Off the Shelf

The handheld Velo 1 operates in the familiar Windows environment. But typing on it may cramp your style

The new handheld pcs (hpcs)--tiny Windows computers--are different from their predecessors, personal digital assistants, because they pack a proprietary operating system into their slender housing. Right now, the king of the HPC hill is Velo 1, by Philips Mobile Computing Group (888-FOR-VELO;; $599­$699). Only 6 3/ 4 inches long and weighing less than a pound, the computer runs on two diminutive AA batteries, on a rechargeable battery, or with an AC adapter. Its CPU is the MIPS R-3900; it also comes equipped with, among other things, a built-in data/fax modem, a speaker, and a microphone. It's a snap to run the set-up utility. The docking station, meanwhile, makes routine communication between the PC and Velo easy, and makes recharging the optional battery pack a no-fuss operation.

Microsoft Windows 95 CE has opened the world of Windows to small hardware platforms. If you're already comfortable using Windows 95, you'll feel at home with CE: compared with the roominess of full-blown Windows 95, it's like a cabin in the mountains, but home nonetheless.

Velo is ready to use as soon as you push its power button. A stylus, which fits neatly into a slot, functions as a mouse. To launch programs, block out text, or make menu selections, you can use either the stylus or the keys located above the keyboard. But be forewarned: the keyboard is cramped, and the keys are stiff.

Built-in programs include Microsoft Pocket Word and Pocket Excel, which can exchange data with their full-size siblings, as well as Microsoft InBox.

Velo's most interesting program is its unique mini-Internet Explorer. Using Velo, I can dial into my Internet service provider, visit Web sites, and send E-mail. I just flip up the neat screen-side RJ-11 jack, plug in my phone line, and double tap on the Explorer icon.

The HPC's expandability is exemplary. Two tiny slots on the back accommodate Miniature Cards, which have 2 to 4 MBs of RAM for upgrades and memory expansion. (The VELO 1 has a RAM ceiling of 36 MB.) You might want to attach a Velo-V module ($99) to the Velo CT port for a Type II PC Card that gives you a wireless connection to pagers or E-mail.

The concept of a Windows 95 interface and a speedy processor squeezed into a tiny box is great. Because of its unwieldy keyboard and archaic graphics display, however, Velo performs best as a receiver and displayer of text. You might consider doubling your $699 in the stock market while you await upgraded, color HPCs.

David Abrahamson ( is a major in the U.S. Army, stationed at the Pentagon.