Choosing the perfect PDA: personal digital assistants help busy professionals

Choosing the perfect PDA: personal digital assistants help busy professionals – Evaluation

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

If you’re the kind of person who does business on the road, perhaps it’s time you purchased a personal digital assistant. PDAs a-re pocket-sized computing and wireless communication devices that allow you to access computers, fax machines, other PDAs, pagers and anyone who uses the Internet, at anytime from almost anywhere. Nearly 25 million Americans use some form of wireless communications, such as pagers and cellular phones. Manufacturers of PDAs are hoping that their products will continue to fuel this trend toward mobile communications.

DeNatalie Phillips Bryan of the World African Network, a new black-oriented cable TV network based in Atlanta, doesn’t go anywhere without her Sharp Wizard 9500, a low-end PDA that costs about $400.

As the company’s vice president, Phillips Bryan travels frequently and uses the Wizard to keep up with business contacts and track scheduling. “I’ll lose a business card, but once I put someone’s name in this database, it’ll always be there,” says Phillips Bryan.

The computing capabilities of PDAs have come a long way. Once simply superior business organizers, PDAs now support DOS-like operating systems that are compatible with many types of software packages, including handwriting recognition software. Magic Cap, a communications platform developed by General Magic Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif, offers an environment that integrates fax, e-mail, paging, telephones and AT&T’s PersonaLink Services. (AT&T’s PersonaLink Services is an online environment where people can send and receive messages, gather news and information and shop. Several PDAs use communications software like this.

Motorola’s Envoy and Sony’s Magic Link Communicator use Magic Cap. Apple’s Newton Message Pad uses its own operating system, which offers connectivity to Macintosh desktop systems. Comfort with a particular operating system is key to deciding which PDA to purchase.

No matter what operating system a PDA uses, it probably supports an ever-widening range of scaled-down software. For instance, Intuit, makers of popular Quicken software, offers Pocket Quicken for Magic Link and for the Newton. Other companies, such as PenWare, offer spreadsheet software for PDAs.

As communications devices, PDAs are still finding their niche in the telecommunications market. As more telecommunications companies offer greater wireless communication access, and as prices far, PDAs could become as essential to people on the road as the telephone.

Evaluating what your needs are is key to getting the most out of a PDA, says Jim Pachak, director of sales at Wireless Telecom Inc., which distributes PDAs out of Aurora, Colo. Pachak believes that PDAs are most useful to people who work out in the field or who have many people working for them in the field. “If you need to use a computer on a day-to-day basis, then you need a laptop. But if you only use a computer every now and then and you’re constantly out in the field, then you need a PDA.”

You can add features to your PDA by purchasing additional software. You can even purchase additional hardware, such as rechargeable battery packs, memory cards and Windows connectivity packages. So even though PDAs initially cost around $1,000, you can easily spend as much as $3,000 if you add on all the available bells and whistles. The best approach is to purchase a PDA that comes bundled with features you want to use.

Motorola’s Envoy Wireless Communicator $1,000-$1,500; 800-894-7353) comes complete with Pocket Quicken and a two-way wireless packet data modem, and with capabilities for AT&T PersonaLink Services, Radio Mail, Official Airline Guides FlightLine service and America Online.

Sony’s Magic Link (base price: $399.95; 800-571 SONY) comes with integrated communications, datebook, address book, notebook, calendar, world clock, Pocket Quicken and PenCell, and AT&T PersonaLink and America Online capabilities.

Newton Message Pad 120 (about $599; 408-996-1010) comes with a built-in calendar, to-do list, name and address file, productivity tools such as time-zone maps, e-mail, fax and print capabilities.

Sharp’s Zaurus ($849; 800-237-4277) has a larger keyboard than most PDAs. Fully loaded, it comes with fax/modem capabilities, communications software, a full-featured word processor, Spell check and one full megabyte of memory.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

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