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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.