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Features
WinCE Alternatives

-- by Jonathan Karl Matzkin

--Sony Magic Link and Motorola Envoy

The Sony PIC-2000 Magic Link and the Motorola Envoy are highly communications-centric, offering powerful e-mail, fax and graphical Web browsing.

Both machines are tablets and use a pen stylus for navigation and handwriting capture. An on-screen keyboard lets you type on the touch-sensitive screen, or you can add an external keyboard ($99.95). Among the largest of the PDAs, these machines are meant for your briefcase rather than your pocket.

Both run General Magic's Magic Cap operating system, which has one of the most rigorously graphical user interfaces ever created. It's divided into a series of pictorial "scenes," each of which handles a different task. In the desktop scene, for instance, you see a drawing of an office. Click on the mock Rolodex on the desk to open your contact list, and on the Inbox to check for new mail.

Both Magic Cap systems come with a built-in landline modem; the Envoy adds a wireless radio modem. Both offer mail via America Online and, optionally, Internet ISPs. Mail sent between two Magic Cap machines can contain a variety of rich content elements. The Envoy's wireless capability lets you send faxes, and send and receive e-mail via RadioMail.

Magic Cap communicators can remotely access LAN-based cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail systems via PrestoMail ($49.95) or River Run's Mail on the Run ($129). Magic Xchange ($119.95), a utility for your Windows system, lets you exchange files between your PDA and a notebook or desktop.

Sony PIC-2000 Magic Link

Price: $699.95

Sony Electronics

800-55-MAGIC

Motorola Envoy 150 Wireless Communicator

Price: $875 to $1,175, depending on bundled options and RadioMail airtime options

Motorola Wireless Data Group

800-894-7353

--Apple Newton

Apple's debut of the Newton MessagePad PDA received more bad press than a crooked politician, but it has transcended its troubled past to become a useful tool. It's not the mass-market success Apple had hoped for, but improvements in both hardware and software could change that. Version 2.0 of the Newton's OS corrects various deficiencies, and the MessagePad 130 hardware offers key improvements as well.

Handwriting recognition, though much improved, is still not as accurate as the optional Graffiti software. An external keyboard ($79) takes care of the problem. A switchable backlight is another welcome hardware enhancement, as is an increase in the amount of RAM, for a total of 2.5MB.

Another crucial improvement is the Newton Internet Enabler (NIE). This software toolkit provides the basic plumbing for Internet dial-up connectivity. A number of third parties have created apps based on the NIE, including AllPen Software's NetHopper, a text-based Web browser. Mail on the Run (single user, $129), an e-mail package from River Run Software Group, lets you use the Newton to access LAN-based cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail systems.

The Newton's GUI is quite different from Windows, but it's easy to learn. One virtue is its consistent access to tools. For example, an omnipresent Envelope icon provides quick access to communications options.

The newest member of the family, the MessagePad 2000, is expected to ship this quarter for under $1,000. The unit, which runs version 2.1 of the Newton OS, replaces the 130's 20MHz processor with a 160MHz processor and ups the RAM to 5MB. And although the overall size remains the same, the 2000's screen is slightly larger.

New standard features include a built-in Internet e-mail client, word processor, Web browser, spreadsheet and connectivity with Win and Mac desktops.

Apple Newton MessagePad 130

Apple Newton MessagePad 2000

Price: MessagePad 130, $699; MessagePad 2000, under $1,000

Apple Computer

800-538-9696

--U.S. Robotics Pilot

Calling itself a "connected organizer," the Pilot 5000 doesn't profess to be a standalone computer. U.S. Robotics created it as a partner for a Win95 desktop or notebook. You can't generate formatted documents with it, nor is telecom part of the picture. It performs a limited number of tasks, but it does them extremely well.

The unit comes with a cradle that connects to your Windows system via an included serial cable. From there, the HotSynch feature reconciles the data stored in the hand-held with the data in a desktop PIM. You touch the Synch button to initiate the process.

Because the Pilot is designed to do a few focused tasks, U.S. Robotics was able to greatly streamline the hardware. The unit is slightly larger than a pack of cards, and weighs around 5.7 ounces, including the battery. Unlike most hand-helds, it fits in a shirt pocket. It doesn't provide a keyboard, just a pen stylus for entering text via the Graffiti handwriting recognition system. You'll need to learn pen strokes that differ somewhat from standard letters and punctuation marks, but once you learn the system, accuracy approaches 100 percent.

U.S. Robotics also offers a workgroup version of the Pilot. This bundle, which includes five Pilot 5000 units and the Intellisync for Pilot software, is targeted to corporate Microsoft Schedule+ users.

Pilot 5000

Price: $299

U.S. Robotics

800-881-7256, 415-237-6000

--Psion Series 3c

Psion's Series 3 offers some of the best Windows interoperability of any non-WinCE PDA. The latest addition to the line, the 3c, adds a backlit screen and Internet connectivity via software that was scheduled to ship this fall.

The 3c's elegant graphical interface makes effective use of icons and pull-down menus. Built-in apps are accessed from on-screen icons displayed in the 3c's top-level screen. It also supports OVAL, a programming language that allows Visual Basic programmers to develop apps for the system.

Print documents from the 3c with any installed TrueType font. You don't get a WYSIWYG display on the hand-held, but you can specify fonts as you create a document, then print them when you connect to your PC via PsiWin.

Psion offers some nifty add-on products. PsiWin 1.1 ($99), a beautifully laid out connectivity package, mimics Windows 3.x's File Manager. Simply drag and drop files between windows to transfer and convert files to your desktop. PsiMail (single-user license, $149) makes the 3c a good traveling companion for LAN-based cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail users.

The 3c is one of the pricier hand-helds, especially the version with 2MB of RAM ($599). But this little computer puts some serious Windows power in your pocket.

Psion Series 3c Palmtop Computer

Price: 2MB RAM, $599

Psion

800-99-PSION, 508-371-0310

--Sharp Zaurus

Sharp's Zaurus ZR-5800FX combines various good design ideas, offering both a full keyboard and a pen stylus. And Windows users will easily adapt to Sharp's proprietary Synergy OS.

In addition to powerful schedule and contact managers, the Zaurus offers a capable word processor that exchanges rich-text files with Word, and a spreadsheet that reads and writes native Excel 4.0 files. The Notes app lets you scribble notes on screen, and the Scrapbook allows you to create, edit and manage simple graphics.

The Zaurus intelligently integrates different data types within apps. Within the word processor, you can select an address, a return address and your handwritten signature without leaving the app.

Built-in communications software includes a simplified front end for CompuServe and a robust AT&T mail client. Send faxes, and send and receive pager information with the built-in Pager Access client. Optional remote clients are available for LAN-based cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail systems (single-user license, $49). Communications capabilities are available from many apps; just click on the Send icon.

Sharp's Zaurus Application Partner ($139), a Windows-based desktop app, handles file transfers and conversions, and lets you exchange data with Windows' Clipboard via a cable or the Zaurus' IR port.

Sharp Zaurus ZR-5800FX Keyboard Enhanced Personal Digital Assistant

Price: $699

Sharp Electronics Corp.

800-BE-SHARP, 201-529-8200

Copyright 1997 CMP Media Inc.


(From Windows Magazine, January 1997, page 220.)