Date: Sep 19, 2005
The good thing about portable technology is that we’re no longer chained to our desks. The bad thing about portable technology is that we’re no longer chained to our desks. Go figure.
In days of yore (yore being a dozen or so years ago) you did your work at your desk, and when you were away from your desk, you were away from your work. Not so today, and you can thank all the major technology companies for this dubious advancement. Used to be that if you were driving, or out for a walk, or shopping for groceries, you were out of touch, communications-wise. Today, however, thanks to cell phones and wireless PDAs and other such gizmos, you’re never out of touch. You can conduct sensitive business negotiations (or be badgered by your spouse) while shopping for liverwurst or sipping on a latte, much to the annoyance of everyone around you. For better or for worse, you just can’t get away from it all anymore; no matter where you are, you’re still connected, probably wirelessly.
So if the ubiquitous connection is now the rule rather than the exception, you might as well go with the flow—and have a little fun with it. After all, this influx of portable technology is a great excuse to buy all sorts of portable gadgets. And gadgets are definitely fun!
Choosing the Right Gadgets to Fit Your Road Warrior Lifestyle
The big question is, exactly which portable gadgets you need? If you bought one of everything, you’d need Batman’s utility belt to carry them all around—which sort of negates the concept of portability. No, the savvy road warrior picks and chooses his gadgets, to maximize his portable computing and communicating efficiency. It’s possible, after all, to have a single gadget perform multiple functions.
So, which portable gadgets do you need? It all depends on your individual road warrior lifestyle. Here are some hints:
If you breathe oxygen, you need a cell phone—That’s another way of saying that everybody has one, whether they want it or not. A basic cell phone (or mobile, with the accent on the second syllable, as they say across the pond) is the minimum high-tech gadget for just about anyone today.
If you’re sixteen years old, you need a cell phone with text messaging service—Kids like text messaging. Adults not so much, possibly because our thumbs are bigger and less flexible. In any case, txt msg r kwl—unless you can’t decipher message-speak, that is.
If you have a blog, you need a camera phone—Mobile blogs (moblogs, for short) are the latest rage, where you use your mobile phone to take pictures of wherever you’re at, and then post them online for all to see. (You can see my personal moblog at http://www.leoville.com/blog/; just click the Pictures link at the top of the page.) Camera phones are also great for savvy businesspeople; imagine going to a trade show or a client’s presentation and camera-phoning product shots back to the office. And it goes without saying that if you have kids, you have to have a camera phone; kids do the cutest things, and you absolutely must capture every thing they do for posterity, even if you don’t have your big digital camera handy.
If you have to juggle a ton of contacts and appointments, you need a PDA... or maybe a smartphone—A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handheld gizmo with the brains of a computer, minus the keyboard. (They use touch-screen input, instead.) PDAs are great for storing contacts and schedules, and for playing solitaire during boring meetings. Every self-respecting road warrior has one, unless you decide to go with a smartphone instead. A smartphone is a cell phone with PDA functions, or sometimes it’s a PDA that makes phone calls. In any case, one smartphone can take the place of a separate cell phone and PDA, even though it’s enough larger than a cell phone to be somewhat inconvenient for calling, and enough smaller than a PDA to be somewhat unusable for data entry, which makes it pretty much the worst of both worlds, or the best, depending.
If you make a lot of notes to yourself, you need a PDA—Ah, another good use for a PDA, to jot down notes during meetings and such. You could just use a yellow legal pad, of course, but then you wouldn’t have to deal with finicky handwriting recognition systems and storage capacity limits, and what’s the fun in that?
If you travel a lot, you need a laptop PC... or maybe a PDA... or perhaps a smartphone—When you’re away from the office, you not only need to get a little work done, you also have to check your emails—otherwise, the spam quickly builds up to insurmountable levels. So you need to carry something along with you that you can hook up to a phone line (or, ideally, to a wireless hotspot) and check your inbox. The notebook PC is a good workhouse for this task, as you can also use it to write memos and crunch numbers. If you don’t need to write memos and crunch numbers, however, you could always use a PDA (with built-in WiFi) to do the email thing. For that matter, a smartphone can also connect to a WiFi hotspot and send and receive email, if you don’t mind typing on those little Chiclet keys. It’s up to you how big a device you want to carry around, and whether or not you need to do industrial-strength computing while you’re on the road. Or you could be a real geek and carry both a laptop PC and PDA, although that’s kind of a belt-and- suspenders approach to road warrioring, IMHO.
If you take work home from the office, you need a USB memory device—Now here’s a gadget I really like—and one that actually works as promised. In the old days, you transferred data from one location to another via floppy disk, which held a whopping 1.44MB of data. Today, some email messages are larger than this, so you need a portable storage device with more capacity, which is what you get with a USB memory device (sometimes called flash storage, or keychain storage, or a USB drive, or "that little plug-in thingie"). With storage capacities up to 2GB, these little gizmos plug into any PC’s USB port and are instantly recognized as an extra storage drive. Best of all, it’s simple technology that almost always works. Hard to beat, especially when you need to take files back and forth from one location to another.
You get the idea. There’s lots of gadgets you can carry, although you don’t have to carry each and every one. Since many portable gadgets due double and triple duty, it’s a matter of determining what types of tasks you’ll need to do, and picking the right devices for those specific tasks. Do your planning, and you could end up with a single device in your briefcase. Don’t, and you’ll need an assistant to juggle all the different gadgets you carry along!
Shopping for a Laptop PC
For most businesspeople, a laptop PC is an essential portable gadget. With the right laptop, you can do practically any work you would normally do in your office from just about anywhere on the road.
Buying a laptop PC isn’t all that simple, however, because there are so many different types on the market today. At the very least, you’ll have to choose from these types of models:
Ultracompact—If you primarily use your notebook for email and running the occasional PowerPoint presentation (using an external projector), and not for heavy-duty typing or number-crunching, this might be the type of machine for you. An ultracompact has a smaller screen (10’’–12’’) and cozier keyboard than larger laptops, and consequently is smaller and weighs less—and also uses less power, which results in longer battery life. These puppies are easier to slide into a briefcase than larger models.
Business laptop—For most non-executive road warriors, you actually need to do some real work when you travel—which means that a bigger screen and full-size keyboard are important. What we’re talking about here is the traditional business laptop, with a 14’’–15’’ screen, full-sized keyboard, combo CD/DVD drive, and enough computing horsepower for typical Word and Excel use. Do your homework and you can find a model that’s relatively thin and not too heavy; you should also look for a unit that offers decent (3+ hours) battery life.
Desktop replacement—If power matters more to you than portability, you want a laptop that can function as a full-featured desktop PC. These so-called desktop replacement models use standard Pentium 4 processors (instead of the portable-oriented Pentium M) and provide extra-large 15.4’’ or larger screens (typically widescreen) and CD/DVD burning capabilities. You also get more memory, bigger hard drives, and just about everything else you’d expect in a larger PC. The tradeoff comes in terms of size (bigger), weight (heavier), and battery life (none to speak of). A desktop replacement really isn’t an option for a true road warrior, unless you’re always in reach of a power outlet. (BTW, if you’re looking for a laptop for game playing, as discussed in the previous chapter, this is the type of laptop you’re looking for.)
Tablet PC—This is a subspecies of the notebook PC, with a touch screen you can write on—with a stylus, that is, not a real pen. Tablets are great for specific tasks, such as meter reading or checking inventory in a warehouse. For most of us, they’re totally unnecessary for standard computing tasks.
Whichever type of laptop you decide on, you’ll want to make sure it meets some minimal performance specs. Assuming you don’t go the Apple route (which I prefer, but you probably don’t), you should look for a laptop that uses a Pentium M processor (runs cooler and uses less power than standard desktop Pentium 4 processors), has at least 512MB memory, offers built-in 802.11b/g WiFi wireless connectivity, and has a combo CD burner/DVD player drive.
By the way, machines billed as using Intel Centrino technology use Intel’s Pentium M/WiFi chips, which is a sure-fire way to go—but not the only way. Some manufacturers use non-Intel WiFi chips, and even though they use the Pentium M processor, can’t use the official Centrino logo. No big deal, as long as you get some sort of Pentium M/WiFi combination.
Looking forward, we’re just about due for notebooks that use Intel’s next-generation Centrino technology, dubbed Sonoma. These notebooks will have improved performance thanks to a 533Mhz bus, DDR2 RAM, PCI Express, and improved audio and video. Sonoma will also support something called stack execution disabling, which will improve security on next- generation notebooks. Look for it.
Choosing the Right PDA
Even though some experts say the traditional PDA is on the way out (to be replaced by smartphones and semi-smart cell phones), there’s still a market for these little gizmos. No self-respectable gadget geek is without a clunky PDA clipped to his belt, after all.
Now, you wouldn’t expect the PDA market to be any less confusing than other high-tech markets, which is why you have your choice of units that use the Palm operating system (Palm OS) or Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system. Palm OS devices tend to be a little lower-priced than Pocket PCs, although some of the high-end Palm models are every bit as expensive. Features tend to be comparable between the two types of devices, although you should go the Pocket PC route if you need to work with Word or Excel files; Pocket PCs incorporate "pocket" versions of both programs.
The big player in the Palm OS market is palmOne, as the old Palm company now calls itself. (Well, actually, they’re going to go back to calling themselves just Palm again, but we’ll stick with the PalmOne name just to be stubborn.) PalmOne manufactures two different lines of devices (three, if you count the Treo smartphones), the Tungsten line for business users and the Zire line for general consumer use.
The Pocket PC is Microsoft’s answer to the Palm PDA. Pocket PCs tend to be a little more business-oriented and a little more powerful than Palm PDAs—and little more expensive, as well. The major Pocket PC manufacturers are HP and Dell.
Most users use their PDAs pretty much for managing contacts, scheduling appointments, and making to-do lists. (Oh, and playing games—never forget the games!) Palm OS PDAs synch with the Palm Desktop software for all these functions; Pocket PCs synch your Pocket PC contact and appointment lists with Microsoft Outlook. (Most Palm PDAs also come with utility programs that let you synch with Microsoft Outlook, if that’s your preference.) In addition, Pocket PCs are a little more oriented towards traditional office tasks; they come with Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, and Pocket Money, so you can use your Pocket PC to edit the same files you use on your desktop PC.
Which type of PDA should you buy—Palm OS or Pocket PC? My general advice is that if all you need is basic calendar and address book functions, go with the lower-priced Palm OS. If you need to integrate with various Windows applications—Outlook, especially—then spring for a Pocket PC.
Whichever type of PDA you choose, here are some of the things to look for when shopping:
Size and weight—You’ll actually pay more for less—that is, the smaller units come at a premium. That said, some of the most expensive units are the largest, as they incorporate mini-keyboards and built-in cameras, which add to a unit’s heft.
Speed and storage—Even the least expensive PDA is fast enough and has enough built-in storage for all your contacts and scheduling information. If you want to play games, however, you’ll want to consider a unit with a faster processor.
Screen—Color is more expensive than monochrome, of course—but a lot easier on the eye. Some models have a slightly larger display, which is always nice.
Keyboard—Most units feature stylus-based entry. If you prefer to type, consider a unit that features a mini-QWERTY keyboard.
Wireless connectivity—If you’re into connecting on the go, look for either Bluetooth or WiFi wireless connectivity.
Digital music players—Many PDAs also function as digital music players, with built-in media player software. Because the built-in speaker typically leaves a lot to be desired, you’ll probably want to do your listening via headphones.
Digital cameras—For the ultimate in coolness, check out the models with built-in digital cameras. Just make sure you have plenty of storage capacity for all the photos you take!
Of Cell Phones and Smart Phones
Choosing a cell phone is a major lifestyle decision. Do you prefer a flip phone or a candy bar phone? Do you use it strictly for conversations, or do you do text messaging? Do you want to play games on your phone, or watch videos? How about taking pictures? And do you prefer a silver case or a blue one?
More important—well, equally important—is the cell phone provider, and the network technology used. As you’ve no doubt discovered, phones that work with one provider don’t work with another provider. That’s because different providers use different cell phone technologies. In the pre-digital days, analog cell phones used a technology called FDMA (frequency division multiple access). Today’s digital networks (in the U.S., anyway) use different technologies. Sprint and Verizon use 800MHz or 1900MHz CDMA (code division multiple access) technology; Cingular and T-Mobile use 1900MHz GSM (global system for mobile communications) technology. Naturally, they’re all incompatible with each other.
And that’s just within the United States. Overseas (over any sea, actually), GSM technology is standard. However, since European and Asian providers use the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands, these systems are incompatible with the U.S. providers’ 1900MHz GSM systems.
It gets better, especially when you discover that different cell phone manufacturers produce different models for different systems. You might see a particular cell phone you like, but then find out it isn’t available for your particular service provider. So you have to pick a model that works with your particular provider, and vice versa.
Then we have the topic of smartphones. A smartphone is a combination PDA and cell phone; that is, it’s device that makes cellular calls and stores contact and scheduling information. Most smartphones offer a larger display than a normal cell phone (more like a PDA display), as well as a mini-QWERTY keyboard (for data entry).
Why would you want a smartphone? Well, if you carry both a PDA and a mobile phone, a smartphone lets you cut your number of portable gadgets by half—that’s if you don’t mind the compromises inherent in such a combo device, of course. You see, the typical smartphone is somewhat larger than a typical cell phone, shaped and sized more like a PDA. This makes for a somewhat awkward phone, but if you think of it as a PDA plus, then you’re okay.
In any case, before you purchase any smartphone, you should give it a full try-out. Make sure it does everything you need it to do, in a way that’s intuitive and comfortable to you. And definitely be sure you like the size and heft; whichever model you choose, you’ll be using it a lot!
And, no matter which type of phone (smart or otherwise) you choose, check out all the various accessories available—especially headsets. If you use your cell phone for extended periods at a time, you know how uncomfortable it can get. That’s why many people use some sort of headset, so they don’t have to hold the handset to the side of their heads all the time.
All cell phone headsets include an earphone for listening and a microphone for talking. They’re very popular among people who work all day on the phone, such as call center professionals. They’re also great for using a cell phone in the car, which you really shouldn’t be doing anyway, although I know you do.
Until recently, all headsets attached to the phone via a long cord—easy to connect, if somewhat inconvenient. Today, many new headsets attach cordlessly, thanks to Bluetooth wireless technology. If your phone is already Bluetooth-enabled (and more and more are), just synch a Bluetooth headset with your phone and you’re ready to go. If you don’t have a Bluetooth phone, you’ll have to attach a Bluetooth adapter to it to use a wireless headset.
When you’re shopping for a headset, whether wired or wireless, the main thing to look for is comfort. Do you like the way it hangs on your ear? You should also check the performance; those mini-mics don’t always work that well, especially if you’re a quiet speaker. You might have to evaluate several models to find one you really like. And then there’s the style issue; some of these puppies are ultra-stylish, others look like giant plastic bugs growing out of your ear canal. Style is in the eye of the beholder (and the ear of the beholden), so choose accordingly.
Portable Storage for the Portable Lifestyle
Then there’s the gadget for every road warrior—and even for those warriors who don’t hit the road all that much. I’m talking about so-called USB memory devices, which are terrific gizmos for transferring data from one PC to another. These gadgets contain various amounts of flash memory and connect to any computer via a free USB port. When connected, your computer views the device just like another disk drive. You can then transfer files from your computer to the flash memory and back again.
What’s especially cool about these USB memory devices is that they pack so much storage into such a small form factor. Most of these gizmos are truly keychain-sized; you can slip them in your pocket and easily carry them from PC to PC, which makes for truly portable mass storage. And, because they’re pretty much plug-and-play, transferring your files from one computer to another is easy, which is great if you use multiple PCs or travel to various locations.
Some of the early USB memory devices didn’t have much memory onboard—8MB and 16MB devices were common back then. But as the price of flash memory has come down, manufacturers have packed more and more memory into these little doodads. Some models today have 2GB or more capacity, which is big enough to store all but the biggest files. (Heck, that’s big enough to hold a couple of CDs worth of music—uncompressed!)
Of course, the more storage offered, the higher the price. Today’s lowest-priced USB memory devices give you 256MB of storage for $50 or less. Double that price and you’ll get into the 1GB range; 2GB devices typically run over two bills. Choose the right size for your needs, as well as a form factor that you like, and you’ll be a happy warrior.
Apple PowerBook G4
If you’ve ever heard me on the radio or on TV, you know that I’m an Apple fan. So it’s no surprise that my favorite laptop is an Apple, in particular the PowerBook G4. I gotta tell ya, Apple knows how to do laptops right.
Let’s start with the form factor, which is Apple’s real forte. The PowerBook is sleek and slim, and looks as good with the case closed as it does in operation. The keyboard has a nice solid feel, and the screen (no matter which size you go with) is bright with a wide viewing angle. It’s just a nice-looking machine, no matter how you look at it.
Apple offers three sizes of PowerBooks, for different on-the-go needs. The 12’’ model packs a lot of power into a case that’s just 10.9’’ x 8.6’’ when closed; at just 4.6 pounds, it’s ideal for users who like to travel light. The 15’’ model is more of a full-featured business machine, but still thin and relatively light (5.6 pounds). The big 17’’ model is a multimedia powerhouse, ideal for watching and editing video movies; it’s not as portable as the others, but it’s a true desktop replacement machine.
All three of the PowerBooks are super-thin, only 1.18’’ from top to bottom with the case closed. They all come with 512MB memory and Apple’s DVD/CD SuperDrive; depending on the model, you get either a 1.5GHz or 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 processor. Hard disk capacities range from 60GB in the 12’’ model to 100GB in the 17’’ machine. (And here’s something super-neat; the 15’’ and 17’’ models come with full-size illuminated keyboards!)
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Apples are notoriously easy to use, and not as incompatible with Windows PCs as you might think. I know lots of folks who use a Windows desktop PC in the office and an Apple PowerBook on the road; it's a workableand stylishcombination.
Model: PowerBook G4 Manufacturer: Apple (http://www.apple.com) Models: 12-inch Combo Drive (12.1'' screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, 1.5GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB memory, 60GB hard drive, 10.9'' x 8.6'' x 1.18''), 15-inch SuperDrive (15.2'' screen, 1280 x 854 resolution, 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512 memory, 80GB hard drive, 13.7'' x 9.5'' x 1.1''), 17-inch SuperDrive (17'' screen, 1440 x 990 resolution, 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB memory, 100GB hard drive, 15.4'' x 10.2'' x 1.0'') Price: $1,499 (12-inch Combo Drive), $2,299 (15-inch SuperDrive), $2,699 (17-inch SuperDrive)
HP Compaq nc8230
Okay, so most of you prefer a Windows machine to an Apple, and that's okay. When you want a business-oriented Windows laptop, you can't do much better than HP's Compaq nc8230 series. You get a nice big 15.4'' screen, 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750 processor, 1GB memory, 60GB hard drive, DVD/CD-R drive, and built-in 802.11g WiFiall for less than two grand. The whole thing weighs just 5.8 pounds, and it's only 1.1'' deepa decent compromise between size/weight and performance.
Model: Compaq nc8230 Manufacturer: HP (http://www.hp.com) Screen: 15.4'' Processor: 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750 Memory: 1GB Hard drive: 60GB Weight: 5.8 lbs. Price: $1,849
You might not have heard of Averatec, but I have, and I really like their products. What you get with the 6240 is a lot of performance in a decent-sized package (1.18'' thick)and an extremely affordable price. Even better, Averatec's PCs don't use a lot of power, so you get lots of battery timemore than 7 hours, if you're listening to audio CDs. Spec-wise, you get a 15.4'' screen, 512MB RAM, 80GB hard drive, dual DVD burner, and built-in 802.11g WiFi. It might not be a name brand, but you get a lot for your money!
Model: 6240 Manufacturer: Averatec (http://www.averatec.com) Screen: 15.4'' Processor: Mobile AMD Athlon64 3000+ Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 80GB Weight: 6 lbs. Price: $1,199
Sony VAIO T250
Many road warriors prefer an ultracompact laptop, like the Sony VAIO T250. This puppy measures just 10.7'' (w) x 8.1'' (d) x 1'' (h) with the case closed, and weighs in at a paltry 3 poundsjust the right size and weight to carry in your briefcase. It features a 10.6'' screen and Intel Centrino technology, so you get extremely long battery lifeeven with the DVD/CD burner. The only drawback is that the T250 is a tad pricy, but you gotta pay extra to make something this good this small.
Model: VAIO T250 Manufacturer: Sony (http://www.sonystyle.com) Screen: 10.6'' Processor: 1.2GHz Intel Pentium M 753 Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 60GB Weight: 3 lbs. Price: $2,299
Toshiba Portege M200
And now for something completely different. Toshiba's Portege M200 is a combination tablet/notebook PC; just swivel the 12'' screen around to write on it with a stylus, or leave it in place for regular typing. For tablet use, the screen rotates into either portrait or landscape orientation. Feature-wise, you get Centrino technology with built-in 802.11g WiFi and a 60GB hard drive; one drawback is that the base machine doesn't come with an optical drive (Toshiba offers an external USB DVD/CD drive, if you like).
Model: Portege M200 Manufacturer: Toshiba (http://www.toshiba.com) Screen: 12'' Processor: 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M 735 Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 60GB Weight: 4.5 lbs. Price: $1,899
This new Palm OS gizmo is more than a simple PDA. The LifeDrive contains a 4GB hard drive that lets it store and transport PC files, as well as play digital audio and video files. To that end, palmOne doesn't call the LifeDrive a PDA, instead opting for the "Mobile Manager" moniker. Whatever you call it, it's a pretty impressive device.
Let's dispense with all the specs first. You get a 4G MicroDrive for storage, a big 320 x 480 pixel color display, built-in 802.11b WiFi and Bluetooth wireless, an SD/MMC expansion slot, and built-in voice recorder with microphone. It runs the Palm OS 5.4 ("Garnet") operating system, has 64MB RAM, and is powered by a 416MHz Intel XScale processor, which makes it every bit as powerful as competing Pocket PCs.
What makes the LifeDrive stand out from the average PDA is it's hard disk. The LifeDrive's 4GB drive is big enough to hold thousands of Word documents, 1,200 PowerPoint presentations, 1,000 digital photos, 2 1/2 hours of digital video, and such. File management is a drag and drop affair, with selected files easily synced to your PC. The LifeDrive has built-in support for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat files; it also syncs with Microsoft Outlook.
Another unique feature is the LifeDrive's capability as a digital media player. The LifeDrive's hard drive is the same size as the one in an iPod Mini, so there's plenty of storage for MP3 and WMA filesas well as an audio out jack to connect your earphones. The big color screen makes the LifeDrive a decent portable video player, as well, so you're all set for both music and movie playback.
So if you want one unit that can function as a PDA, portable audio player, portable video player, and wireless Internet access device, the LifeDrive does the jobit does all the jobs, actually. The only thing it doesn't do is function as a cell phone, but hey, you can't have everything!
Model: LifeDrive Manufacturer: palmOne (http://www.palmone.com) Operating system: Palm OS 5.4 Display: 320 x 480 Dimensions: 4.76'' (h) x 2.87'' (w) x 0.74'' (d) Weight: 6.8 oz. Price: $499
palmOne Tungsten T5
If you don't want to splurge for the hard drive-enabled LifeDrive, the Tungsten T5 is an equally full-featured Palm OS PDA. It uses the same extra-large 320 x 480 display as the LifeDrive, which you can view in either portrait or landscape modejust turn the T5 on its side, and the screen rotates into landscape mode. You also get built-in Bluetooth capability and an astounding 256MB memorya lot of PDA for your money.
Model: Tungsten T5 Manufacturer: palmOne (http://www.palmone.com) Operating system: Palm OS 5.4 Display: 320 x 480 Dimensions: 4.76'' (h) x 3.08'' (w) x 0.61'' (d) Weight: 5.1 oz. Price: $399
palmOne Zire 72
Tungsten is palmOne's business line; Zire models are aimed at the general consumer market, which means they're a little hipper and more stylish. Case in point: the Zire 72, a feature-packed PDA in a cool blue, rubberized case. The Zire 72's entertainment focus is evident from the built-in 1.2-megapixel digital camera that lets you shoot photos and video clips. You can also record voice memos and play digital audio files; Bluetooth wireless connectivity is built-in.
Model: Zire 72 Manufacturer: palmOne (http://www.palmone.com) Operating system: Palm OS 5.2.8 Display: 320 x 320 Dimensions: 4.6'' (h) x 2.95'' (w) x 0.67'' (d) Weight: 4.8 oz. Price: $299
Dell Axim X50v
If a Pocket PC is what you want, Dell's Axim X50v is one fine PDA. First off, you get a beautiful 3.7'' color screen, really big and sharp with 640 x 480 resolutiontwice that of most handhelds. Second, you get both WiFi and Bluetooth wireless built-in, so you can connect to WiFi hotspots and sync up with Bluetooth accessories. Third, it just looks cool; this is one of the most stylish PDAs on the market today.
Model: Axim X50v Manufacturer: Dell (http://www.dell.com) Operating system: Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Display: 640 x 480 Dimensions: 4.7'' (h) x 2.9'' (w) x 0.7'' (d) Weight: 6.2 oz. Price: $424
HP iPaq h4350
The iPaq h4350 is a full-featured model with a miniature QWERTY keyboard at the bottom of the unit, which makes entering data a snap. (Even cooler, the keys have blue backlighting for typing in the dark!) You also get dual WiFi and Bluetooth wireless, 64MB memory, and a nice 3.5'' color display. Naturally, it runs all the standard Pocket PC applications, and lets you stay in touch at any public WiFi hotspot.
Model: iPaq h4350 Manufacturer: HP (http://www.hp.com) Operating system: Windows Mobile 2003 Premium Edition Display: 240 x 320 Dimensions: 5.4'' (h) x 2.9'' (w) x 0.6'' (d) Weight: 5.8 oz. Price: $449
TomTom Navigator 2004
For the second year running, my Leo's Pick PDA accessory is the TomTom Navigator. This is a cool little gizmo that turns your PDA into a full-fledged GPS navigation system. It offers all the features you'd find in a handheld GPS device, but routes all the information and maps through your PDA.
The Navigator connects to your PDA via Bluetooth wireless technology; you can carry the remote GPS unit in your hand or mount it on your dashboard and then read the results on your PDA's screen. This means that you can use the Navigator as either a handheld or automotive GPS device. TomTom offers models for both Palm and Pocket PC units, as well as lower-priced wired models that forego the wireless Bluetooth connection.
TomTom's navigation software includes tons of U.S. maps, liberally sprinkled with gas stations, restaurants, and other points of interest. The TomTom Navigator not only shows you where you are, but also offers door-to-door 2D or 3D navigation and voice-guided turn-by-turn instructions.
Obviously, you want to plan your route before you start driving, and you can do so by selecting your start and destination from the currently displayed map, entering the start and end addresses manually, or simply tapping the name of the person you want to visit in your PDA's address book. It's really that easy.
I particularly like the "avoid roadblock" feature that provides instant rerouting around major construction and traffic congestion. The Navigator even displays the total distance for your trip and your estimated time of arrival. And if you take a wrong turn, it takes that into account and recalculates your route automatically.
Model: TomTom Navigator 2004 Manufacturer: TomTom (http://www.tomtom.com) Price: $299
HP Bluetooth iPaq Headphones
If you're an HP iPaq user, here's a neat little accessory. These headphones let you use your iPaq as a portable music player, while you listen in privatewithout any cord between your headphones and your PDA. Connection is via Bluetooth wireless technology, and the headphone itself is a comfortable behind-the-head design.
Model: Bluetooth iPaq Headphones Manufacturer: HP (http://www.hp.com) Price: $99.99
palmOne Universal Wireless Keyboard
Inputting data via stylus is a pain; it's much easier to type in large amounts of data, which is where palmOne's Universal Wireless Keyboard comes in. As the name implies, it's a full-size keyboard that connects to your PDA via Bluetooth wireless connection. And, even though this accessory comes from palmOne, it works with any type of PDAeven Pocket PC models.
Model: Universal Wireless Keyboard Manufacturer: palmOne (http://www.palmone.com) Price: $69.99
Veo Photo Traveler Camera
Add a digital camera to your PDA with Veo's Photo Traveler. The Photo Traveler is a 1.3-megapixel camera with 4X digital zoom; it can also be used to shoot moving videos. You can fine-tune your image with the unit's focus dial. The Photo Traveler connects to the expansion slot on the top of your PDA. Versions are available for most major Palm and Pocket PC models.
Model: Photo Traveler Manufacturer: Veo Products (http://www.veo.com) Price: $99.99
ZIP-LINQ Sync-n-Charge Cables
Here's a neat idea: Recharge your PDA from your laptop PC, so you don't have to carry that bulky PDA recharger with you when you travel. Instead, use ZIP-LINQ's Sync-N-Charge cable to connect your PDA to your PC, via USB. Once connected, the cable automatically syncs your data and recharges your PDA. The cable itself includes a retractable doohickey, so when you're not using it it's nice and compact. Sync-N-Charge cables are available for most major Palm and Pocket PC models, as well as selected smart phones.
Model: Sync-n-Charge Manufacturer: ZIP-LINQ (http://www.ziplinq.com) Price: $9.99
palmOne Treo 650
A smartphone is a mobile phone that adds PDA functionality. That is, it's a cell phone you can use like a PDAor a PDA you can use like a phone.
My favorite smartphone is the Treo 650, the latest update of my last year's Leo's Pick, the venerable Treo 600. The nice thing about the Treo 650, like its predecessor, is that it does both things wellit's a good phone and a good Palm OS PDA, no compromises on either side.
Design-wise, the Treo 650 looks like a PDA with a miniature QWERTY keyboard at the bottom. While it's a little bigger than a standard cell phone, it's still small enough to fit nicely in your handand, when you're talking, against your ear.
As you might expect, the Treo 650 functions both as a cell phone and as a Palm OS PDA. That means you can use it to manage all your appointments and contactsand dial directly from your Palm address book.
But, as the carnival barker used to say, that's not all, folks. The Treo 650 also has a built-in camera, complete with picture caller ID on the big touch-screen display. You can also use the touch-screen to display an onscreen dial pad for push-button dialing.
And there's more. The Treo 650 has an integrated speaker phone, a built-in MP3 player, an SD/MMC expansion slot, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. You also get all the applications that come with the Palm OS operating system, as well as Internet email, SMS text messaging, and MMS multimedia messaging. It's Internet-enabled with a color Web browser. Lots of features in a handy all-in-one device; pretty smart, eh?
Model: Treo 650 Manufacturer: palmOne (http://www.palmone.com) Operating system: Palm OS 5.4 Display: 320 x 320 touchscreen Cellular operation: 850/900/1800/1900MHz (GSM/GPRS model), 800/1900MHz (CDMA model) Dimensions: 4.4'' (h) x 2.3'' (w) x 0.9'' (d) Weight: 6.3 oz. Price: $449
Here's another PDA/smartphone from the folks who make those cool little BlackBerry email/pager devices. This gadget comes with a high-resolution 65,000-color touchscreen display, as well as a mini-QWERTY keyboard, in a non-flip form factor. And it's a little smaller and a lot lighter than the competing Treo, so it feels a little more like a standard cell phone in your hand.
Model: 7100T Manufacturer: Blackberry (http://www.blackberry.com) Cellular operation: 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS Dimensions: 4.7'' (h) x 2.3'' (w) x 0.8'' (d) Weight: 4.2 oz. Price: $249.95
Sony Ericsson P910a
The Sony Ericsson P910a is a cell phone that's also a PDA that's also a digital camera that's also a game playing machine, all in a flip-phone form factor. When closed, the flip portion contains the dialing keypad. Flip it open to get access to the full 65,000-color touchscreen display and QWERTY keyboard. Turn the unit sideways to play games, including the preinstalled V-Rally racing game. You also get a digital still/video camera and the ability to save photos and video clips to Memory Stick media.
Model: P910a Manufacturer: Sony Ericsson (http://www.sonyericsson.com) Display: 208 x 320 touchscreen Cellular operation: 850/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS Dimensions: 4.5'' (h) x 2.3'' (w) x 1'' (d) Weight: 5.5 oz. Price: $649
What I like about the Siemens SX66 smartphone is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Push the keyboard in, and you have a fairly compact candy bar designwith a big 3.5'' color screen, of course. Pull it out, and you can enter text and other data. Feature-wise, check out the dual WiFi/Bluetooth wireless, as well as USB connectivity. The SX66 also has a built-in speakerphone, and the ability to play MP3, WMA, and WAV audio files.
Model: SX66 Manufacturer: Siemens (http://www.siemens-mobile.com) Display: 240 x 320 Operating system: Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Cellular service: 850/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS Dimensions: 4.92'' (h) x 2.82'' (w) x 0.74'' (d) Weight: 7.4 oz. Price: $549.99
This is a different-looking smartphone, kind of like a little candy bar that flips open horizontally to reveal a bigger-than-normal QWERTY keyboard and decent-sized color display. Keep it closed to use it like a normal (and normal-sized) cell phone. It's heavily feature-laden, as you might expect, including a built-in speaker phone. Stylish, practical, and well-designedit's worth a look-see.
Model: A630 Manufacturer: Motorola (http://www.motorola.com) Display: 176 x 200 Cellular service: 850/1800/1900 or 900/1800/1900 GSM/GPRS Dimensions: 3.74'' (h) x 1.91'' (w) x 0.93'' (d) Weight: 3.95 oz. Price: $299.99
Motorola Razr V3
With the current trend in cell phones being bigger and bulkier with more and more useless features, it's nice to find a stylish phone in an ultra-small form factorwhich precisely describes this season's hottest model, Motorola's Razr V3.
First off, there's no denying the visual appeal of this slick little phoneit's small and thin and light and very sexy. At just a half-inch thick, it's small enough to fit in any pocket, including one in a tight pair of jeans. And the anodized aluminum case and cool-blue touch keypad are the height of 21st-century high-tech.
What's really amazing is how much technology Motorola crammed into this little gizmo. You get Bluetooth wireless connectivity, MPEG4 video playback, a VGA-quality digital camera, and a built-in speakerphone. The color display is an ample 2.2'' diagonal, big enough for watching those videos or playing downloaded games. (Did I mention you can download and play 3D Java games? The Razr has 5MB of memory you can fill up with useless stuff like this.)
Of course, the Razr has all the expected cell phone functions, including MP3 ringtones, 1,000-entry phone book, VibraCall alert, and MMS/SMS messaging. It also has basic PIM functionality, along with a calendar and alarm clock. And, surprisingly, battery life isn't bad, with up to 430 minutes of talk time.
You don't buy a phone like this for its features, howeverno matter how useful those features might be. You buy it because it looks cool, and when it comes to cell-phone cool, there's nothing out there that beats the Razr V3. All the trendsetters have one!
Model: Razr V3 Manufacturer: Motorola (http://www.motorola.com) Display: 176 x 200 (internal), 96 x 80 (external) Cellular service: 850/900/1800/1900 GSM/GPRS Dimensions: 3.86'' (h) x 2.08'' (w) x 0.54'' (d) Specs: 3.35 oz. Price: $599.99
Sony Ericsson S710a
Not all phones have to flip open; some swivel. My favorite swivel phone is the Sony Ericsson S710z, which hides its keypad until you swivel it open. The display (visible all the time) is an oversized 2.3'' diagonal with 240 x 320 resolution. You also get a built-in digital camera, unique five-way directional button to control the phone's operations, slot for Memory Stick DUO flash memory, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Lots of features, unique designdefinitely high on the gadget cool factor.
Model: S710a Manufacturer: Sony Ericsson (http://www.sonyericsson.com) Display: 240 x 320 Cellular service: 850/1800/1900Mhz GSM/GPRS/EDGE Dimensions: 4.23'' (h) x 1.93'' (w) x 0.96'' (d) Weight: 4.83 oz. Price: $499.99
Sanyo's MM-5600 is a good choice for a compact camera phone. It features a 1.3 megapixel digital camera, built-in speakerphone, and 2.1'' color display, and supports Sprint's Ready Link walkie-talkie service. You even get an internal voice recorder with 60 minutes of record timegreat for recording important conversations and interviews.
Model: MM-5600 Manufacturer: Sanyo (http://www.sanyo.com) Display: 240 x 320 (internal), 72 x 96 (external) Cellular service: 800/1900MHz GSM Dimensions: 3.66'' (h) x 1.91'' (w) x 1.04'' (d) Weight: 4.52 oz. Price: $429.99
Nokia's N90 is another swivel phone, but this one swivels in a much different fashion. The top portion of the clamshell twists and turns to turn the phone into a digital camera or camcorder-like device. (It also has an extra-sharp 352 x 416 color display.) The N90 features a 2 megapixel digital camera with Carl Zeiss lens and integrated flash, 352 x 288 pixel video camera, Bluetooth wireless, and (surprise!) a USB connection. It's a little bigger than the average phone, but look at everything it packs in!
Model: N90 Manufacturer: Nokia (http://www.nokia.com) Display: 352 x 416 Cellular service: 900/1800/1900 GSM/GPRS/EDGE Dimensions: 4.4'' (h) x 2.0'' (w) x 0.9'' (d) Weight: 6.1 oz. Price: $249.95
The Siemens S66 (not to be confused with the SX66 smartphone) is a good-looking candy bar phone with strong multimedia features. You get a 1.3 megapixel digital camera, integrated video recorder, video player, and digital music playerall in a compact package. Phone-wise, there's Bluetooth wireless connectivity, MMS and text messaging, andbelieve it or nota built-in calculator and currency converter (!). Quite a performerand quite stylish, as well.
Model: S66 Manufacturer: Siemens (http://www.siemens-mobile.com) Cellular service: 850/1800/1900MHz GSM Dimensions: 4.3'' (h) x 1.9'' (w) x 0.7'' (d) Weight: 3.45 oz. Price: $299.99
Nextlink Bluespoon Digital
Nextlink claims that its Bluespoon headsets are the smallest and lightest in the world, and that's not an idle claim. Using technology that Nextlink perfected for the military, the Bluespoon Digital weighs just 10 grams, and fits on the inside the curve of your ear. It's really that small!
Nextlink's military technology also enables superior performance for the Bluespoon Digital. What you get is adaptive digital noise cancellation that filters out unwanted background noise, for an extra-quiet listening experience. It's the quietest phone headset I've ever used.
What's really neat about the Bluespoon is that it uses a spring to place the headset in your ear, for perfect placement. It's safe, it's secure, and it won't pop out if you wear it while running, dancing, or jumping around like a madman. As the company says, this makes the headset the "natural choice for active people with the need for quality communication while on the move." Yeah, man.
Naturally, the Bluespoon Digital uses Bluetooth technology for a hands-free wireless connection to your Bluetooth-compatible phone. For added convenience, the headset features voice dialingno need to touch your phone at all.
The headset comes with four different recharging cables, including a USB cable that lets you recharged from your notebook PC. Fully charged, the Bluespoon Digital should provide up to six hours of talk time, or 200 hours on standby.
Small, light, and quiet. It's everything you want in a wireless phone headseteven if it does look like you have a big ladybug in your ear.
Model: Bluespoon Digital Manufacturer: Nextlink (http://www.nextlink.to/) Connection: Bluetooth Dimensions: 1.85'' x 0.98'' x 9.98'' Weight: 0.35 oz. (10 grams) Price: $350
Here's a stylish and functional little wireless headset. The Jabra BT800 puts all of your phone's important controls on the headset itselfmute button, jog wheel, and answer and end buttons. You even get a blue backlit LCD screen that displays incoming caller IDalthough how you're supposed to read the display when it's in your ear escapes me. Still, it's a nice design (aside from the LCD) for a good-performing Bluetooth headset.
Model: BT800 Manufacturer: Jabra (http://www.jabra.com) Connection: Bluetooth Dimensions: 2.7'' x 1.3'' x 1'' Weight: 0.8 oz. Price: $149.99
Logitech Mobile Pro
Logitech put one of the first cordless headsets on the market, and company is still a market leader. The Mobile Pro is an affordable headset that connects cordlessly to any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and has a long 7-hour talk time. This unit has a flexible, soft-touch headset for comfortable fit on either ear, and the microphone is of the noise-canceling type.
Model: Mobile Pro Manufacturer: Logitech (http://www.logitech.com) Connection: Bluetooth Specs: 1 oz. Price: $99.99
Jawbone Adaptive Headset
The Jawbone is a corded headset with adaptive noise reduction technology. It constantly adapts the incoming audio to the room's background noise, raising the sound level when necessary and lowering it when not. The adaptive technology even works with the microphone, to filter out background noise from your voice. The result is crystal-clear sound quality that makes you sound better to your callersand hear better, too.
Model: Jawbone Manufacturer: Jawbone (http://www.jawbone.com) Connection: Corded Weight: 0.5 oz. Price: $149.95
Shure QuietSpot Boom
If you want a more affordable noise-blocking headset, go with Shure's QuietSpot Boom. The NoiseBlocker earphone reduces outside noise by 80%, while the noise-canceling boom microphone (with foam windscreen) blocks 70% of extraneous noise. The result is remarkably quiet sound at a decent priceif you don't mind going the corded route.
Model: QSHB3 Manufacturer: Shure (http://www.shure.com) Connection: Corded Weight: 0.8 oz. Price: $39.99
Keychain Storage Devices
Verbatim Store 'n' Go Pro
Most USB storage devices look alike, but that doesn't mean they all perform alike. Verbatim's Store 'n' Go Pro drives are just a little faster than the average drive, which makes transferring large amounts of data a little less of a chore. Read speeds approach 23MB/second, with write speeds in the 14MB/second neighborhood (on a USB 2.0 connection), which makes the Store 'n' Go Pro one of the fastest USB drives out there. And, as you know, a second or two here and a second or two there add up over time.
Physically, the Store 'n' Go Pro occupies an attractive transparent colored plastic case, complete with a dual-color LED that flashes while data is being transferred. The device itself is ultra slim, especially when compared to similar keychain devices, which makes it easier to plug into stacked USB ports on your PC.
Each drive comes with V-Safe security software and V-Key file software, on an accompanying mini-CD. Install the software on each PC on which you use the Store 'n' Go drive, and you can format your USB drive with a password-protection section for added security.
The Store 'n' Go Pro is available in 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, and 2GB sizes. For the price you also get a lanyard to carry the device around your neck, as well as a set of personal identification labels.
Model: Store 'n' Go Pro Manufacturer: Verbatim (http://www.verbatim.com) Capacity/price: 256MB ($50), 512MB ($70), 1GB ($135), 2GB ($170)
Kingston DataTraveler Elite
Kingston's DataTraveler Elite is another good high-speed USB memory device. Read speed is 24MB/ second; write speed is 14MB/second. TravelerSafe+ software lets you set password access control; My Traveler software helps you organize the drive's contents.
Model: DataTraveler Elite Manufacturer: Kingston (http://www.kingston.com) Capacity/price: 256MB ($50), 512MB ($65), 1GB ($130), 2GB ($230)
Lexar JumpDrive Lightning
Lexar's JumpDrive Lightning comes in a stylish stainless steel case, with file synchronization and security software pre-loaded. The 2GB version offers 24MB/second read and 18MB/second write speed; the 1GB version is almost as fast.
Model: JumpDrive Lightning Manufacturer: Lexar (http://www.lexar.com) Capacity/price: 1GB ($139.99), 2GB ($270)
Apacer Handy Steno
Apacer offers the highest-capacity USB drives around, topping out at 4GB of storage. Read speed is 20MB/second; write speed is 14MB/second.
Model: HT203 Manufacturer: Apacer (http://www.apacer.com) Capacity/price: 256MB ($40), 512MB ($60), 1GB ($100), 2GB ($200), 4GB ($380)
USB Sushi Drives
USB drives don't have to be practicalthey can also be fun! And what's more fun than a USB storage device in the shape of a piece of sushi? These "sushi disks" are available in various shapesshuumai, ebi, salmon, futomaki, cucumber maki, and so on. And, unusual as they look, they really work.
Distributor: Dynamism (http://www.dynamism.com/sushidisk/) Capacity/ price: 32MB ($59), 128MB ($99)
More Cool Road Warrior Gadgets
Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter
The Digital Hotspotter is a second-generation device that not only senses WiFi hotspots, but also tells you (via its LCD display) the name (SSID) of the available network, signal strength, and encryption status. It's a great little gadget to carry when you're traveling, and need wireless Internet access.
Model: HS10 Manufacturer: Canary Wireless (http://www.canarywireless.com) Price: $59.95
Targus DEFCON MDP Motion Sensor
The DEFCON MDP is a PC card you insert into your notebook computer to deter theft. The card contains a tiny tilt motion sensor which senses when a thief is making off with your PC; it then sounds a 110dB alarm and prohibits unapproved access. It includes its own rechargeable battery, so your PC is protected even if it's turned off.
Model: DEFCON MDP Manufacturer: Targus (http://www.targus.com) Card type: Type II PC Card Price: $99.99
Keynamics Reclinable Laptop Stand
Most notebook PCs are something less than ergo-nomic. To provide a more comfortable typing position, check out the Keynamics Reclinable Laptop Stand. This stand puts your PC at a comfortable angle, and even provides better access to the back-of-unit ports. Even better, the stand itself is on rollers, so it's easy to move in and out of position on your desktop.
Model: Reclinable Laptop Stand Manufacturer: Keynamics (http://www.keynamics.com) Price: $79.99
Vantec LapCool 2 Notebook Cooler
Here's a really cool notebook PC gadgetobvious pun intended. The LapCool 2 notebook cooler helps cool down hot-running notebooks, thanks to two ultra-quiet fans in the base. The LapCool has a flat 11.8'' x 10.3'' surface, so just about any notebook fits on top and stays cool while doing so. Added bonusthe LapCool 2 also functions as a four-port USB 2.0 hub, so you can get double duty from the desktop footprint.
Model: LPC-305 Manufacturer: Vantec (http://www.vantecusa.com) Dimensions: 11.8'' x 10.3'' x 0.8'' Price: $39.99
When your cell phone battery runs out, what do you do? Well, with the FreePlay FreeCharge, you crank it upthat is, you turn the crank to recharge the battery. The FreeCharge provides emergency power to your phone; you get 23 minutes of talk time per 45-second crank. It's better than not having any power at all!
Model: FreeCharge Manufacturer: FreePlay (http://www.freeplayenergy.com) Price: $65
Western Digital WD Passport Pocket Hard Drive
USB flash drives are nice, but sometimes you just need more storage than you get with those little gizmos. The answer is to carry around a portable hard drive, like the WD Passport. This is an 80GB hard drive that's small enough to fit in your pocket; it connects to any PC via USB, which makes it ideal for transferring data from PC to PC.
Model: WDXML800UETN Manufacturer: Western Digital (http://www.wdc.com) Capacity: 80GB Dimensions: 5.68'' x 3.51'' x 0.83'' Price: $199.99
Creative WebCam Notebook
I covered desktop webcams back in the computer gadgets section, but let's take a quick look at a webcam specifically designed for notebook PCs. I'm talking about Creative's WebCam Notebook, which is a super-small penlight-style camera that clips to the top of your notebook screen and connects to any open USB port. It shoots a 640 x 480 resolution picture, and tilts vertically a total of 270°.
Model: WebCam Notebook Manufacturer: Creative (http://www.creative.com) Resolution: 640 x 480 Dimensions: 2.3'' x 1'' x 1.6'' Price: $49.99
Bose QuietComfort 2 Noise Canceling Headphones
The Bose QuietComfort 2 is, without a doubt, the quietest headphone on the market todaywhich is why you see so many of them in use on long business flights. Bose's Acoustic Noise Canceling technology electronically identifies and then reduces unwanted noise. You don't even have to listen to music to use these phones; just put them on, turn them on, and hear virtually all background noise disappear. Connectors include a standard mini-plug for use with portable devices, a 1/4'' adapter for home audio equipment, and a dual plug adapter to use when flying.
Model: QuietComfort 2 Manufacturer: Bose (http://www.bose.com) Weight: 6.9 oz. Price: $299