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Personal Decision

With the sheer number of combo PDAs to choose from, here are some things to think about.

Today's wireless PDAs look less like executive toys and more like useful tools. The CRN Test Center evaluated five products that combine cell phone service, wireless e-mail, instant messaging and Web access--everything an on-the-go professional needs.

The Danger Hiptop, Handspring Treo 300, Palm Tungsten W, Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry 5810 and the T-Mobile PocketPC edition take different approaches to target different audiences. BlackBerry requires its own server on top of a Lotus Domino or Microsoft Exchange server. The $250 (all prices street) BlackBerry 5810 we tested over T-Mobile's wireless network experienced spotty service and e-mail delays-but no problems on the AT&T and Cingular networks. A new BlackBerry Enterprise Server includes wireless scheduling but no automatic synchronization with your desktop computer.

Another Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange client, Handspring's Treo 300 provides two-way synchronization for e-mail and calendars but costs $500. The even more expensive Palm Tungsten W ($549) will need tuning because its network, AT&T Wireless, doesn't provide an SMTP server for outgoing mail. Most users will be able to get mail to its VersaMail POP/IMAP client but not send e-mail unless their ISP allows SMTP relaying, which can be a security hassle.

These products are appropriate for larger firms with enterprise-class e-mail systems. Growing businesses relying on POP3 e-mail systems through ISPs will find two phones using T-Mobile's GSM/GPRS network more to their liking. Microsoft Office users will find Pocket Excel and Word in T-Mobile's $499 PocketPC phone edition easy to work with. E-mail access is via POP3 or IMAP when traveling, and it synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook or accesses Microsoft Exchange servers. Testers found the $500 unit to be bulky compared to other PDAs, but phone quality and battery life were excellent.

A cheaper option is Danger's Hiptop, marketed as the T-Mobile SideKick, which comes with wireless access to one POP3 e-mail account and automatic forwarding from other POP3 accounts. With speakerphone, instant messaging and Web access, the unit is a steal at $299.

Enterprise users emphasizing wireless e-mail might prefer RIM's BlackBerry or, if they are familiar with the Palm OS, Treo or Tungsten. T-Mobile's Pocket PC phone is a nice compromise if you're seeking Microsoft Office on the go. For growing businesses, Danger's Hiptop is a bargain.


Frank Ohlhorst & Michael Gros are affiliated with the CRN Test Center, the technology testing facility for CRN, a newspaper aimed at IT consultants and solution providers.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Personal Decision.

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