With the current range of communication devices for business
executives on the move, you can keep in touch easily no matter where you happen
to be. Bronagh Miskelly surveys some of the latest models
Accessing a database, making an entry into a spreadsheet or
sending an e-mail used to be something of a grind for the globetrotting
business executive. For the times when you weren’t at your desk, but in some
far-flung location, you needed to lug about a laptop and modem. Addresses and
appointments required their own books or a bulging Filofax, especially if your
phone list runs into the hundreds. Now, shrinking technology means the
computing power we had in the desktop machines of a few years ago can be
carried around in our pockets.
There is a variety of handheld computers, personal digital
assistants (PDAs) and palmtops on the market, from the established Palm Pilot
series to the new Handspring Visors. There are even some mobile phones that are
also PDAs. So are they the latest in executive toys, the 21st century’s answer
to Newton’s Cradle – allowing you to plan golf games surreptitiously – or a
real business tool?
The new breed of machines have come a long way from the
original hand helds of the 1980s, which were unwieldy or required add-on memory
modules, and they offer a range of functions. In addition, because they come in
a variety of guises, there should be one to suit everybody who spends most of
his or her time on the move.
What all the devices have in common is that they offer access
to the Internet and e-mail through a modem or suitable mobile phone link, diary
and contacts option, and at least a basic notebook function. The differences
come in the format or the extras available. To give you an idea of the device
that might suit you, we give you the low down on a selection of the current
Psion has been in the "electronic organiser"
market from the beginning of the gadget revolution and is the original European
leader. But the Psion 5mx should not be thought of as a mere organiser. It is
definitely a handheld computer, giving the impression of a laptop which has
been through the hot wash cycle.
The pop-out keyboard has real keys, rather than the
rubberised buttons you find on mobile phones. Although it is not really large
enough to touch-type comfortably, it does have a familiar feel for users.
Instead of a mouse there is a touch screen and stylus – something common to all
the handheld devices – which allows users to open folders and programmes. The
screen layout, folders and menus provide a user interface reminiscent of a
Applications are also similar to the standard PC. As well as
the ubiquitous diary and contacts options there are word-processing and
spreadsheet programs, which are compatible with Microsoft Office applications.
These files are easily uploaded via a simple cable connection.
The 5mx also has clip art and a sketch pad, allowing you to
incorporate illustrations into documents and e-mails. But, be warned, learning
to draw on screen with a stylus can take quite a bit of practice. And should
you ever completely run out of things to do, there is a battleships game to
On the downside, it can be difficult to position the 5mx to
work comfortably and get good visibility on the screen. And while folding down
to something not much bigger than a spectacles case, the 5mx is not really a
pocket device, as its weight would drag down all but the biggest pockets.
But for those wedded to the notion of a PC-style interface
and who want to get a lot of work done on the move without the need for a
laptop, this device certainly has plenty to offer.
COST $499 WEIGHT 360g MEMORY 16Mbytes
Palm Pilot Vx
If you like your gadgets small and are keen on the neat and
efficient, then check out the Palm Pilot Vx. This minimalist device is the only
truly pocket-sized machine in the selection. At only 11 x 7.5 x 1cm, with a
flap to protect the screen, it will slip neatly into any breast pocket.
The applications on offer are also minimalist when compared
to other devices, but for users who are looking for e-mail, diary and
note-taking facilities only, this may be an advantage. One thing is certain,
compared to the combined size of an address book, diary and notepad, this wins
out – plus you cannot read your e-mail with a Filofax. You can also download a
range of other applications from the Internet, many of them for free.
The Palm may also reduce your need to carry business cards,
at least if you mix with other Palm and Visor users. The contacts program
allows you to create an electronic card which can be zapped to compatible
machines. This certainly beats a pocketful of cards, scraps of paper and
matchbooks, and will be even better when all handhelds are compatible. Other
information – e-mails, letters, "to do" lists, contacts – can be
shared via the same infrared link.
The Palm does not have a keyboard but does offer two modes
for data entry. The first is a miniature on-screen keyboard layout on which you
"type" using the stylus. Or you could use Palm’s proprietary Graffiti
writing system to "write" stylised versions of letters on the screen
with the stylus. Although this is a much faster method, it won’t do much for
So if what you want is a few facts at your fingertips
without being laden down with technology, this may well be the device for you.
COST $399 WEIGHT
115g MEMORY 8Mbytes
Handspring Visor Deluxe
Handspring is the company founded by the original developers
of the Palm Pilot, who left Palm Computing after it was bought by 3Com. Their
new offerings, a range of devices known as Visors, use the same operating
system as the Palms, including Graffiti handwriting. Larger than the Palm Vx,
the Visor Deluxe comes in a range of translucent cases, drawing on the
popularity of iMac styling, and what it loses in slimness it makes up for in
The Deluxe is perhaps most similar in size to the earlier
Palm III, but it offers 8Mbytes of memory. It has the same basic menu offerings
as the Palm Pilot; its additional functionality comes from Handspring’s novel
modular approach. The "Springboard slot" allows you to plug in a
range of add-on devices, such as extra memory or an additional gadget, in the
way you add peripherals such as modems or printers to a desktop computer.
Modules already available include a modem, a memory back-up
unit, a digital camera and a MP3 player, which allows you to listen to music
stored digitally or downloaded from the Internet.
This is a cost- and weight-effective solution if you want a
basic device but are also interested in the option of new gadgets and upgrades
in the future.
COST $249 WEIGHT
153g MEMORY 8Mbytes
Casio Cassiopeia E-115
Compared to the other hand helds in this review, the
Cassiopeia is bulky – close to the size of a small paperback. But the
disadvantage of its size is tempered by just what Casio has managed to pack
into this device. The Cassiopeia is chock-full of goodies and acts as several
gadgets at once.
One of the first devices to use Microsoft’s new Pocket PC
operating system, with 32Mbytes of memory and a colour screen, the Cassiopeia
is fully compatible with Microsoft’s standard and virtually universal PC
systems. As well as Pocket Word and Pocket Excel, there is also a version of
Microsoft Money, allowing you to review your finances on the move and then
synchronise your figures with those on your main computer.
Apart from work-related options, Internet functions and
voice memo recording, the Cassiopeia offers a range of
"entertainment" functions. Reader software and a sharp colour screen
make reading electronic books a reasonably viable option and a number of classics
are included in the package. Or if you prefer music, there is the MP3 player,
which allows you to turn your Cassiopeia into a solid-state Walkman,
downloading music directly to the handheld or via a Flash memory card.
Apart from weight, the Cassiopeia’s main disadvantage is the
lack of a keyboard or "Graffiti-style" handwriting system. Entering
data by tapping out letter by letter with a stylus on an on-screen keyboard is
slow and irritating. But if you are into gadgets as well as wanting to work on the
move, this could prove a fun choice.
COST $599 WEIGHT
225g MEMORY 32 Mbytes.
Ericsson R380 Smartphone
If you don’t like the idea of carrying around a mobile phone
and a PDA, there is a new generation of devices that take advantage of the
development of the mobile Internet. The Ericsson R380 is the first mobile phone
that doubles as a handheld computer. It uses the Symbian operating system,
based on Psion’s EPOC software.
At 13 x 5 x 2.5cm, the R380 is clunky compared to the
average mobile phone, but then you don’t need to carry around a separate
handheld computer as well. At first glance it looks like an ordinary phone, but
the keypad flips down to reveal a letterbox touchscreen. When the flap is
closed the R380 behaves like a phone, but on opening the display changes to the
The phone offers most of the standard handheld functions:
calendar, address book, notepad, memo pad, as well as e-mail and mobile
Internet, using the WAP system. And of course the essential game.
It is an extremely user-friendly device, with an on-screen
keyboard and a handwriting recognition system which is easier to learn than the
Graffiti system. Ericsson also offers a range of accessories, such as a plug-in
MP3 module, which turns the phone into a music player.
COST depends on network WEIGHT