The lowdown on PDAs

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What's new this year? Consolidation seems to be a trend: PalmOne bought Handspring last year, and some models were eliminated, but Handspring's Treo communicator phone/PDA remains.

Microsoft has just tweaked its Windows Mobile 2003 software with an update, but there's no major software release'or launch of new products'on the immediate horizon. But the company's Smartphone concept is catching on. The other news: better battery life, better screens and lower prices for some models.

Do PDAs still have a place? Convergence of phones with devices such as the BlackBerry offer stiff competition, but the standalone PDA is still a good choice, especially as a replacement for notebook PCs. The beefiest PDAs, when coupled with an external keyboard and wireless communications, can perform most of the major tasks of a notebook PC, though they are subject to memory constraints. Also, a standalone PDA lets you more easily change cellular carriers and phones, as well as adapt to other communications options, with optional equipment.

What's next? Faster, smaller'or bigger, if you choose'and cheaper. All of these are likely bets. Competition will drive prices down, add small cameras to many models and lead makers to build in wireless solutions.

Must-know info? It might not be a Palm-dominated world forever; Microsoft Windows Mobile Pocket PC market share jumped 50 percent last year, and its products could ultimately overtake Palm. But Palm's easy connectivity with Macs and Windows systems, as well as the great number of applications available for the platform, will keep it in contention for a number of years to come. Linux, on the other hand, seems limited, if not doomed, as a handheld platform.

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