How to choose a palmtop computer. (includes related article on IntelliLink software for transferring data between computers) (Compute's Getting Started With: Portable Computing) (Buyers Guide)
by Richard O. Mann, David English
Unlike PDAs, which are all promise and little performance, palmtop computers are, happily, a working reality. Some question the true usability of these tiny powerhouses, but sales are brisk and the threat of losing out to PDAs seems to remain in the future.
Palmtops are miniature computers with full but tiny QWERTY keyboards, slots for flash memory, basic applications burned into ROM, and built-in links to regular computers.
Two years ago, there were a half-dozen offerings in the palmtop market, but only three palmtops survive--three excellent, mature products that have enthusiastic followings. The HP100LX is the updated version of the highly successful HP95LX, the Psion 3a is a British import with engaging features, and the OZ-960011 is the latest in the long line of popular Wizard organizers.
The HP100LX (Hewlett-Packard, 800-443-1254, $749) is a checkbook-sized DOS computer running DOS 5. It comes with Lotus 1-2-3 Release 2.4 in ROM, along with a phone and address book database, scheduler and to-do list, financial calculator, text editor, note taker, world clock, stopwatch, and clipboard applications. It also has built-in cc:Mail for E-mail and network communications with cc:Mail-equipped sites. Its standard serial port allows normal file transfers with regular computers and the use of standard modems.
With 1MB of available RAM, the HP100LX allows you to load other DOS applications as long as they and their data fit in that space (unless you use the PCMCIA slot for a flash card, which serves as a virtual hard disk).
The CGA screen isn't backlit, and its 80 x 25 display is pretty tiny. You can zoom up to larger character sizes, which can be helpful. The keyboard is good, but only unusually talented, small-fingered persons can even dream of touch-typing with it.
Best of all, it runs on two AA batteries for months. If a pocket-sized PC appeals to you, this is your computer.
The new Psion 3a (Psion, 508-371-0310, $495 for 256K model, $595 for 512K model) updates Psion's popular Series 3. Built-ins include a word processor compatible with Microsoft Word for DOS, a spreadsheet compatible with Lotus 1-2-3, address and phone database, scheduler and to-do list, world clock, calculator, sound recorder, and its own programming language. One of Psion's tricks is to dial phones when you hold the unit up to the phone's mouthpiece. From that basic sound technology, it was an easy step to recording voice, although memory space limits you to only a few seconds of saved recordings.
Linking to a PC requires an optional $130 program and cable. Flash card memory is also available at extra cost, plugging into either of two proprietary slots (not PCMCIA standard). Two AA batteries can power it for months.
The Psion has a bigger keyboard than the HP100LX, and some claim to have mastered touch-typing on it in limited circumstances. It's possible, but not easy.
What the Psion has is charm. It's fun to play with, fun to show around to people, and fun to use.
Most of us think of the Wizard as the original palmtop. While none of the Wizards have been DOS machines, you can buy connectivity kits that include a serial cable and the necessary software to link your Wizard to a PC or Mac.
The latest Wizard is called the OZ-960011 (Sharp Electronics, 800-321-8877, $649). It retains the excellent keyboard (which is about 75 percent of the size of a normal keyboard), but adds several PDA-like features, including a 320- x 200-pixel touch screen, pen input, and a new easy-to-use graphical environment. Using the onscreen icon buttons, screen-based icons, and pull-down menus, you can access the various personal productivity programs, which include a calendar, schedule program, business card directory, word processor, outline processor, scrapbook, calculator, and home and world clocks.
The unit runs on four AAA batteries and uses an additional CR-2032 lithium backup battery to protect your data for as long as five years.
All this comes in a package that weighs just 15 ounces.
CAN WE TALK?
You're outfitted for travel with a notebook, palmtop, or PDA--but how do you get your portable computer to share its files with your desktop computer? Most palmtops and PDAs have their own schedule and address programs that save to a proprietary file format. Most notebooks have small hard drives, forcing you to choose smaller programs for your notebook--programs which may not be compatible with the applications you use on your desktop computer.
If you have this problem, check out IntelliLink (IntelliLink, 603-888-0666, $99.95). It lets you translate and transfer data between your portable computer's proprietary applications and the popular applications you use on your desktop computer. The transfers are made by hooking your two machines together with a serial cable.
IntelliLink supports a variety of applications, including personal information managers (PIMs), calendar programs, contact managers, databases, word processors, and spreadsheet programs. Portable computers supported include Sharp's Wizard series of palmtops; HP's 95LX and 100LX palmtops, and HP's OmniBook 300 and 425 subnotebooks. The company plans to add support for Casio's B.O.S.S. series of palmtops, Psion's Series 3 and 3A palmtops, and Casio's and Tandy's PDAs.
For example, you might be using the address book and scheduler in your HP 100LX palmtop when you're on the road, but would like to update your schedule and addresses using Lotus Organizer from your desktop computer when you're in the office. IntelliLink can map your 100LX appointments to Organizer's calendar, your 100LX phone records to Organizer's addresses, and your 100LX ToDo tasks to Organizer's To Do. When you're ready to hit the road again, IntelliLink can translate and transfer the files back to the 100LX formats.