Palmtop Porridge

This Palm Pilot's too small, this laptop's too big-but a Jupiter is juuuuuuust right.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Lugging a heavy laptop on business trips can be quite a nuisance, especially if all you need to do is draft a few documents, conduct some research online and pick up e-mail. Or maybe you'd prefer a small device for taking notes during meetings instead of taking up table space with a standard portable.
At one time, we all thought we needed all our desktop data with us at all times-and occasionally we do. However, as portable notebooks have become more complex, many of us now realize that all we really require is a small, light-weight device to hold the documents we type, record dictation and keep us in touch with employees and customers via e-mail.

A Jupiter notebook fits these requirements nicely. (At one time, the term "Jupiter" was used to differentiate small, light portables from the Windows CE-based palm-sized PCs that were their predecessors. Nowadays, Jupiter devices are usually referred to as handheld PCs or PC companions.)
Considerably larger than palm-sized PDAs, Jupiter notebooks can accom-modate bigger, brighter displays and let you type comfortably on Chiclet-sized keys. And because handheld PCs operate on the power-conscious Windows CE operating system without a hard drive, they can run for hours on a single battery charge. Another advantage is that they're instant-on: There's no boot-up wait time, and you're transported back to where you left off when you last used it as soon as you press the "on" button. Convenient is their middle name.

Because they run the not-quite fully equipped pocket versions of standard desktop Windows applications with all the goods stored in volatile RAM and ROM, handheld PCs are intended as traveling "companions"-limited-use machines with limited memory and storage. No worries, though: Windows CE software is designed to synchronize with desktop PC software via serial cables or docking cradles. Once back in the office, simply connect the device to your main computer and exchange data just as you would with a Palm Pilot. With both computers connected, the latest work done on either machine automatically appears on both.

Jill Amadio is a freelance writer in Newport Beach, California, who has covered technology for 10 years.

The Lowdown

These small computers carry a surprising variety of programs in addition to built-in modems. Common applications for Jupiters include Microsoft Pocket versions of Access, Clock, Internet Explorer, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. Hewlett-Packard's HP Jornada 680 manages your phone book and cell phone with TrioPhone Manager 2.0, views e-mail attachments in multiple formats with Inso Outside and manages personal finances with Quicken. Compaq's Aero 8000 includes the Audible Content Player for playing digital audio files downloaded from, while IBM's WorkPad z50 adds its own IBM Global Network Dialer.

NEC MobilePro 780's bonus applications include ArcSoft cePhoto, a digital photo editor, and a Status LED to keep you informed of battery power and remind you of scheduled appointments via a flashing amber light. Another program included is Microsoft Streets, a mapping and routing application to help you find your way over 6.3 million miles of U.S. and Canadian streets and highways. Not too shabby for a little computer sans hard drive that weighs a little less than 2 pounds.

Another alternative is Psion's Series 7. It uses its own operating system spreadsheet, time manager and contacts database but is compatible with Windows 95/98 and NT and can synchronize information with a network. A snappy blue-leather covering sets it apart from the pack.

Although Windows CE comes pre-loaded in ROM in most handheld PCs, additional software must be installed on your desktop using a CD-ROM disk. Because PC companions have no CD-ROM drive, the operating software uses your laptop or desktop's CD-ROM drive. Additional storage can be added using CompactFlash cards, and most Jupiter handhelds have slots for PC cards. Compaq's PC Pro includes a SmartCard, similar to a CompactFlash card. PC cards can use up power pretty quickly, so manufacturers recommend using AC power when you've got a PC card in the slot.

One feature that sets some of these devices apart from standard notebooks is their touch-sensitive screens that use a stylus to activate functions and move the cursor. NEC's MobilePro 780 emits reassuring clicks while you use the stylus to let you know it's working. A few handheld PCs even provide a standard touchpad, too. And if you prefer to dictate rather than type memos, most handheld PCs come with voice recorders-but don't expect high-quality audio. Just remember to have plenty of battery power before you begin.

In terms of weight, Windows CE-based Jupiter devices average less than 2 pounds. The screens measure about half the size of a typical notebook display-and at 10 diagonal inches, Compaq's Aero 8000 Handheld PC Pro has the largest on the market. Displays can be adjusted for brightness, and most darken to a sleep mode to save energy.

Compared to standard laptops (which have greedy hard drives that quickly drain batteries), the battery life of handheld PCs averages a full eight hours-meaning you can put in a full day's work without having to find an electrical outlet. And once back home, with your mobile PC connected to your desktop, you can slip it into its recharging cradle as it simultaneously transfers files.

Need To Know

The average price of a handheld PC isn't much-just $800. (You'll want to search for the lowest prices on the Net.) So if you're willing to trade functionality to gain mobility and reduce costs, a handheld PC fits the bill as a remote workstation. To help you decide if a handheld PC is right for you, consider the following:

  • Understand what you need. What are your key applications? If they include heavy graphics, a handheld PC won't provide the performance you need.
  • Figure out how much accessories will cost. This is especially critical if you do presentations on the road. Printer cables can add to your budget; so can other cables that aren't included, such as serial and VGA cables.
  • To type comfortably, how big a keyboard do you need? Some models have a 95 percent full-sized keyboard, but others have smaller, tiny keys that are sometimes difficult to poke and prod. And make sure to understand the following terms before you shop around:
  • CompactFlash card: About the size of a matchbook, these provide extra storage in special battery-backed memory. The cards are smaller than PC cards, but can be used with a PC card adaptor to fit into standard PC card slots.
  • PC Card: A credit-card-sized ex-pansion card, formerly called a PCMCIA card. Type I are thin and mostly add memory. Type II are thicker and are used for modems, networking and other adaptors. Type III are thickest and used for hard drives. PC cards add a variety of storage and communication functions.
  • SDRAM: Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. A high-speed RAM that can synchronize itself with the clock speed of the microprocessor's data bus.

Shopping List


Aero 800 Handheld PC Pro
(800) 345-1518
16 MB/
1 Type II,
2 CompactFlash slots,
SmartCard reader
10 inches/
7 hours
10.7 by 8.5 by 1/
2.9 pounds
18-millimiter-spaced keys,
Trackpad, modem, voice
recorder, optional docking
HP Jordana 680
(800) 443-1254
16 MB/
1 Type II,
1 CompactFlash Type I
6.5 inches/
8 hours

7.4 by 3.7 by 1.3/
1.1 pounds

76 percent keyboard,
touchscreen, modem,
voice recorder, docking
WorkPad z50
(800) 443-1254, ext. 4751
16 MB
1 Type I/II/III
8.2 inches/
8 hours

8 by 10.2 by 1/
2.6 pounds

95 percent keyboard, Trackpoint,
modem, voice recorder, security
password, optional LAN adaptor

MobilePro 780
(888) 632-8701

32 MB/
1 Type II,
1 CompactFlash Type II
8.1 inches/

9.6 by 5.2 by 1.1/
1.7 pounds

78 keys, touchscreen witht stylus,
modem, voice recorder, optional
docking cradle
Series 7
(800) 99-PSION
16 MB/
1 Type I/II or 1
CompactFlash Type I/II
7.7 inches/
8.5 hours

9.2 by 7.1 by 1.5/
2.5 pounds

Touchscreen and stylus, voice
recorder, optional docking

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