PC Card personal digital assistant falls a little flat

PC Card personal digital assistant falls a little flat

Franklin's Rex Pro includes a handy holder and a docking base. The Rex Pro is basically a PC Card merged with a personal information manager.

By Michael Cheek

GCN Staff

The Rex Pro 5 deserves a big hand for packing into a Type II PC Card what is perhaps the smallest, most useful personal digital assistant available today.

It fits in any notebook computer's PC Card slot, or you can use a slip-in reader that attaches to a PC serial port.

The included TrueSync Plus software from Starfish Software Inc. synchronizes Rex Pro data with the PC.

Sized like a business card except for the 3/8-inch thickness, the unit has a clear, monochrome LCD screen measuring 1.25 inches by 2.13 inches. Along the right side are six buttons'the only way to input data directly. The Rex Pro comes with 512K of RAM, and its two included watchlike batteries are supposed to last up to six months.

Box Score''''''''

Rex Pro 5

Personal digital assistant

with PC Card

Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc.;

Burlington, N.J.;

tel. 800-266-5626


Price: $191 from resellers

+Compact size

+PC Card compatibility

'Needs more customizable options

Box Score''''''''

TrueSync Plus

PDA synchronization software

Starfish Software Inc.;

Scotts Valley, Calif.;

tel. 831-461-5800


Price: Free with Rex Pro 5; $70 for other Rex devices

+Synchronizes with PC data if properly configured

'Hard to understand

'Messed up appointment calendar on first synch

Real-life requirements:

Windows 9x or NT, 133-MHz or faster Pentium, 32M of RAM, 25M of free storage, CD-ROM drive, Type II PC Card slot or available serial port for docking station

As a handy tool for appointment reminders and keeping addresses, the Rex Pro performs well, but it can't handle anything more. Just try entering a short note. The alphabet appears on two lines. You must highlight each letter, one by one, to type'we're talking tedious. And forget e-mail.

It took quite a bit of work to get the Starfish software to synchronize with my Microsoft Outlook 2000 schedule and contacts.

When I finally succeeded, TrueSync got too helpful and scheduled a second set of the exact same appointments throughout my calendar.

I organize contacts by categories. Outlook by default offers more than a dozen categories, but TrueSync can handle only four and, if not properly mapped, fails to transfer categorized contacts to the Rex Pro.

My most important contacts'the ones marked priority'did not appear on the Rex Pro on the first try.

Starfish has updated TrueSync for Outlook 2000, but the update confuses the current version with the previous version, Outlook 98. Moreover, there is no utility for entering directly into the Rex Pro information that you might not want to keep on your PC.

Not so friendly

Some of the device's size restrictions could be overcome with a friendlier desktop software interface. I wanted to try TrueSync Desktop, the personal information manager written specifically for the Rex Pro. But once I had installed TrueSync for Outlook, I was forbidden to install the other version, even after I wiped the Outlook version from the hard drive.

That implies the uninstall routine failed to delete all of its entries from the Microsoft Windows Registry.

TrueSync Plus can also link with Outlook 97 and 98, Microsoft Schedule+ 7.x, Lotus Organizer 97 and 97GS, Symantec Act 3.x and 4.0, and Starfish Sidekick 98 and 99.

The Rex Pro has two alarms, short and long. The short alarm doesn't ring long enough, just four seconds, and the long alarm rings too long at 20 seconds. No snooze delay is available, and if you miss hearing the alarm, which is easy to do, there is no follow-up beep to make sure you acknowledge the appointment.

The main screen ought to show the owner's name, and password protection also is lacking. As it stands, if you lose the Rex Pro, anyone can access your data.

Size and convenience are enticing, but the TrueSync software and the hardware limitations make the Rex Pro fall about as flat as a PC Card.

In next week's issue, I will review a wireless pager that can send and receive e-mail, manage your appointments and do other little services.


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