2003 Tech Buying Guide

Market Report

Handhelds (or PDAs) stash your contacts, track your day, and with the right software can even help you find a great Thai restaurant. But can you justify their expense? Research firm Gartner Dataquest reports that 70% of handheld sales last year were made by individual consumers -- not enterprises. Todd Kort, a Gartner analyst, attributes this to "a perception that PDAs are not yet capable of delivering sufficient return on investment." So think hard before buying into costly features such as color displays and built-in cameras -- though they certainly have their professional uses. Consider how long you plan to keep the unit and amortize from there.

Okay, the Palm-based Sony Clie PEG-NZ90 [$800; www.sonystyle.com] could be cost-justified -- if you're a rock promoter with a knack for creative accounting. Its large pivoting color screen, spacious keyboard, and Bluetooth wireless technology put it in the top echelon of power PDAs. Bells and whistles such as the 2-megapixel digital still/video camera and MP3 player are indisputably cool, though the old rule of thumb applies: When one component breaks, or is upstaged by new technology, your kids have a new toy.

Pocket PC price tags are finally falling. Dell's Axim X5 [$249 and up; dell.com] includes pocket PC versions of Word, Excel, and Outlook, and a voice recorder. Use its expansion slots to add memory and software, or to load document files. Also: The Palm i705, at $200, is a durable, no-nonsense PDA entry point for professionals, with a backlit screen, rechargeable battery, and e-mail capabilities.

The recently released HP iPAQ h1910 [$300; shopping.hp.com], a Pocket PC system with a crisp display, is thin and light enough to win over some steadfast Palm snobs. Though it offers only a single expansion slot, it weighs just 4.2 ounces (as compared to the Axim at 6.9 ounces).

What to Ask

  • Does the device offer the software I need for my business?
  • Can I justify the cost of a color display?
  • Do I need expansion slots?
  • Do I want graffiti or keyboard input?
  • How much do size and weight matter?

Case In Point

Mike Schapansky
Pure-Chem Pool Service

THE NEED: Drowning in a flood of paper that held customer data, Mike Schapansky's Austin, Texas-based pool-service company needed to go digital. "We service 700 pools a week," says Schapansky. After the routes had been efficiently plotted, measurements were stored in ever-bulging binders. "If you lost one of these, there was no way of getting the data back," he explains.

THE SOLUTION: Three Palm Zires, three Palm Vs, two Palm 5x, and a Kyocera 7135. "Everything the service guy once put in the binder, now goes into the Palm," he says. "We have all the customer readings since 1999."

FEATURES CONSIDERED: The ubiquity of the Palm is important. It means Schapansky can walk into any store and buy a replacement. Capacity is a big issue for him; he admits, "I get as much stuff on there as I can." Also, his sometimes technophobic service technicians can learn how to use the Palm in "a quick 10 to 15 minutes."

NEXT TIME: He'll upgrade to faster and higher-capacity units as they come to market.

JUSTIFYING THE COST: Although he's hardly a spendthrift, Schapansky spends "thousands of dollars on handhelds and custom programs -- they are worth every penny. I handle many more customer calls daily because I don't have to sift through route books."

DON'T FORGET TO ASK: For those using handhelds out in the field, he suggests checking out flip-top models and hard cases that offer protection from pens, keys, and other implements of destruction that you may carry around.

2003 Tech Buying Guide
Cell Phones
Wi-Fi Networks
Digital Cameras
Videoconferencing Setups
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