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Choosing a Pocket computer
Roger Frost (TES January 2000)

Today you can buy a pocket computer with a specification to match a desktop PC of just a few years ago. While doesn’t plays CD’s and games, there’s no question that you need one to type notes, catch up on work, and keep organised. No question either that an electronic diary and address book makes for a tidy existence. Being so is entirely sane in this busy job. As they say, you can make use of those idle moments now charmingly called ‘downtime’.

If the last organiser you saw was a Psion Series 3, this classic unit is still with us - much liked for its handy size and a battery life in months. It’s been restyled as the series 3mx (£200), though still used by holding it like a hamburger and typing with two thumbs. That all changed with the Psion series 5mx (£390) with a keyboard that makes typing on train journeys easy and unpretentious. Battery life is brilliant at 20 hours and it is replete with office-type software, like a spreadsheet for budget meetings. Psion’s competition comes from Windows CE machines – most of which have gained colour screens like the Hewlett Packard Jornada 680 (£570) and the LG Phenom Express (£540). Both not only do the basics of connecting to a desktop, if it suits they connect to networks, the Internet and email with their built-in modems. Though a touch big for the pocket, both have good keyboards with the Phenom offering a very respectable typing tool. 

Going larger still, but much less than a laptop are the Psion Series 7 colour version (£650) and a personal favourite, the Hewlett Packard Jornada 680 (£570). With more than a day’s battery life, and the instant switch-on of a real portable, both fit a middle ground with the keyboard and screen space a busy person needs.

You can go smaller if you forsake the keyboard. There are palm size devices that offer a diary that almost fits a shirt pocket and you have to write on the screen with a stylus. With the market leading, Palm III (£170) and Palm V from 3COM, you’d best enter most of the info on your desktop machine, adding short diary entries when away from base. Both are easy to carry, quick to learn and the batteries last a few weeks. If you want features the Palm V (£250) has lots together with neat looks that compare well with Casio’s Cassiopeia E105 (£420). This has a bright colour screen, voice recorder and six hour battery life – good for a high power device. Nice to use, it shows its fashion sense by playing music and video clips. As a Windows CE machine, it’s also sold in a package for logging data in experiments – which only points us to some classic buying advice: as well knowing what you want a pocket machine for, it also helps to know what you don’t need a machine for.

Prices quoted are typical street prices.

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