SAN FRANCISCO (07/26/2000) - Be honest. It's not enough for a personal digital assistant just to keep your address book, calendar, to-do list, and perhaps e-mail handy.
You want one that looks cool. Two of the newest--Compaq Computer Corp.'s IPaq H3650 Pocket PC and Research In Motion Ltd.'s 957 Wireless Handheld--definitely score high in this regard. But at US$499 each, cool doesn't come cheap.
Still, the IPaq is priced competitively with other devices running Windows for Pocket PC (the operating system formerly known as Windows CE for pocket-size PCs). At 6.3 ounces, it's the lightest Windows-powered color palmtop we've seen to date, and it's also impressively svelte. The Jetsonesque silvery case is accented by a black stylus that pops up from the top when you press a button.
Peppy Windows CE
The IPaq device is based on a fast 206-MHz Intel StrongARM 32-bit RISC processor, so in this handheld, Windows CE doesn't drag (compared to the Palm OS). A generous 32MB of SDRAM is available for apps, documents, and data, and there's a handsome 4096-color touch screen.
The stylish cradle, consisting of a silver ring and a black plastic holder, hooks up to a USB port for synchronization with your desktop contact information and documents, once you install a special USB driver. To add an expansion slot, however, you have to slide the device into an optional $39 Compact Flash or a $149 PC Card jacket (the first kit carries a $30 rebate coupon).
In addition to the usual pocket versions of Windows apps and the new Microsoft Reader for displaying books, Compaq throws in its own utilities, with some useful features. One lets you sort program icons into customizable category screens (a longtime Palm OS feature); another automatically backs up your Outlook contact data into the device's 16MB of ROM, so you don't lose them even if your batteries run out of juice.
As with other color palmtops, you have to recharge the IPaq H3650 every few days via the syncing cradle. If that's not a problem for you, and you want the extra functionality of a Windows CE palmtop, this is the best one yet.
Message In A Pocket
The RIM 957 shares the general dimensions of a palm-size PDA; at 5.3 ounces, it's lighter than most. But it is really a mobile e-mail and text messaging device equipped with PDA features. You enter data on a petite keyboard that is adequate for only very brief messages.
A small rock-and-click wheel on the side navigates menus; the escape button is even smaller. You can set the monochrome screen--crisper than those found on devices with a stylus--to 16 or 20 lines.
The RIM 957 comes with software for forwarding POP3 e-mail from a properly configured Internet account (it also has 5MB of RAM for storing e-mail); you can't forward the mail without support from your ISP, which may sell you the device as an add-on to your service. Alternatively, an IT department can set it up to work with Microsoft Exchange Server. The device also comes with IntelliSync software for synchronizing with most popular desktop information packages. Unlimited e-mail service is $40 per month.
The RIM 957 is worth a look if your ISP or IT department supports it, if you want a basic PDA, and if you are willing to pay a premium to get e-mail on a device that's always on, alerting you as messages arrive. But you'll get little enjoyment from composing on that teensy keyboard.
If you don't need wireless messaging, Palms and Windows CE devices can do more and be equally cool.
IPaq H3650 Pocket PC
PRO: Most lightweight and cool-looking color Windows CE palmtop to date.
CON: Expansion kit required for Compact Flash or PC Card slot.
VALUE: Not cheap, but fairly priced for the best Windows CE palmtop yet.
Street price: $499
RIM 957 Wireless Handheld
PRO: Crisp, monochrome screen; lightweight; always-on e-mail.
CON: Pricey; tiny keyboard; requires IT or ISP support.
VALUE: Worthwhile for timely e-mail arrival on the go.
Street price: $499 (e-mail service $40 per month)Research In Motion877/255-2377www.blackberry.net.