Features – Stay Connected – Get a Palm

June Liebert is the Electronic Resources Librarian at the Jamail Center for Legal Research,
Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas.

Being Connected – All the Time

I dread going to visit my in-laws, but not for the usual reasons. They are wonderful people and a joy to have as in-laws, but they do not have an Internet connection in their house. Whenever my husband and I stay with them over the holidays, I suddenly feel cut off from the rest of the world and begin to have Internet withdrawal symptoms – feelings of loss, disconnect and unease.

This year, I will be armed with my cell phone and Sharp SE-500 Mobile Organizer, a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) or handheld device, that closely resembles a PalmPilot, the leader in handheld devices. I bought my PDA refurbished, so it was much less expensive ($80) than a comparable PDA. I’ve actually owned it for a while (in fact, Sharp no longer makes the SE-500), but only seriously began using it this year. Like other PDAs, mine has a calendar and address book that I can synchronize with other calendaring software. I lost my paper organizer once after accidentally leaving it on the roof of my car. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it from a kind person who had seen it flying from my car, but the experience was something I never want to repeat. I now keep four copies of my calendar and address book – on my PDA, office and home computers, and Visto account. Visto (http://www.visto.com ) gives users a free calendar and address book which can be synchronized with a variety of other programs, such as Outlook. Visto will send e-mail reminders for events or appointments – a feature that has saved me many times – as well as a free email account and storage space to upload/download files.

Unlike most PDA’s, my Sharp also has a sleek, built-in 14,400 BPS modem, so I can read my e-mail from anywhere in the world. This is the one feature that most of my gadget-loving friends look longingly at, since other PDA’s usually have clunky add-on modems. The modem is built right into the relatively small case with no extra pieces to carry around. When I travel to a conference, I can check my email throughout the day and answer questions/resolve problems as if I had never left. In fact, most of the people I assisted during these periods probably never even realized that I was away.

Although I can take notes on my PDA, I do it infrequently because it requires “typing” on a tiny keyboard displayed on the screen. I am still amazed by a fellow librarian who carries no paper at any of the conferences he attends. He simply jots down notes on his PalmPilot, which uses character recognition instead of a mini-keyboard.

To be absolutely sure that I am never cut-off from the Internet, I now have a cell phone capable of surfing the Web (on a limited basis). It is also a text pager, and I can receive and send emails on the phone. The phone, a Sprint PCS TouchPoint, has a built-in calendar, but the synchronizer is not available yet. Last, but not least, I can use my phone as a wireless 14,400 BPS modem for my laptop (if I ever buy the connector cable). Of course, I can also use it as a phone. My brother, who works for a telecommunications company, doesn’t use a cell phone for data messaging. He writes email messages on his PDA (a Palm IIIx), beams the message over to his digital pager via an infrared port, and then sends the email with his pager.

Which PDA to Buy?

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and you may find yourself looking to purchase one of the many PDAs available today. An important question to answer is what type of operating system (OS) is best for you. Although I like my PDA, I have been looking enviously at a friend’s new Palm V by 3Com – a very sleek and shiny gizmo. There are a lot of benefits to purchasing a PDA which uses the Palm OS, one of the most established systems around (about 80% of the market). You can purchase and download many different programs written specifically for the Palm OS. One of our law professors recently purchased a Palm III in order to lose some weight. He downloaded a program that helps him calculate and track the number of calories he consumes each day. So far, he’s lost 40 pounds. The Palm VII is similar to the Palm V, but it has a built-in wireless modem that allows users to surf a mini-Web world much like my cell phone does.

There are many competing products to the PalmPilot, and Handspring’s Visor is one of them. It also uses the Palm OS, so it can run the same programs as the more expensive PalmPilot. However, it offers an expansion slot (not available on PalmPilots) that allows users to easily add hardware such as modems, pagers, voice recorders, and MP3 players (coming soon). Unfortunately, there is apparently a Visor shortage (see http://www.visorcentral.com for more information), and Handspring is an untested company. Both Sony and Nokia are also working on new Palm OS devices, and even more options will be available soon.

Another operating system worth a look is Windows CE, which runs programs compatible with other Microsoft Windows products. Unfortunately, they are typically more expensive than most PDAs and have only grabbed about 13% of the market so far. James Bond and Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear physicist, actually use a HP Jornada 430 (a Windows CE palm device) to diffuse a nuclear bomb in the latest Bond movie, The World is Not Enough. The Jornada has a full-color screen and is capable of playing stereo audio files with a built-in MP3 audio player. You should also look at Casio’s Cassiopeia, which has similar features and can play video files.

Last, but not least, you may want to investigate the cell phone option. The NeoPoint NP1000 offers features similar to the Palm VII (just subtract the Palm OS and add a phone). On the high end, the $800 Qualcomm pdQ Smartphone actually has the Palm OS and is essentially a cross between a cell phone and a PalmPilot. This is a promising product, but only when the price comes down. If size is your concern, you can purchase a Motorola i1000plus, one of the smallest phones available. This multi-communications device is a phone, pager, two-way radio and microbrowser/modem. It is also has a built-in speakerphone and can be upgraded to add new features. Wireless, web-enabled phone devices are simply exploding in number, and the competition is fierce.

At the latest Comdex show in Las Vegas, the vendors clearly believed that the future lies in small, connected devices. There are a myriad of new systems currently in the works, including ones based on Sun’s Java-based Jini, which allows technology-enabled devices to easily communicate with each other. This would allow you to use your wireless PDA to do things such as program your VCR or start the dishwasher, no matter where you are.

The number of handheld devices available will increase significantly, and I assure you that something better, smaller, and hipper will come out as soon as you buy one. It’s not much different than purchasing a desktop computer. At some point, you just have to close your eyes, take the plunge, and resign yourself to the knowledge that it’s going to be out-of-date (but still functional) in a year or two. Don’t forget to ask yourself these questions before you buy:

  1. What type of functionality do you need?
  2. How much money do you want to spend?
  3. How connected do you really want to be?
  4. Do you want to be on the bleeding edge of technology or is the leading edge enough?
  5. How long do you plan to use it (lifespan)?

Your answers to these questions will make the decision much easier to make.

Interestingly enough, PDAs don’t really seem to have caught on in the librarian community as they have in other technology-related communities. At CALI conferences, it seems as if every attendee is flaunting some sort of PDA, but I rarely see them at librarian meetings. An email from an attendee at the recent Internet Librarian conference in San Diego noted that many of the librarians there carried beepers or cell phones, but very few displayed PDAs. As the two technologies merge, however, I think more librarians will begin using these hybrid devices.

The Sharp SE-500 Mobile Organizer

Palmpilot (3Com)
Visor (Handspring)
Jornada (HP)
Cassiopeia (Casio)
NeoPoint 1000
pdQ Smartphone (Qualcomm)
i1000plus (Motorola)

PDAs/Handheld PCs Guide
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Buy Now from Amazon:
3Com Palm V Connected Organizer

HP Jornada 430 Palm-Size PC

Casio Cassiopeia E-100 Palm-Size PC

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The Palm V by 3Com

The HP Jornada, used in the
latest James Bond film

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