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Sweaty Palms

Nervous about buying a handheld? Don't be-we'll walk you through it.
December 1, 2000
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/34670

Goodbye, Rolodex, desk calendar, appointment book and notepad. Hello, palmtop. If you don't have one, you've probably been tempted; if you have one of the original Palm Pilots or Windows CE devices, it may be a good time to upgrade. Keep in mind that more palmtops have invaded the market, so picking one has gotten more complicated. We'll guide you through their ups and downs, and help you answer the ultimate question-Palm or Pocket PC?

Palm Fronds

The Palm tree has sprouted new growth with the licensing of its OS to Handspring and Sony. While Sony's plans are still in the works, Handspring's Visor has already become a popular Palm item. Available in a no-cradle $150 (all prices street) Visor Solo version or a $250 Deluxe version with more memory and more iMac-ish colors to choose from, the Visor's strongest selling point is the Springboard system.

The Springboard expansion modules click onto the Visor. Modules currently available include the Handspring Modem ($130), the Backup Module ($40), the 8MB Flash Module ($80) and the Tiger Woods PDA Tour Golf Module ($30). If you don't think Tiger Woods is going to boost your productivity, try the eyemodule Digital Camera ($150, www.eyemodule.com) or the Covey Ref-erence Library ($40).

Not to be outdone, Palm released a beach-full of new handhelds in August. The $150 m100 is in direct competition with the Visor Solo. For a quick fashion makeover, changeable faceplates are available for $20 each. The Palm VIIx ups the memory ante for wireless Web handhelds with 8MB, compared to the original Palm VII's scant 2MB.

To PC Or Not To PC?

Windows CE, Microsoft's original handheld OS, failed to impress very many people. Compatibility glitches and a dearth of applications kept Microsoft from gaining on the Palm OS's 75 percent market share. It didn't take long for Microsoft to brush Windows CE under the rug and relaunch in 2000 with a new system: Pocket PC.

Currently, Casio, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard are the primary Pocket PC manufacturers. Some of their higher-end models are included in the "Shopping List". While Palm still dominates the market, Pocket PCs are good for anyone looking for improved miniversions of Windows software, tight Windows integration and, oh yes, color.

Pretty graphics do come at a price, though. While Palm OS machines like the Palm m100 or Handspring Visor run about $150, Pocket PCs start in the $400 range. Battery drain is also a problem (offset somewhat by using rechargeable batteries). You can expect 8 hours at the most of operational time, depending on usage. Weight may be another concern. At 6.3 ounces, the Compaq iPAQ H3600 isn't too bad, but the HP Jornada 548 is a bit hefty at 9.1 ounces. You might think twice about carrying it in your pocket.

For business owners looking for heavy-duty palmtops, Symbol (www.symbol.com) makes a line of rugged Pocket PCs that include barcode scanning and wireless LAN connectivity. The Symbol machines are designed primarily for use in the workplace, especially under demanding conditions. Most entrepreneurs will want to go with one of the other Pocket PC handhelds for general personal-information management at work and at home.

Behind The Screen

Choosing the right Pocket PC can come down to what's under the hood. The Pocket PCs in our table are in the $500 to $600 range. What's more telling are their processor and memory specs. Unlike grayscale Palms, which have relatively low power and memory overheads, these color handhelds require a decent power plant and plenty of storage room. Most also have a CompactFlash slot for increasing your memory options.

The HP Jornada 548 matches the Casio Cassiopeia E-115 in price and power. Compare HP's 32MB RAM and 133MHz processor to Casio's 32MB RAM and 131MHz processor. Compaq's sporty-looking iPAQ H3600 tops them both with a 206MHz processor, the same 32MB RAM and a lower price tag. The Compaq can also take modular expansion packs similar to those available for the Handspring Visor.

Picking a Palm OS handheld right now seems like a simple question: Palm or Handspring? Handspring has the advantage of the Springboard modules, but the sparse 2MB of memory and the lack of a synchronization cradle offset the low price ($150) for the Visor Solo. Though the Solo would be adequate for no-frills work, the $250 Visor Deluxe makes more sense for business users.

In the Palm camp, choices get more complicated. The m100 is the low end at $150, while the VIIx is the high end at $449. The main reason for buying the VIIx is for wireless Internet access. In between the m100 and the VIIx are the III series and the V series. At just 4 ounces, the $329 Palm V and $399 Vx are the featherweights of the Palm world. As usual, the "x" denotes more memory; in this case, 8MB compared to 2MB.

Finally, we must mention the $399 Palm IIIc. The only color-screen Palm, the IIIc comes with 8MB RAM and a rechargeable battery. Since Palm has built its reputation on a simple grayscale interface and long battery life, the Palm IIIc is a bit of a head-scratcher. A Pocket PC device may be more appropriate for anyone who insists on a color display.

Minisoftware

You don't have to settle for whatever programs happen to be bundled with your handheld. Palm platform owners have an especially wide range of palm-sized software to choose from. Tetris and solitaire may be at the top of the download list, but there's also an abundance of freeware and shareware programs with redeeming business value. CNET's popular Download.com features a Palm OS section.

Eudora (www.eudora.com) offers a free Internet Suite for Palm that includes the Eudora e-mail client for Palm, EudoraWeb browser and Eudora Mail Conduit for synchronizing with your Windows desktop e-mail. Action Names ($20) from iambic Software (www.iambic.com) enhances Palm's built-in personal-information management system. A demo is available for download.

Pocket PC options are more limited, but there are still some third-party programs available. The clearinghouses for downloads are at PocketGear.com and Handango.com. ListPro ($25), a customizable list application, is available from Ilium Software (www.iliumsoft.com). At Handango, $50 will get you the Pocket PC Power Collection from Developer One (www.developerone.com). The suite includes RapidCalc calculator, ScreenSnap image capture and TaskPro Navigator for controlling your applications.

Reach Out And Palm Someone

Palmtops don't have stellar reputations as communications devices, but their Internet capabilities are improving. Just take a look at the Palm VII series, which features small, retractable antennas. Subscribing to the Palm.Net wireless Internet service is necessary to use the VII's capabilities. Service plans start at $9.99 per month for 50KB of data on up to $44.99 for unlimited use. Your Web browsing is limited to the several hundred Web sites that subscribe to Palm's Web clipping protocol.

For those who are mainly interested in e-mail, there are some clever third-party solutions designed for the Palm line. The $99 PocketMail BackFlip (www.pocketmail.com) is a hardware device that attaches to the bottom port of any Palm III, IV or VII series handheld. It can send and receive e-mail by being held up to any phone receiver. Unlimited e-mail costs $9.95 per month. One drawback is that all your e-mail has to go through your designated @pocketmail.com account.

Pocket PC users needn't worry about getting left off the Web. Pocket Internet Explorer and Pocket Inbox come to the rescue, closely simulating the Web browsing we're all familiar with. The HP Jornada 548, for example, can be hooked up to either a landline phone line or through a cell phone for Internet access. Modem options include the Pretec CompactModem ($149, www.pretec.com) for landline connection or the Socket's Digital Phone Card (pricing varies, www.socketcom.com) for hooking up through a mobile phone.

Palms Across The Web

The palmtop community is very active online. You can keep up on the news and product announcements at PalmStation.Com. For those taking their first Palm plunge, NearlyMobile.com provides information and calls itself "The Only Site Dedicated to the Palm Newbie." Technology publisher O'Reilly even has a page dedicated to Palm books: http://palmpilot.oreilly.com. Palm Boulevard (www.palmblvd.com) is a well-stocked resource site with message boards, downloads, reviews and FAQs.

The main resource page for Pocket PC is Microsoft's PocketPC.com. HPC.net offers an abundance of news and downloads for Windows CE and Pocket PC devices. Also, check out Pocket PC Life Magazine (www.pocketpclife.com), an e-zine dedicated to all things Pocket PC. It's also available in a downloadable version for handhelds.

Shopping Guide

PALMS
OS
RAM
SPECIAL FEATURESSTREET PRICE
CASIO
Cassiopeia E-115
(800) 962-2746
www.casio.com
Pocket PC
32MB
131MHz processor, displays 65,536 colors, headphone jack for audio$600
COMPAQ
iPAQ H3600
(800) AT-COMPAQ
www.compaq.com
Pocket PC
32MB
206MHz processor, serial or USB interface, Expansion Pack System, weighs 6.3 ounces

$499

HANDSPRING
Visor Deluxe
(888) 565-9393
www.handspring.com
Palm
8MB
Springboard expansion modules available, Windows- and Mac-compatible, weighs 5.4 ounces

$249

HEWLETT-PACKARD
HP Jornada 548
(888) 999-4747
www.hp.com

Pocket PC
32MB
133MHz processor, serial or USB cradle, rechargeable battery, weighs 9.1 ounces

$599

PALM
m100
(800) 881-7256
www.palm.com
Palm
2MB
Uses AAA batteries, PalmModem ($99) option available, weighs 4.4 ounces

$150

PALM
VIIx
(800) 881-7256
www.palm.com
Palm
8MB
Wireless Web capable (with Palm.Net service), supports Web clipping, weighs 6.7 ounces

$449