Handhelds<@VM>These 24 devices range in price from $149 to $999

Manufacturers add wireless connectivity and color displays to these portable devices as Microsoft launches a new OS to challenge Palm's market dominance

By Richard W. Walker

GCN Staff

The handheld PC wars are heating up, making it a splendid time to be a buyer.

Enter Pocket PC.

Casio Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are jointly launching new lines of handhelds based on Microsoft's Windows-powered Pocket PC. Microsoft Corp. announced this latest version of its Windows CE operating system early this spring at a flashy party at New York's Grand Central Station.

'This is a big win for consumers because there's a lot of significant competition coming into this space,' said Bob Egan, vice president and research director for the mobile and wireless division of GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn. 'I think we're sitting clearly at the beginning of the hype cycle for a lot of these new devices. There isn't going to be one-device-fits-all. But with all of this competition, consumers are the benefactors.'

Tips for buyers
'Don't let the latest cool feature influence your decision. With prices ranging from $100 to $1,000, handhelds come with a wide range of functions and in distinct form factors.

'Look for easy synchronization with your desktop PC applications.

'Calculate how much handheld RAM you'll need. The amount varies widely, from 1M to 32M.

'Opt for a pen-based device if you mostly view data and enter a modest amount of information, such as calendar and contact information or brief notes.

'Test a few handhelds before buying.

'Take into account the lighting conditions in which you'll mainly use a handheld. Not having a backlit screen may dramatically limit a device's use.

The early buzz is that Pocket PC is a considerable improvement technically and aesthetically over previous versions of WinCE. In earlier incarnations, WinCE was slow and cumbersome.

'Pocket PC was designed from the beginning with the mobile world in mind, and Microsoft has done all it can to bundle the software needed to truly enable users to take their desktop with them, wherever they may be,' according to the Yankee Group, a consulting firm in Boston.

To be sure, the big push in the handheld market is all about wireless connectivity. Call it putting a portal in your pocket.

It's no longer just about synchronizing your contacts and agenda with the information stowed on your desktop PC. It's about sending and receiving e-mail and accessing the Internet while on the go.

A recent Yankee Group study of corporate trends found that messaging is the primary wireless application used by organizations today.

'E-mail has become so prevalent that it now exceeds voice mail in importance as a business tool,' the study concluded. 'It is no longer acceptable to corporations for mobile employees to be unavailable to e-mail 90 percent of the day.'

Pocket PC's Pocket Outlook includes the Inbox e-mail program. Using standard Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, Serial Line Internet Protocol or Point-to-Point Protocol, which are built in, Inbox works with any TCP/IP network. Users can also view e-mail attachments in Pocket Word and Pocket Excel.

Compaq's 32M iPaq Pocket PC uses an expansion-pack system to add functionality. Running Microsoft Pocket PC, the device is priced at $499.

Compaq's new iPaq Pocket PC uses slide-on modules'what the company calls expansion packs'to add functionality, including turning itself into a wireless communications device. To access e-mail on the fly, a user slips the device into a PC Card expansion pack with a Cellular Digital Packet Data wireless PC Card.

'The expansion pack allows this device to morph into whatever you need,' Compaq spokesman Mike Hockey said.

With Pocket PC, Microsoft is trying to re-establish its place in the handheld market and take on Palm Inc., with its Palm OS. Palm's line of handhelds currently holds an 85 percent share of the personal digital assistant market.

In recent months, a half-dozen makers of handhelds running WinCE have dropped out of the market. Everex Systems Inc. of Fremont, Calif., has abandoned its Executive, Manager and Freestyle models of WinCE handhelds, and Philips Electronics of Campbell, Calif., decided late last year to discontinue its Nino and Velo lines.

Philips has merged its mobile computing division into its consumer communications group, which makes cellular phones. The company is now looking into producing combination phone-PDA devices that would take advantage of the growing demand for wireless messaging.

'We're really in the early stages of looking at all sorts of different things, evaluating what technologies are out there, what do people want in an ideal device, what's feasible and what compromises have to be made,' Philips spokeswoman Jennifer Masuro said.

Several makers of larger handhelds, which boast roomier keyboards than the smaller devices, have also gotten out of the market.

LG Electronics of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., has scrapped its Phenom handheld, and Hitachi America Ltd. of Brisbane, Calif., has discontinued its HPW-200 handheld and is instead targeting data collection users with a new, tablet-style handheld.

Hewlett-Packard's Jornada 540, priced at $499, also runs Pocket PC and features 16M of RAM.

In addition, IBM Corp. officials said the company has 'no plans to refresh' its miniature notebook WinCE handheld, the WorkPad Z50.

Analysts say the mininotebook handhelds are losing out to the new wave of thinner, lighter notebook PCs from IBM, Sony Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and other makers.

For buyers seeking handhelds with full- or near-full-size keyboards, there are still a few choices, including the Mobilon series from Sharp Electronics Corp., the MobilePro from NEC Computers Inc. and the Series 7 from Psion Inc.

On the wireless front, Novatel Wireless Inc. of San Diego has stopped producing its WinCE Contact handheld PC and is focusing entirely on wireless support devices, such as modems and PC Cards.

'Now we have a wireless PC Card,' Novatel spokeswoman Annette Farrell said. 'Since the PC Cards work with any sort of Windows CE device and it's cheaper, it was superfluous for us to continue Contact.'

And though many vendors are dropping out of the handheld market, there are two new players. Handspring Inc. is selling the colorful Visor handheld that runs Palm OS and has a unique Springboard expansion slot system. And Psion is selling a tiny, keyboard device called the Revo.

With the initial critical success and hoopla surrounding Microsoft's latest offering, mobile-computing analysts said they expect Pocket PC devices to mount a serious challenge to Palm's domination of the market.

'There's a split in the market between standalone PDAs, like the Palm V, and devices that are wirelessly enabled,' GartnerGroup's Egan said. 'In this regard, we think a battle will be waged between the Palm and Pocket PC devices, where Palm's market is likely to be eroded to 60 percent to 65 percent. That's a pretty significant hit.'

The Palm IIIc is the company's first color display handheld. Weighing 6.8 ounces, it is priced at $449.

Despite predictions of lower market share as the confrontation with Pocket PC heats up, Palm will likely continue to make inroads into the federal government, principally through the sale of its handhelds as data collection tools.

For example, the Postal Service has begun using Palms to track mail flow (see story, Page 12). Previously, ramp clerks armed with clipboards inspected mail being loaded on airplanes and then scribbled on paper forms. With the Palms, however, they enter information using screen prompts and drop menus on the Palm's display.

At the end of the day, the clerks upload the data via an Ethernet WAN to a central database in Washington.

But Palm is not resting on its laurels. It recently introduced the company's first color display device, the Palm IIIc, which includes 8M of RAM.

So what's a prospective buyer to do in this market? Do you want just calendar and contacts? Maybe a basic connected organizer will do the trick. But if you use e-mail a lot, you may prefer a pen-based, wireless handheld. For heavier messaging or typing up notes and reports, you'll probably want a device that has a keyboard.

'Do your homework,' Egan said. 'Decide what your primary application is.'

VendorProductBase memoryOperating systemPorts/expansion slotsInputSize in inchesPrice
Casio Inc.
Dover, N.J.
E-115 Pocket PC32MPocket PC1 serial
1 infrared
1 CompactFlash card
Stylus, touch screen0.7 by 5.1 by 3.2$599
Compaq Computer Corp.
iPAQ Pocket PC32MPocket PC 1 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.6 by 5.1 by 3.2$499
Aero 1550 16MPocket PC 1 serial
1 infrared
1 CompactFlash card
Stylus, touch screen0.5 by 3.11 by 5.1$299
Aero 800016MWindows CE 2.01 serial
1 infrared
1 PC Card
1 CompactFlash card internal modem
Keypad, trackpad1 by 8.5 by 10.7$899
Handspring Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.
Visor2MPalm OS 3.1 1 serial
1 Springboard expansion slot
Stylus, touch screen0.7 by 4.8 by 3.0$179
Visor Deluxe8MPalm OS 3.11 serial
1 Springboard expansion slot
Stylus, touch screen0.7 by 4.8 by 3.0$249
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, Calif.
Jornada 540 Pocket PC16MPocket PC1 serial
1 infrared
1 CompactFlash card
Stylus, touch screen0.6 by 5.2 by 3.1$499
Jornada 680/69016M/32MWinCE 2.111 serial
1 infared
1 PC Card
1 CompactFlash card internal modem
Keypad, touch screen1.3 by 7.4 by 3.7$999
IBM Corp.
Somers, N.Y.
WorkPad c32M/8MPalm OS 3.11 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.4 by 4.5 by 3.1$329 to $399
NEC Computers Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.
MobilePro 78032MWinCE 2.111 serial
1 infrared
1 PC Card
1 CompactFlash card
1 VGA out internal modem, USB
Keypad, touch screen1.1 by 5.2 by 9.6$799
MobilePro 88032MWinCE 2.11 1 serial
1 infrared
1 PC Card
1 CompactFlash card
1 VGA out internal modem, USB
Keypad, touch screen1.4 by 9.6 by 5.4$949
Palm Inc.
Santa Clara, Calif.
Palm IIIc8MPalm OS 3.51 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.6 by 5 by 3.1$449
Palm IIIe2MPalm OS 3.11 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.6 by 4.7 by 3.2$149
Palm IIIx4MPalm OS 3.01 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.7 by 4.7 by 3.2$229
Palm IIIxe8MPalm OS 3.51 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.7 by 4.7 by 3.2$249
Palm V2MPalm OS 3.01 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.4 by 4.5 by 3.1$329
Palm Vx8MPalm OS 3.51 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.4 by 4.5 by 3.1$399
Palm VII2MPalm OS 3.21 serial
1 infrared
Stylus, touch screen0.7 by 5.2 by 3.2$449
Psion Inc.
Concord, Mass.
Revo8MEPOC321 serial
1 infrared
Keypad, touch screen0.6 by 6.2 by 3$399
Series 5mx16MEPOC321 serial
1 infrared
1 CompactFlash card
Keypad, touch screen0.9 by 6.5 by 3.3$549
Series 716MEPOC321 serial
1 infrared
1 PC Card
Keypad, touch screen1.5 by 9.2 by 7.1$899
Sharp Electronics Corp.
Mahwah, N.J.
Mobilon TriPad PV-600016MWinCE 3.01 serial
1 PC Card
1 CompactFlash card internal modem
Keypad, touch screen0.9 by 8.9 by 11.4$999
Mobilon Pro PV-500016MWinCE 3.01 serial
1 PC Card
1 infrared internal modem
Keypad, touch screen1.1 by 9.3 by 7.7$899
Mobilon HC-460016M, upgradeable to 32MWinCE 2.01 serial
1 PC Card internal modem
Keypad, touch screen1 by 7.3 by 3.7$649


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