Product review: The little black book of the '90s

If you have a Rolodex taking up prime desktop real estate, get rid of it. Replace it with Franklin Electronic Publishers' Rex-3-DS PC Companion, a contact manager on a PC Card. It's the size of a credit card and weighs less than the change in your pocket.

Rex's front panel features a tiny LCD screen that shows your contacts, appointments, a to-do list and even downloaded memos. The device beeps when you have a meeting. The unit has 256Kbytes of memory - enough, the vendor says, for 3000 contacts.

Rex has five buttons that allow you to manoeuvre around its data. Two buttons are arrow keys to move the cursor forward and back; one selects the field over which the cursor rests; one escapes back to the previous level; and the last key brings up a screen telling the viewer where to return the unit if it's lost. Navigating is a bit like using a telephone keypad to search for names in a voice mail system - it's not elegant, but it works. Rex's main drawback is the lack of a search function; to get to a given name you have to click through several layers of on-screen menus.

The software that stores the contact information on the PC side is simple. You can use the product's built-in contact manager, or import data from Act, GoldMine or TeleMagic using the bundled CompanionLink application. Starfish Software's TrueSync Plus, an application that synchronizes withMicrosoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer and others, is available for $US70. If you synchronise, you can choose to include or exclude contacts, meetings, calls and to-do items; you can include all contacts or a subset; and you can omit addresses to save memory.

To download information, you simply insert the Rex card into a PC Card slot. If you're using a desktop computer without a PC Card slot, you use the bundled docking station to quickly transfer data via a serial port instead. You can also buy the Rex without the docking station for about $US85.

Data transfer is one-way only; there's no way to enter data on the card.

Rex is well-designed and handy. My only worry was that I would lose it from a shirt pocket or crush it in a pants pocket. Slipping it into a handbag or briefcase is probably the best way to ensure its safety.

Contact Franklin Electronic Publishers at: www.franklin.com

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