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The lowdown on PDAs

By Joe Kashi

Lawyers gravitate to mobile equipment -- after all, we're frequently on the go and need to immediately research some legal question, redraft a document or pick up our messages and communicate with others.

Hand-held and subnotebook computers have become mature product categories and, with a few exceptions like the Fujitsu P-2110, the newest models tend to be incrementally better, less expensive variants of already proven systems. This month, we'll examine a range of handheld systems that work well in the legal environment as well as a few subnotebook computers that combine full Windows capability, high performance, and the smallest possible form factor.

Both handheld systems and subnotebook computers have their uses and their proponents. Realistically, though, handheld and subnotebook systems fill complementary needs even as these product lines slowly converge; handheld systems are sporting color displays and faster processors while subnotebook systems are becoming even smaller and lighter. Despite this converge, you'll still need a subnotebook system or full-size notebook computer to execute the full gamut of Windows application software and only a handheld system will comfortably fit in your pocket when you want to travel unencumbered.

Handheld Systems Outlook
Hand-held systems are gaining market share - sales are expected to rise about 25 percent in 2002, even as Palm has been facing increasing challenges in the hardware market. Palm's 2001 hardware market share fell from 50 percent to 38 percent, but the Palm operating system remains dominant. Further complicating the short term sales forecast for hand-held systems is the likely sales slowdown as customers wait for Xscale and palm OS5 products to ship and mature.

In the meantime, expect to see higher end hand-held systems shipping with 802.11b WiFi wireless Ethernet and Palm OS5 and Pocket PC 2002 operating systems becoming increasingly focused upon the large business enterprise as better color displays, wireless Ethernet and higher performance chips proliferate into the hand-held market space.

Handspring Treo
One of the most interesting, versatile and expensive handheld system currently shipping is Handspring's Treo 270, a combination of a high end PDA and a 3rd generation cell phone. The Treo 270 is about the size of a wallet and weighs less than six ounces. Currently shipping versions of the Treo 270 combine Palm's OS4, a high resolution 4096 color screen, 16 MB DRAM, a QWERTY keyboard, wireless connection to the Web and to electronic messaging, and high end cell phone capabilities.

Two Palms
At $279, the Palm m130 is the least expensive color PDA with an expansion slot. It includes a backlit 2" X 2" display that works reasonably well indoors but tends to wash out in bright sunlight. The M130's lithium battery is topped off each time you put the device in its included USB syncing cradle. Specs: 33 MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ, 8 MB standard DRAM, no keyboard, 160 x 160 color screen resolution, Palm OS, IrDA, 0.9" thick X 4.8" H X 3.1" W, Weight 5.5 ounces
Palm's m515 is a color display derivative of the Palm V and usually retails for around $325. The primary improvement incorporated in the m515 is its 2.25" x 2.25" screen, which has a maximum 160 x 160 pixel TFT screen that's capable of displaying up to 65,536 colors and sharply rendered text under most lighting conditions. Unlike the m130, the m515 can be easily upgraded, thanks to its flash memory. Specs: 33 MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ CPU, 16 MB DRAM, Palm OS, IrDA, 0.5" thick, 4.5"H, 3.1"W, weight 5 ounces, voice recording, Palm Expansion Card Slot for MultiMediaCard and SD expansion cards (which add extra memory, standard modem, data backup and distribution, eBooks, games, or reference works such as a road atlas or dictionary), no keyboard

Both Palm units include MGI PhotoSuite Mobile Edition and DataViz's Documents to Go that allow you to create and work with Word- and Excel-compatible files and to view PowerPoint files.

Sony Clie models
Comparable to the Palm m515 in price and general quality, Sony's Clie PEG-T615C uses a higher resolution 2.25" x 2.25", very high quality TFT screen. The Sony, however, includes some useful additional controls that make navigation among screen items much easier. The Sony Clie also uses the Palm OS and similarly ships with DataViz's Documents to Go but does not accept Palm's widely available SD expansion cards. This is an excellent quality PDA unless you really need SD expansion, in which case the m515 makes more sense. Specs for Sony CLIE PEG-N615C: 8 MB DRAM, Palm OS, no keyboard or micorphone, screen resolution 320 x 320 pixels, 65,536 colors, USB and IrDA, memory stick expansion, 0.68" thick x 4.75" H x 2.87" W, weight 6 ounces.

Sony's CLIE PEG-NR70 Handheld usually retails for about $400 to $450 and is more of a convergence handheld that combines significantly expanded multimedia entertainment capabilities with regular PDA functions and data entry either by traditional PDA stylus or a QWERTY keyboard. Specs for Sony CLIE PEG-NR70 - CPU 66 MHz, 16 MB DRAM, Palm OS, IrDA and USB, Memory Stick expansion, 0.7" thick x 5.5" H x 2.87" W, weight 7 ounces.

Pocket PCs
Although Microsoft's Windows Pocket PC 2002 operating system hasn't caught on to the same degree as the Palm OS, there are several similarly small Pocket PC systems that are well worth considering.

HP's Jornada 568 ships with 64 MB DRAM, 32MB of ROM, a 103 MHz data bus and the 206MHz StrongArm processor. This is a capable handheld system whose functionality is closer to traditional notebook computers. The Jornada 565 includes MP3 capability, a non-backlit reflective 240 x 320 pixel TFT color screen that can display 65,536 colors and software to work with and share digital photos. The Jornada 565 usually retails for about $540. The Jornada handheld series includes an IrDA port, a USB synching cradle, and can accept optional expansion hardware that allows wireless Internet access. HP includes Windows Pocket PC 2002 OS and handheld editions of the basic Microsoft Outlook, Word, Internet Explorer and Excel software. Weight 6 ounces. (HP's Jornada 720 is my personal favorite among Windows PDAs.)

Whether Compaq's iPAQ H3835 handheld survives the HP-Compaq merger remains to be seen, but it should. This relatively powerful system, which retails for about $500, has some very nice specifications and is a very usable system. iPAQ H3835 Specs: 206 MHz Intel Strong ARM 32-bit RISC CPU, 64 MB RAM, 32 MB ROM, 240 x 320 pixel 2.25" x 3" color reflective TFT screen, 65,536 colors, Touch Screen, touch-sensitive display, software keyboard, handwriting recognition, voice recorder, USB synching cradle to standard Windows PC.

HP's Jornada 728 is the neatest example of the growing convergence that we've seen between PDAs and full-powered computers. The Jornada 728 weighs a mere 1.1 pounds but includes a real keyboard and a 6.5" 240 x 640 pixel color LCD screen with 2D hardware acceleration and 65,536 colors.

The 728 includes a 206 MHz Intel StrongARM 32 bit RISC processor, 64 MB SDRAM, and a 51 MHz data bus. HP's included lithium battery is rated for 9 hours useful life. I/O ports include a fast 115.2 Kbps serial port, plus single USB, IrDA, and an RJ-11 jack for the built in 56K modem. Audio capabilities include a standard speaker and microphone, a stereo audio jack, and a voice recorder. The Jornada 728 runs Microsoft's Windows for Handheld 2000 operating system, version 3.0 and includes the Pocket versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, and Internet Explorer. Wireless Internet hardware is available but optional. This system isn't quite a desktop replacement, primarily because of the lack of a high resolution video I/O port although the USB port theoretically allows one to connect a separate USB keyboard and CD-ROM. The Jornada 728 retails for $999.

Sony and Fujitsu entries
The next step up the size vs. functionality scale are Sony's VAIO C1 PictureBook and Fujitsu's P1110 LifeBook. Both of these systems use lighweight magnesium alloy cases and TransMeta's new Crusoe processor whose very low power requirements make it particularly suitable for subnotebook computers that need to squeeze as much battery life as possible from necessarily small, light batteries. Each weighs about 2.2 pounds and is remarkably compact given their robust functionality. Sony and Fujitsu both allow the purchaser to choose between home and professional versions of mainstream Windows XP. The Sony C1 includes a low end digital camera and more multimedia and I/O options but costs about $600 more than the P1000. Recommendation: If you want a very compact system oriented toward multimedia, then go with the Sony C1. On the other hand, if you're primarily interested in a very compact but competent business computer at a very good price, then go with the Fujitsu.

Sony C1 PictureBook Specs. CPU: Crusoe 5800 733 MHz processor with 512 KB cache. Memory: 128 to 256 MB SDRAM. Internal I/O: PCI bus with AGP video bus. Display: 8.9" UW-SXGA (1280 x 600) TFT, ATI graphics chip, 8 MB video SDRAM. Multimedia: MIDI, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4 and JPEG support, MPEG2 encoder. Hard Disk: 20 GB, External 16x CD-ROM drive is standard. Floppy disk: Optional external 1.44 MB, 3.5." Modem: Internal 56K V.90 modem. Keyboard: 86 key QWERTY. Pointing device: Stick-type. Built-in stereo speakers and monoaural microphone. Battery options: Standard through optional quad capacity batteries rated for 2 to 15.5 hours. One type II PC Card expansion slot. I/O ports: VGA output, USB, IEEE1394 Firewire, RJ-11 phone jack, audio in, headphone, Memory Stick, RJ-45 Ethernet, AV out, AV in. Size: 1.2" H x 9.9" W x 6.0" deep.

The Fujitsu P1110 ultralight starts with the same 733 MHz Crusoe processor and 8.9" TFT screen as the Sony C1, but omits some of the Sony's multimedia capabilities. On the other hand, a basic but competently equipped P1110 starts are only $1,299 and is quite a bargain. The P1000 and its somewhat larger and more powerful sibling, the P2110, have captured quite an array of awards since their November 2001 introduction. Although too large to be considered a PDA, these systems are definitely small enough to pack into any briefcase. When used with the optional high capacity battery, a Fujitsu P series subnotebook computer should run all day with light usage on a single battery charge.

Fujitsu P1110 Specs. CPU: 733MHz Crusoe 5800. Display: 8.9" wide-format 1280 x 600 XGA TFT with touch screen. Memory: 256MB SDRAM standard. Hard Disk: 20GB standard, 30 GB optional. Floppy Disk: External USB 1.44 MB 3.5" a $20 option. Modem: Internal 56K V.90. Networking: Integrated 10/100 Ethernet standard, 802.11b WiFi Wireless Ethernet a $50 option. Pointing Device: stick-type and also touch screen/stylus. Operating System Options: Windows XP Home, XP Professional, Windows 2000 Professional.

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