used to require a notebook computer and a phone line can be handled on one small device.

Of course, wireless doesn't end there. The $599 (all prices street) Toshiba PocketPC e740 specializes in Wi-Fi connectivity. This is ideal if you have an 802.11b wireless LAN setup or are a connoisseur of the many Wi-Fi hot spots that have popped up like mushrooms across the nation. Airports, hotels and even some coffeehouses will let you check your e-mail or browse the Net. Just keep security in mind. You won't want to access sensitive business documents in strange places without safeguards. On the integrated Bluetooth end of things, the $749 HP iPAQ PocketPC H3970 covers short-range wireless needs.

Palm blazed the trail for wireless handhelds with the much-loved and much-maligned Palm VII. They've followed that device with the $399 Palm i705. Its 8MB RAM and 33MHz processor aren't knockout specs, but its price and straightforward, stripped-down nature is appealing. To get the e-mail, Net and instant messenger goodies, you have to sign up for Palm.Net service. That starts at $19.99 per month for 100KB of data transfer and goes up to $39.99 per month for unlimited use. All transmissions are encrypted.

The T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition comes stocked with a hands-free headset and speakerphone capabilities. Available through T-Mobile, this device will look good to entrepreneurs who place a premium on phone functions, but still want to hang on to all the regular Pocket PC features. Data plans are sold separately from voice plans, and a VPN is required to connect to your business network. The Pocket PC Phone Edition is positioned as a "mobile office solution." It's a well-rounded device for Microsoft operating system fans.

RIM Blackberry messaging pagers are well-known in the business world. RIM has since iced the cake with the $499 957 Wireless Handheld, which runs on a proprietary operating system. You get all the standard PDA functions along with one of the most powerful mobile e-mail setups on the market. If you desire regular cell phone services on top of all that, look to the Blackberry 5810 model. Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino users who are outfitting an entire team of mobile workers will want to give RIM's enterprise e-mail solution service option and quantity discounts a close look. There are extra expenses both upfront and on a month-by-month basis with wireless PDAs, but when it helps your business run more smoothly, it's worth the cost.

Shopping List
How does this new crop of wireless pdas fit within the constraints of your business's budget?

COMPANY
/MODEL
CONTACTOSPROCESSORMEMORYFEATURESTREET
PRICE
Hewlett-
Packard

HP Ipaq
pocketpc h3970
(800)888-0220
hp.com
Pocket pcIntel pxa250
400mhz
64mb
ram
Integrated
Bluetooth
$749
Palm
i705
(800)881-7256
palm.com
Palm
4.1
Motorola
dragonball vz
33mhz
8mb
ram
Gayscale display,
Requires palm.net
Service activation for wireless
$399
Rim
957 Wireless
Handheld
(877)255-2377
researchin
motion.com
ProprietaryIntel
386
5mb
ram
Flash built-in
qwerty thumb keyboard,
password protection
$499
T-Mobile
International

Pocket PC
Phone Edition
(800)937-8997
t-mobile.com
Pocket PC
2002
206mhz
Strong Arm
32mb
ram
Available through
voicestream on
GPRS Network
$550
Toshiba
Pocketpc
e740
(800)toshiba
toshiba.com
Pocket PC
2002
Intel PXA250
400mhz
64mb
sdram
Integrated wi-fi,
compactflash II
and sd expansion
slots
$599