2003 Tech Buying Guide

Market Report

Hybrids look like typical handhelds, but tout the added value of a built-in phone. Some have their microphones and earpieces cleverly concealed -- just use the on-screen dial pad and hold the unit up to your ear as you would with a regular cell; others use a detachable earbud. Downsides to this seemingly perfect marriage? For one, you may not want to invite your relatively bulky handheld out with you on a Saturday night. Also, your current or preferred phone ser-vice might not offer the unit you'd like. Our advice: Because phone-service quality varies widely depending on region, go with a provider you know is solid and choose your device from there.

Those who've never taken to Graffiti can follow the lead of our case-study subject, who speaks highly of his Handspring Treo 270 [Cingular, T-Mobile; plan prices vary]. The QWERTY-style keypad on this 4 x 3 x 1-inch unit isn't as roomy as you'll find on a BlackBerry or a T-Mobile Sidekick, but it has a good tactile response.

59% of Inc.com poll respondents say they're interested in buying a combination device.*

Surprisingly svelte for a color Palm [5 x 2.5 x .7 inches], the elongated and easy-to-grip Samsung SPH-i330 [$500; Sprintpcs.com] is a sturdy, logical choice for those who expect as much use from their PDA and Net appliances as they do their phone. It's slender enough to tuck comfortably into a sport jacket, and its phone features are among the most intuitive you'll find in the category.

Phone calls? That's the least of it. The color Palm Tungsten W [$549; www.palm.com], a keyboard-based sibling to the Tungsten T, lets you chat, manage your e-mail, send short messages, and Web-browse in North America, Europe, and Asia -- all via AT&T's wireless network (service charges apply). Use the included earbud/speaker wire for phone calls, or add the Palm flip cover ($40) with embedded phone components for more compact handling. We found the W's keyboard to be highly "thumb-able," though creating extended e-mails or documents is much easier and more accurate with an optional Palm-compatible extended keyboard.

What to Ask

  • Will I use this most as a PDA or phone?
  • Am I willing to switch cell providers for the device I like?
  • Do I want the extra bulk of this unit at all times?
  • Do I like its phone setup (earpiece vs. built-in mike and receiver)?

Case in Point

Thomas Wagner
Turtle Rock Productions

THE NEED: Thomas Wagner's Filofax had expanded to the size of a file cabinet, and public phones were "not so friendly as they used to be." When a friend showed this Emmy-award winner the Treo handheld/phone in action, it was a confluence of services he says he "could not resist anymore," even though he describes himself as "not a cell phone person at all."

THE SOLUTION: A Handspring Treo 270

FEATURES CONSIDERED: Hands-on testing left him impressed with the form factor. Wagner mainly uses the Treo's address book and memo functions, and enthuses that the Treo weighs less than his late Filofax and is easier to update. "I don't have to carry a manila folder to meetings," he explains, "and I never write on napkins anymore."

IN HINDSIGHT: "I've always thought that these devices are just a way of keeping you at work 24 hours. But this has succeeded in organizing me. It has reduced my paperwork and raised my productivity." His only cavils are the notoriously short battery life of PDA-phone combination devices, and the screen's relative dimness in bright sunlight -- but in all other light conditions, he says, the screen is crisp and readable. As for the phone, he rarely gives out the number but finds it convenient to be able to make calls on the move. "I'll probably wait [to buy my next convergence device] until you can talk to them, Star Trek-style. That's probably coming!"

DON'T FORGET TO ASK: Data backups are vital; ask if your current contact manager or e-mail address book can be successfully exported to the new PDA. Otherwise, sighs Wagner, "it's a hell of a thing doing initial input."

*Results from "What's Your Technology Plan," an Inc.com technology strategies poll conducted between February 11 and 21, 2003.

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

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