The lowdown on handhelds

What's new? The trend in handheld computing is firmly toward color and communications. Palm Inc.'s newest devices are full-color'one features a built-in camera, the other IEEE 802.11b networking. Many Pocket PC devices available today can add WiFi communications using a CompactFlash card.

Bluetooth is a short-range communications technology; coupled with a Bluetooth-compatible telephone, a personal digital assistant such as Palm's Tungsten T can communicate with e-mail systems and corporate networks.

Do I have to load up on AAA batteries? Save the Duracells for your remotes; just about every handheld today uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery as a power source. Chargers are available for most models for desk use, travel and even in vehicles; the latter are useful when the handheld is also your mobile phone.

Do I still have to brush up on my handwriting? Miniature keyboards in models from Handspring Inc. and Palm have supplanted Palm's Graffiti writing system for the most part. You can still use Graffiti on some models if desired. Handy for mobile users is Palm's $99 folding keyboard, which, like a Palm device, can fit in a shirt pocket.

Which handheld works best with Mac OS or Linux? Palm is the leader in the Mac front, although a program called PocketMac, described at www.pocketmac.net, claims to sync Pocket PC devices with Mac applications such as Entourage. Linux users will most likely want a Sharp Electronics Corp. Zaurus handheld, which runs Linux natively.

Must-know info? The factors keeping handhelds from widespread enterprise use are mostly on the network side. Handheld makers are adding the power, features and wireless connections to make them part of the enterprise'but in many cases they must wait for wireless networks to be built and for industry to resolve security problems.

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