Carry Your Office in the Palm of Your Hand

A pocket-size device is your computer when you’re on the road.
BY DAVID M. CIESLAK AND MATT VAN WINKLE

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
WELCOME TO THE WORLD PDAs —personal digital assistants. These handheld devices can perform many of your computer tasks and some even do double-duty as cell phones.

THE PDA MARKET IS DIVIDED INTO FIVE GROUPS: Palm, Pocket PC, Blackberry, smartphones and combination devices (which function both as PDAs and cell phones).

IF YOU’RE CONSIDERING BUYING ONE of these devices, be aware of these advisories:

Most Palms and Pocket PCs use a stylus on a touch-screen to input data, although a few models have keypads. However, typing on such a keypad can be awkward because you can use only your thumbs. Palms’ Graffiti software recognizes your handwriting or a unique shorthand alphabet style. It takes a bit of practice to learn, but once mastered, it’s faster than traditional handwriting.

Pocket PCs use letter-recognition technology that allows users to write conventional letters and numbers on the screen. Rather than users’ having to train themselves to write a unique script, the Pocket PC must be trained to recognize individuals’ handwriting. Another option for Palms and Pocket PCs is a portable keyboard, which makes typing fast and easy.

Blackberries come with attached miniature keypads, but users still must type with their thumbs.

Smartphones allow users to input data via the phone key buttons—and therein lies a problem: Phone numbers are entered as they would be on a regular phone, but it’s harder to enter PDA data. Voice recognition technology, which is available for both Palm- and Pocket PC-based smartphones, may accelerate the widespread adoption of smartphones, however.

HUNDREDS OF ADD-ON PRODUCTS FOR PDAs are available. They include full-size folding keyboards, small thumb keyboards, multimedia cards and microdrives for additional data storage.

IT’S BEST TO FOCUS ON THE CORE FEATURES when shopping for a PDA. Begin by listing your needs; once you find the product that matches them, see what bells and whistles you would like to add.

DAVID M. CIESLAK, CPA/CITP, GSEC (GIAC security essentials certified), is principal of Information Technology Group Inc., Simi Valley, California. His e-mail address is dcieslak@itgusa.com . MATT VAN WINKLE is programming director at Information Technology Group. His e-mail address is mvanwinkle@itgusa.com .

ith today’s technology, not only can you take your “office” with you when you travel, but you also can stash it conveniently in your pocket or purse. Welcome to the world of PDAs—personal digital assistants. These handheld devices can perform many of your computer tasks and some even do double duty as cell phones.

This article is for would-be PDA buyers, many of whom feel so overwhelmed by the swift advances in PDA technology they can’t decide which device best meets their needs. After all, new PDA products with advanced features are introduced so frequently that even technology buffs find it difficult to stay in the know. This guide fills that information gap and helps shoppers determine which is the right product for them.

The world of PDAs is divided into five basic groups: Palm, Pocket PC, Blackberry, smartphones and combination devices (which function both as PDAs and cell phones). We’ll explain what they do, what they do well and what they don’t do so well.

The first PDAs to capture the market were Palms and Pocket PCs. In their early incarnations, Palms were designed to provide just the basic functions: address book, calendar, to-do list and note pad. The designers of Pocket PCs, on the other hand, engineered them to emulate a Windows desktop computer; so, in addition to the above basic functions, they added high-resolution screens, multimedia and built-in Microsoft applications. In recent years, however, both products have added features that make them essentially equal in function and capability.

The third PDA category, the Blackberry, was designed primarily as a tool for wireless access to e-mail and the Internet, as a phone and for basic contact management, Outlook integration and calendaring. A few Blackberry models don’t work as cell phones. In general, Blackberries provide fewer bells and whistles than a Palm or Pocket PC. For instance, Blackberry users can’t create Microsoft office documents, play MP3 files, make a voice recording or play games. Also, they have limited ability to add software to expand functions.

The fourth option is the smartphone—a device that takes a traditional cell phone and enhances it with the Pocket PC or Palm operating system so it also can function as a PDA.

The fifth category is the PDA phone—a device that combines a traditional PDA (including Palms and Pocket PCs) with cellular phone technology. With such a device users can wirelessly access e-mail and the Internet, manage calendars and address books and record notes, among other things.

Currently, no one device offers the perfect blend of form and function. The smartphone is a bit larger than a regular cell phone, but the screen is smaller than a typical PDA and data entry is much less efficient in most cases. Moreover, some manufacturers allow their phones to work only on their own wireless network. With a PDA phone, data input is convenient but the phone can be bulky, making it difficult to carry and to hold to one’s ear. While microphones and earpieces are available, it’s still not as convenient or as sleek as a typical cell phone.

If you’re considering acquiring one of these devices, be aware of the following advisories.

ENTERING DATA
Most Palms and Pocket PCs require a stylus on a touch screen to input data, although a few models have keypads. However, typing on such a keypad can be a bit awkward because you can use only your thumbs. Palm’s Graffiti software recognizes your handwriting—or a unique shorthand alphabet notation. It takes a bit of practice to learn, but once mastered, it’s faster than traditional handwriting.

Pocket PCs are more sophisticated: They use letter-recognition technology that allows users to write conventional letters and numbers on the screen. Rather than users’ having to train themselves to write a unique script, the Pocket PC must be trained to recognize individuals’ handwriting. Another option for Palms and Pocket PCs is a portable keyboard, which, unlike a tiny, thumbs-only keypad, unfolds into a full-size keypad and attaches to the PDA, making typing fast and easy.

Blackberries come with an attached miniature keypad; however, users still must type with their thumbs.

Smartphone input is performed via the phone key buttons—and therein lies a problem: Phone numbers are entered as they would be on a regular phone, but entering PDA data is more cumbersome. For example, you must press the number 2 key three times in order to enter the letter C; that doesn’t set speed records—a barrier, for the moment at least, to wide acceptance of combination devices. One technology that may accelerate the widespread adoption of smartphones is voice recognition, which is available for both Palm- and Pocket PC-based smartphones. Someone using Microsoft’s Voice Command for Pocket PC-based smartphones can access contacts, place phone calls, view the calendar and even select music based on album, artist or genre by speaking into the device. The software can be downloaded for a free trial or purchased for $40 at http://microsoft.handango.com .

THE SCREEN
All but the very low-end Palm models (those under $100) have high-resolution color screens—some as high as 320 x 480 pixels. Pocket PCs offer maximum screen resolutions of 240 x 320 pixels. Higher pixel counts produce crisper picture and display more information.

Blackberry devices don’t provide the same level of screen resolution as PDAs. Blackberry’s top-of-the-line model offers 240 x 160 pixels and only some models (the 7200, 7500 and 7700 series) feature a color screen. While their display is not as brilliant as a Palm or Pocket PC, it’s more than adequate for e-mail and contact management.

Smartphones provide display resolution similar to Blackberries (176 x 220 pixels). While the resolution is sufficient for the application, the screen is so small details are hard to recognize.

Pocket PCs use a version of the Windows operating system; as a result they have the look and feel of Windows desktop computers. Palms and Blackberries have their own unique operating system; smartphones can be either Palm- or Pocket PC-based. Users, however, shouldn’t be too concerned about a device’s operating system because all of them have advanced to the point where they are easy to use.

SECURITY
All the devices incorporate password protection. The product with the most advanced security, the HP iPAQ h5555, uses a fingerprint-scanning system.

If you’re considering something that connects wirelessly to the Internet or links to a corporate network, you’d be wise to check with an information technology professional to verify that the security provided by the vendor is sufficient.

WIRELESS NETWORKING SUPPORT
The wireless revolution is changing the way many people work, and users of PDAs must be sure the product they select can do the job whether it’s connecting to the Internet, accessing e-mail or tapping into a corporate network. Three types of wireless connections are available on PDAs: the 802.11b, also known as the wireless local area network (WLAN); the Bluetooth; and the wireless wide area network (WWAN).

Today, when most people talk about wireless, they are referring to Wi-Fi, or WLAN, which often is identified by its standard technical designation, 802.11b. Wi-Fi installations at first were limited to private use—in homes, factories and offices—but now are spreading to public places: restaurants, hotels, airports, schools and even parks. Devices equipped with Wi-Fi electronics can link to these networks, getting fast (from 1 to 11 Mbps) connections to the Internet.

The second type, Bluetooth, provides short-range communication (up to 33 feet). It operates in the 2.4-gigahertz band with transfer speeds of up to 1 million bytes per second (Mbps). Bluetooth typically is used to link a PDA to a remote printer and a phone, a phone to a headset and a PDA to a Bluetooth communication hub that allows multiple devices to connect to each other simultaneously—for instance, a PDA to a printer, phone and headset all at the same time.

Bluetooth technology is being added to many different kinds of hardware—including desktop and laptop computers and printers—allowing these devices to “network on the fly” and share information. Look for this technology to show up in more short-range connectivity devices such as handhelds to printers. For more information on Bluetooth, go to www.bluetooth.com or www.bluetooth.org .

The third wireless option, WWAN, connects a PDA to the Internet via cellular phone technology. To establish a link, users either dial their specially enabled phone or purchase a special card to plug into a PDA. Connection speeds generally are slow, but services soon will be available to boost them to DSL-like speeds.

Lower-end Palms and Pocket PCs generally don’t come with wireless support. Mid- to high-range models can include Bluetooth and/or 802.11b and are expandable with add-on products for wireless support. Blackberries access the Internet with WWAN. Combination devices are designed for WWANs and require a monthly subscription service just as a regular cell phone would. Some smartphones are Bluetooth-enabled but most do not provide 802.11b support. For an overview of some of the basic features of PDAs, see the exhibit below.

PRICING THE PRODUCT
Depending on the features, PDA prices vary significantly. Palm devices begin at $79, offering very basic functions. Pocket PCs start around $200 for a Dell Axim X5, which includes a color screen, plenty of memory and a faster processor than the entry-level Palm. High-end models for both Palm and Pocket PC range from $500 to $800. These models include high-resolution screens, the fastest available processors and built-in 802.11b and Bluetooth compatibility.

Blackberry models are available from about $250 to $500, plus the monthly service of $30 or more for wireless connectivity through providers such as AT&T, Cingular, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Service contracts often are mandatory when buying a Blackberry but can reduce the purchase cost by at least $100.

Combination devices, such as the T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition and the Samsung MPx200, cost between about $250 and $600 and require a monthly wireless service contract in addition to the cost of the voice service.

Caveat: Avoid signing up for lengthy wireless contracts; the marketplace is evolving quickly and the technology that seems both adequate and affordable today could be obsolete by tomorrow.

If product features are paramount and money is no object, consider the current top-of-the-line options for each of the PDA categories summarized below. Again, keep in mind that PDA technology is advancing rapidly, with new, more advanced features being introduced regularly.

Palm: Tungsten C costs $399. Features include built-in wireless (802.11b, Bluetooth and GSM—global system for mobile communications), digital camera, thumb keyboard, MP3 and video playback, memo recorder, Intel 400-megahertz (MHz) processor, 64 Mb of RAM and a 320 x 320 pixel display. It weighs 6.3 ounces.

Pocket PC: HP’s iPAQ h5555 costs $650. Features include built-in wireless (802.11b and Bluetooth), built-in speaker and microphone, MP3 and video playback, integrated biometric fingerprint reader, Intel 400-MHz processor, 128 Mb of RAM and a 240 x 320 display. It weighs 7.3 ounces.

Blackberry: The 7750 Wireless costs $500 with wireless service available from Verizon Wireless. In addition to being data- and voice-enabled, it features a cell phone (with speakerphone), viewable e-mail attachments, optional text messaging, 16-Mb RAM and a 240 x 240 display. It weighs 5 ounces.

Combination device: Samsung’s i700 costs $599 and operates on the Verizon Wireless network. Features include an Xscale 300-Mhz processor, 64 Mb of RAM, camera, phone, hands-free speakerphone, wireless fax and modem, MP3 player and SD (a type of high-capacity memory card) expansion slot. It weighs 6.9 ounces.

Smartphone: The Samsung i600 costs $499 and operates on the Verizon Wireless network. Features include a 200-MHz PXA250 processor, 32 Mb of RAM, Pocket Outlook, Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, the ability to sync directly with your desktop and a 176 x 220 display. It weighs 5 ounces.

BEST VALUES
If value is defined by the number of features a consumer can get for a particular price, then here are what we consider the best values for each category of wireless device:

Palm: Tungsten E and Sony Clie PEG-TJ37.

Pocket PC: Dell X5, HP iPAQ h2215 and HP iPAQ h1935.

Blackberry: Blackberry 7210, 7230 and 7280.

Smartphone: No one device stands out at this point. All models, including Samsung i600, Treo 600 and Kyocera 7135, are competitively priced and “value” really depends on what features you are looking for.

Combination device: T-mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition and Samsung MPx200.

AVAILABLE ADD-ONS
There are hundreds of add-ons for PDAs, especially Palms and Pocket PCs. They include full-size folding keyboards, small thumb keyboards, multimedia cards and microdrives for additional data storage. If a PDA user can dream of some add-on, it probably already has been created. Some of the fancier ones include bar-code scanners, global positioning systems and digital cameras.

In the final analysis, it’s best to focus on the core features when shopping for a PDA. Begin by listing your needs; once you find the product that matches them, see what bells and whistles you would like to add. Once you start using the new device, you’ll find it enhances your workday in many unexpected ways.

A Shopper's Guide to PDAs
  Palm Pocket PC Blackberry Smartphone Combination device
Standard features Traditional PDA features (calendar, task management and address book), plus voice recorder, ability to create and edit Microsoft Office documents, wireless capabilities and multimedia playback. Traditional PDA features (calendar, task management and address book) plus voice recorder, ability to create and edit Microsoft Office documents, wireless capabilities and multimedia playback. Basic contact management and always-on access to e-mail and the Internet. Combines a traditional cell phone with the Pocket PC or Palm operating system. Combines features of a PDA and a cell phone.
Shortcomings Graffiti software takes time to learn. Usually more expensive than Palm. Fewer bells and whistles than Palm or Pocket PC. Inefficient data entry and small screen. Can be bulky and inconvenient when used as a phone.
Input Primarily with a stylus; simplified via Graffiti; some models have attached keyboard. Primarily with a stylus; some models have attached keyboard. Thumb keyboard. Windows-based: Phone keypad; limited input with voice command. Palm-based: stylus or thumb keyboard. Primarily with a stylus; some models have attached keyboard.
Display resolution Most models 320 x 320 pixels; some 320 x 480. 240 x 320 pixels. 240 x 160 pixels; 7700 series offers 240 x 240; 7200, 7500, and 7700 series provide a color screen. 176 x 220 pixels. 320 x 320 pixels.
User interface User-friendly and intuitive; based on Palm operating system. User-friendly and intuitive; based on Windows Mobile 2003. Simple and intuitive, but not as good as Palm or Pocket PC. User interface is intuitive, but small screen makes it more difficult to view. User-friendly and intuitive, based on Palm or Windows Mobile 2003 operating system.
Security Password-protected access. Password-protected access; HP iPAQ 5555 offers biometric security. Password-protected access. and keyboard lock. Password-protected access. Password-protected access.
Wireless network support Midrange to higher-end models include support for 802.11, Bluetooth and wireless WANs. Midrange to higher-end models include support for 802.11, Bluetooth and wireless WANs. Built-in wireless WAN technology. Built-in wireless WAN technology. Built-in wireless WAN technology.
Price $79 to $600 $200 to $650 $250 to $550 $250 to $550 $250 to $600
Top of the line Tungsten C; Sony Clie PEG-UX 50 HP iPAQ h5555 Blackberry 7700 series Samsung i600; Kyocera 7135; Treo 600 Samsung i700
Best values Tungsten E; Sony Clie PEG-TJ37 Dell Axim X5, HP iPAQ h2215 and HP iPAQ h1935 Blackberry 7210, 7230 and 7280 All are priced about the same and offer similar features. T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition; Samsung MPx200
For more information www.palmone.com ;
www.palmgear.com ;
www.wiredguy.com
www.pocketpc.com ;
www.handango.com ;
www.wiredguy.com
www.blackberry.com ;
www.rim.net/products/
handhelds/index.shtml
www.microsoft.com/
windowsmobile/
products/smartphone/
default.mspx ;
www.brighthand.com/
smartphone/index.php
www.microsoft.com/
windowsmobile/
products/smartphone/
default.mspx ;
www.brighthand.com/
smartphone/index.php

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