Here's what counts in ranking handhelds' features and assets

Here's what counts in ranking handhelds' features and assets

The GCN Lab invited computer makers to send their handheld, palmtop and companion computers for evaluation. Four companies responded with seven units. Lab personnel designated as palmtops all units weighing less than a pound and lacking a keyboard. Units with a keyboard and weighing up to 2.5 pounds were categorized as handheld computers.

The lab examined the units for ease of use, comparable features, price, out-of-box experience, battery longevity, size and weight.

All the factors contributed to the grade. An ideal unit would be light, easy to see, easy to hear, full-featured and inexpensive. The smaller units received higher marks in the size portion of the grade.

Battery life ranked among the most important characteristics. Rechargeable batteries received the highest marks.

Standard battery cells earned somewhat less because they were less convenient.

Display quality also factored high in the score. Units were evaluated in different lighting conditions including office and outdoor settings. Glare-resistant coatings, color displays and bright screens earned extra points.

Sound quality received less weight than other characteristics. The lab tested by increasing sound volume to the maximum and measuring how easily sounds could be heard at various distances. Units with voice-recording capability received higher grades.

The final usability score incorporated other factors such as device features and operating systems.

'John Breeden II

GCN Lab director Michael Cheek contributed to this review.

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