PC Expo Picks and Pans

NEW YORK (06/30/2000) - If you want to live life on the go, try the Big Apple.

And if you want to check out the gadgets built for life on the go, there was no better place than this year's PC Expo. Wireless and handheld products drove desktop PCs almost completely off the stage. Amidst the sauna-like show floor, we checked out the countless personal digital assistants, Internet appliances, and sleek long-lasting notebooks designed to keep you connected and productive anywhere. Here are the hits and misses we found in the New York haze.

MOST PROMISING NOTEBOOKS: For once--with Transmeta Corp.'s Crusoe chip--the hype around a product may be justified. IBM Corp., NEC Corp., and Hitachi Ltd. unveiled thin-and-light notebook prototypes that weigh less than four pounds, and run all day on one charge. The IBM Thinkpad 240 promises a whopping eight hours of battery life in a small subnotebook. And for color, the Hitachi Prototypes cased in lime green and bright blue metal afford a slick look to mobile computing. We want one--but vendors may not be committed to shipping these machines.

"Committed would be too strong a word," said one high-ranking computer exec, who is waiting for Microsoft Corp. to certify Crusoe for Windows and worrying if the new brand will turn off corporate customers.--Tom Mainelli, Laurianne McLaughlin, and Bill Synder WEIRDEST-LOOKING PC: Korea's Hyun Ju Computers wins the award for showcasing the weirdest PC form factor. The silver, legacy-free FX3 looks like a Star Wars alien, or maybe a flying saucer that got stuck sidewise when it crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Hyun Ju hopes to sell the FX3 in various configurations starting at US$500.--Tom Spring MOST PROMINENT PLATFORM: Not Windows, but Palm was the clear winner in the operating system category, thanks to the Palm and Handspring booths' plum locations on the show floor and countless other exhibitors that demonstrated Palm OS hardware, software, and services.--Harry McCracken LEAST PROMINENT PLATFORM: Linux generally showed up only in prototypes like the Transmeta notebooks, and in a tiny ghetto buried in a far corner of the show floor.--PC World Staff LAMEST LAPTOP PRODUCTIVITY TOOL: Intrigo's Lapstation sounds like a good idea--a notebook-PC carrying case that unfolds into a workspace, which you can place over your lap, much like a breakfast-in-bed tray. The only problem is that it weighs as much as many of today's notebooks.--Yardena Arar The Whole Whirl in Your Hands COOLEST PALM-BASED PDA: Walkman meets the Palm in the upcoming and unnamed Sony personal digital assistant. Slightly thinner in width than the Palm V, the Sony PDA has the slick purple coloring of the Vaio line and features a Memory Stick slot that could bring Sony content and multimedia.--Cameron Crouch and Laurianne McLaughlin MOST FUN VISOR MODULE: Handspring got a lot of buzz at its booth, where module partners showed off all those long-awaited hardware add-ons. While modules for things like GPS and wireless messaging are bulky, heavy and expensive, the iJam MP3 player module adds a digital music player to your PDA for $130, not including memory. Of course, you could probably buy a separate MP3 player for even less.--Cameron Crouch BEST NEW POCKET PC: Finally a Pocket PC that is as colorful as its display.

Casio unveiled the Cassiopeia EM-500, which comes in a choice of five colors and has a compact, consumer-friendly design. Available at the end of July for $499, the EM500 has 16MB of memory plus a multimedia card slot for expansion, and Casio's video-viewing software.--Cameron Crouch GOT THAT SYNCHING FEELING? The challenge is synching address books and other data on PCs, palmtops, and phones. FusionOne lets you sync all your stuff--desktops, notebooks, personal digital assistants, Web-enabled mobile phones--and it lets you access your bookmarks, e-mail, and other necessities from any Web browser. Office Domain and other companies also demonstrated services and software designed to tackle this long-standing need.--Tom Mainelli and Harry McCracken WHEN "HIGH-TECH HEALTH" ISN'T AN OXYMORON: If you need to shed some stubborn pounds, Healthetech offers a $59 Palm application called DietLog for $59. You enter your current weight, what you want to weigh, and how quickly you want to get there. DietLog calculates exactly how many calories you can take in every day. Using drop-down lists of thousands of foods, you enter what you ate at each meal and DietLog tells you whether you're eating too much. It does not, however, yell out: "Drop the eclair, Fatso!"--Ed AlbroI Wanna Unwire WINNER, NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME AWARD: Wireless Applications Protocol phones.

These devices are supposed to let you pull snippets of information from the Web to your mobile phone. Problem is, the screens are tiny, the connections unreliable, and much of the available information is of questionable value.--Bill Snyder BEST WIRELESS INTERNET SERVICE: Metricom's new Ricochet service--128-kbps wireless Internet access, launching in Atlanta and San Diego next month and due in 21 cities by the end of the year. Expect prices to run between $60 and $90 per month for unlimited access. Woo hoo!--Yardena Arar WINNER, I'LL-EVEN-CARRY-AN-EXTRA-BATTERY AWARD: OmniSky's modem/service for Palm Vs and Handspring Visors combines well-thought-out e-mail, Web clipping, and instant messaging with perfectly adequate 19.2-kbps performance. The service comes at a $40-per-month flat rate. The modem is not cheap at $300, it sucks down its battery in less than eight hours, and when combined with the Palm V, it is much bulkier than the Palm VII. But the result is genuinely useful--as a friend and I were leaving the show, Delta canceled our flight and my friend tapped OmniSky to quickly check our travel options.--Eric Bender WIRELESS PRODUCT TO WATCH FOR: The Aircard 400, from Sierra Wireless. Due around January, this wireless network card will allow you to connect your notebook to your network or the Web at a brisk 128 kbps. Service will initially be available in 46 major U.S. cities, Sierra says.--Bill Snyder Doesn't "Appliance" Suggest "Useful?"

TREND IN SEARCH OF CUSTOMERS: Internet appliances. Companies from Intel to little start-ups showed home Web gadgets in a dizzying range of candy colors.

But few are shipping, and most of the gizmos showed little promise, combining poorly thought-out designs and limited functionality.--Harry McCracken and Bill Snyder WORST INTERNET APPLIANCE: The point of Internet appliances is simplicity, but Intel's Doc.Station goes too far in that direction--call it a dumbed-down iMac.

Using an operating system based on Linux but a box design that thinks it's a retro TV, the Doc.Station handles e-mail, Web surfing, and sticky notes--but not much else. It's bulky, with little metal legs under a giant gray box and a puffy, rounded screen. To show that anyone could use the Doc.Station, Intel hired a "grandma"--complete with flowered apron--to demonstrate the product. If simplicity is what you're after, stick with Netpliance's I-Opener--at least it has some style.--Karen Silver PET PEEVE: The constant reference to "grandmas" (as in "an e-mail machine for Grandma") in the pitches of the appliance hypesters. The assumption that older people are incapable or uninterested in using a real computer is both insulting and inaccurate.--Bill Snyder

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