The lowdown on handhelds

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What is it? A multifunction handheld is a unit the size of a PDA or pager that has some combinations of phone, e-mail, Web browsing and pager services. Some devices have all their capabilities built in, others are easy to add on to.

Price? Prices depend on how much technology you want, what operating system you prefer, and who's selling the device.

Sprint PCS sells the Kyocera SmartPhone QCP 6350, which first hit the market at nearly $500, for as little as $99 after rebate'if you're willing to accept a monochrome device running the Palm operating system. At the other end of the spectrum, Intermec's rugged-ized Pocket PC 2002 sells for about $1,870, but it's designed for a much different use than the SmartPhone.

What are the most important specifications? First, make sure it synchronizes with your desktop PC platform. Palm OS handhelds work with both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows computers. Units running Microsoft's Pocket PC OS only fully synchronize with Windows systems.

Second, consider battery life. If you need to run off of the battery for long stretches of time, look for units with a monochrome display. If you need color, be ready to recharge the battery.

Must-know info? Starting this fall, Pocket PC devices will likely include built-in phones and wireless modems. These will first be available for GSM/GPRS systems and be followed by devices for CDMA networks.

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