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PDAs these days come across more like little bitty laptops than the portable to-do lists and calendar carriers they started out as. As more power and more features get heaped on, choosing the right handheld for your business style has gotten more complicated. We took a whole stack of Palm OS and Pocket PC devices out for a walk to see what's appealing-and what could use a little tweaking.
One basic question that greets every handheld buyer is, Palm OS or Pocket PC? The chasm between the two isn't all that wide. With the right software for either system, you can pretty much do anything, from reading Word documents to getting e-mail. Many buyers simply prefer the OS they're already familiar with. The Palm OS interface is still as user- and battery-friendly as ever, while Pocket PC effectively mimics its big brother, Windows.
One exception to the two-party system is the Sharp Zaurus SL-5600, which runs a Linux-based operating system. Stylistically, it comes across as a hybrid between the Palm OS and Pocket PC. It takes a little getting used to but is straightforward and capable once you've spent quality time together. The hardware highlight of this model is the nifty hidden keyboard. The design is a little large, but still very functional. Linux enthusiasts in particular will find this handheld exciting.
The Sony PEG-TG50 and the Palm Tungsten C are two Palm OS devices that take different wireless approaches-built-in Bluetooth for the Sony and Wi-Fi built into the Tungsten. It took a little work to get the Tungsten running on our 802.11g wireless network, but it worked fine once the kinks were sorted out. Surfing the Web is cramped on any handheld, but for things like e-mail on the go, the Tungsten works well enough. It's a little hefty, but it packs lots of features-like a comfortable built-in thumb keyboard and the handy Documents to Go software. The Sony has a slimmer design and voice recording that works well. The keyboard is a little awkward at first, but thumb pad aficionados will pick it right up.
We also checked out the Palm OS Handspring Treo 300. (The Treo 600 will be out when you read this.) This PDA/mobile phone combo includes a small backlit QWERTY keyboard. It's a little hefty as cell phones go, but all 5.7 ounces will be appreciated when you're sending e-mails or browsing the Web. The Treo 300 operates on Sprint's PCS Network, reaching peak data speeds of 144Kbps. Expect desktop modem speeds most days.
Over in Pocket PC Land, we rounded up products from Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and ViewSonic. The Hewlett-Packard iPAQ Pocket PC h2200 delivers both performance and good looks. You can sync, transfer and edit standard Microsoft Office application documents and even print from your iPAQ, thanks to its built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled capabilities. The iPAQ's built-in microphone and speaker handle vocal note-taking smoothly.
The Toshiba Pocket PC e755 fits 96MB of memory into a fast-running, no-keyboard package. Connecting to our 802.11g network was effortless with the built-in Wi-Fi.
The inexpensive ViewSonic Pocket PC V37 takes the Weight Watchers prize at a dainty 4.9 ounces. Its no-frills design will appeal to entrepreneurs looking to keep things simple and not weigh their pockets down. The stylus is comfortable, and the battery charger that can be separated from the cradle is a nice touch for traveling.
When shopping for a new PDA, your best bet is to try out each device on your shortlist before buying. Heft them, fiddle with the thumb pad and stylus for comfort, and match the applications and connections to computer systems you already have. There's a host of software available for both Palm OS and Pocket PC, so with just a little effort, you can find hardware that works for you.
Research editor Steve Cooper contributed to this article.
What's in a PDA? Plenty, as we found out after taking these babies out for a spin. Keep them in mind if you're cruising for one.
|Palm OS||5.7 ounces||33MHz||16MB||Always-on e-mail, full-featured mobile phone, Internet access,wireless messaging||$399|
|Pocket PC||5.1 ounces||400MHz||64MB||Built-in Bluetooth, wireless-ready,CompactFlash and Secure Digital expansion slots||$399|
|Palm OS||6.3 ounces||400MHz||64MB||Built-in Wi-Fi, built-in keyboard,Palm expansion slot||$499|
|Linux||7.1 ounces||400MHz||96MB||Built-in keyboard, CompactFlash and Secure Digital expansion slots (also visit www.myzaurus.com)||$499|
|Palm OS||6.2 ounces||200MHz||16MB||Built-in Bluetooth, backlit keyboard,Memory Stick slot||$349|
Pocket PC e755
|Pocket PC||6.9 ounces||400MHz||96MB||Built-in Wi-Fi, CompactFlash and Secure Digital expansion slots||$449|
Pocket PC V37
|Pocket PC||4.9 ounces||400MHz||64MB||Secure Digital expansion slot, super-lightweight||$349|