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Kings Of The Road

Today's mobile technology tools blaze new trails.
April 1, 1999
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/17566

You've got a super fast notebook computer, a digital cellular phone and an alphanumeric pager for staying connected on the road. You're the entrepreneur on the go, 21st century style, right?

Well, not exactly. In the past year, mobile technology has taken one giant leap for businesskind, logging impressive advancements in both form and function. Some products--ultralight notebooks, for example--are merely improvements on established concepts. Others, such as "smart" wireless phones and pagers, are completely new product offerings, bringing never-before-seen communication capabilities to your business.

With this in mind, here's a look at some of the latest and greatest road-warrior tools. While yesterday's mobile technology still works, today's products show significant progress in ease of use and efficiency. Taking advantage of a few of these tools could provide happier--and more productive--trails along the way.

What's the Skinny?

Many business notebook computers come with all the bells and whistles: 15-inch displays, DVD drives, 8GB hard drives and the like. But who needs it all, anyway? Most entrepreneurs just want to be able to create word-processor documents, send and receive e-mail and access contact-management software when they're away from the office--and do so with a machine that won't send them to the chiropractor.

Indeed, thin is in, and ultraportable notebooks--sleek, compact, feather-light models designed for highly mobile customers--are taking off. Recently, Toshiba introduced the ultraportable Portégé 3020CT ($1,999 street). At a mere 2.9 pounds, it doesn't get any lighter than this. The 3020CT boasts a slick, durable magnesium alloy casing with a silver metallic lid and stands just three-quarters of an inch high when closed.

As for features, the 3020CT provides just enough for general productivity--and no more. With its Intel 300 MHz Pentium processor with MMX technology, 4.3GB hard drive, 32MB EDO DRAM, 10.4-inch TFT display and 56K modem, you can run your general office applications, access the Internet and conduct remote communications.

If you're tired of lugging around a full-sized, feature-laden notebook, ultraportables really take a load off.

One + One + One = One

Is your briefcase bursting with a cellular phone, a pager and a personal digital assistant (PDA)? This year, convergence products merging several functions into one digital unit are all the rage. They simplify and integrate communications technology so you no longer have to monitor separate pager, voice-mail and e-mail messages.

Available by mid-year, the pdQ smartphone from Qualcomm looks like the offspring of a cell phone and 3Com's Palm III. With this 1,900 MHz smartphone (pricing not yet available), you'll not only be able to make voice calls on digital networks using the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standard, but also keep track of appointments, catalog contact information, send and receive e-mail, surf the Net, and receive alphanumeric pages. The PDA features are possible because the pdQ uses the same operating system as the Palm III.

If you often find yourself traveling outside CDMA service areas, you might want to check out Qualcomm's 800 MHz Q phone. A dual-mode analog/digital phone, it automatically switches between CDMA and analog.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

A pager is a pager is a pager, right? One peek at the latest models proves that simply isn't so. PDA features, voice mail and Internet access are among the latest capabilities being built into these little dynamos.

Motorola's PageWriter 2000 ($360 street), for instance, blends Internet access, e-mail and fax support capabilities (where service is available) into a two-way pager. Like traditional pagers, the PageWriter 2000 is small enough to wear on your belt, yet it houses a 47-key QWERTY keyboard for sending messages to other two-way pagers, one-way alphanumeric or numeric pagers, fax machines and e-mail addresses. By mid-year, you'll be able to program the unit to download information from the Internet.

Another new pager to consider: Motorola's LS950v portable answering device ($160 street). The LS950v offers voice messages in the caller's own voice (where service is available)--just like an answering machine. Callers simply dial your pager number and leave a voice message. Motorola has had this technology in limited distribution for a while, but now, with an advanced set of features, it's ready for general-market release. The LS950v holds up to three minutes of messages, reviewable with simple Play, Reverse, Forward and Pause buttons, and allows callers to confirm message delivery.

If you're away from the phone a lot but still need to keep in touch--or want access to news, contacts and information without lugging around a notebook or PDA--consider taking one of these pagers for a test drive.

Any Time, Anywhere

You've probably had an American Automobile Association (AAA) membership for years. During that time, it's come in handy for free maps, discounts on car insurance, and even towing service to get your car to the mechanic when necessary. But can you call AAA for directions to the nearest gas station or hotel? How about for help finding your car when you forget where it's parked in the airport lot?

That's where services like OnStar, with Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology, come in handy. A voice-activated cellular phone in your car can link you to the OnStar Center 24 hours a day to talk with live operators who can pinpoint your exact location and provide directions or just give you the location of nearby hotels, restaurants, ATMs and hospitals.

OnStar services also come to your rescue in times of trouble. If you've locked your keys in the car, the toll-free number puts you in touch with an operator who can unlock your car doors remotely. OnStar can also honk the horn and flash the lights, alerting you to your car's location if you can't find it, or can help locate and recover your vehicle if it's been stolen.

Admittedly, OnStar's GPS technology isn't perfect. It once gave me directions for heading north instead of south, so all the instructions were reversed. It's also fairly pricey: $1,495 plus dealer installation and $29.95 monthly service charges. And it's currently available only on selected Cadillac, Pontiac-GMC, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet automobiles.

If you're on the road a lot, particularly in unfamiliar territory, OnStar makes it easy to get where you need to go. Plus, it's reassuring to know that, no matter where you are, someone's watching over you.

Take It Away

For many road warriors, "portable LCD projector" is an oxymoron. Few meet the size and weight requirements to effortlessly take them on the road or stow them under an airplane seat. The good news: Manufacturers are making great strides in this arena.

The ultimate portable LCD projector, the all-new Scout ($3,000 street) from Lightware, weighs just 5 pounds. Take one look at Scout, and you'll notice it's about the size of an average laptop computer. Its trim size and lightweight design, combined with impressive 500 ANSI lumens, 800 x 600 SVGA compatibility and a 200-watt metal halide lamp, make it a sound choice for business travelers who frequently take their show on the road.

Sharp Electronics offers a light-weight notebook and LCD projector bundle. The Actius A150 UltraLight Notebook ($2,995 street), equipped with Intel's 266 MHz Pentium processor with MMX, 4.3 GB hard drive, 56K modem and 11.3-inch TFT display, weighs just 3 pounds. Combined with Sharp's new Notevision5 ($9,995 street), the total solution weighs just 13 pounds. The new Notevision5 is equipped to handle wireless data transfer from the Actius A150, boasts 600 ANSI lumens, 1,024 x 768 XGA resolution and a 150-watt lamp.

Admittedly, the latest, lightest and most feature-rich mobile technology isn't for everyone. The casual road warrior may not require some of this highly advanced technology nor have much use for very specialized tools. But for those of you who know your flight attendants by name and feel you spend more time away from the office than in it, these tools will take you into the new millennium in style.

Take It With You

Does your business sometimes demand that you work from not-so-ideal locations? Norton Mobile Essentials ($79.95 street) from Symantec Corp. can help. Norton Connection Doctor, for instance, troubleshoots common modem connection problems. It locates the source of the breakdown and provides information to get you connected fast.

Norton Location Controller lets users begin working immediately from any new location by automatically changing settings as soon as Windows is started. It checks for new dial-up settings, automatically adjusts network and default printer settings--even changes your computer clock to the appropriate time zone.

A 30-day trial version of Norton Mobile Essentials can be downloaded at http://www.symantec.com/nme