The Call of Convergence

Do new phone-PDA combos give you the best of both worlds?

Tired of toting a gaggle of tech tools, business professionals and consumers have been clamoring for a solution. Now there’s an answer, or two: phones that double as personal digital assistants (PDAs), making one device the phone, e-mail program, Web browser, and address book; and PDAs that add phone features to their repertoire. “Both types of devices will have the same capabilities over time,” says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing for Gartner Inc. in San Jose, California. “The difference is in how the devices [are] ergonomically designed4whether they’re smaller and shaped like a phone, or larger with a little more data capability.”

Not every PDA phone or phone-enabled PDA has every possible feature. And the most exciting4the Nokia 7650, which has a tiny integrated camera lens4isn’t available or currently planned for the U.S. market. But there’s still a wealth of products that place more power in your palm4and in your ear4than ever before. Some of the hottest convergence tools include the following:

Handspring Treo 180 Communicator is a Palm OS organizer with a built-in QWERTY keyboard. A second model, the Treo 180g, trades the QWERTY keyboard for Graffiti text input. Each device measures just 4.3 x 2.7 x 0.7 inches, and weighs 5.4 ounces. The Treo costs $399. A color display version will be available for $599 by mid-year (www.handspring.com).

Nokia’s 9290 Communicator has a 4,096-color TFT (thin-film transistor) active-matrix display for its Symbian OS organizer. The device runs Java applications, opens and edits Word and Excel documents, and comes with 16MB of memory, expandable to 64MB. Priced at $799, the Nokia 9290 measures 5.11 x 1.82 x .934 inches and weighs 8.6 ounces (www.nokia.com).

Samsung’s SPH-I300 wireless phone is compatible with Palm OS applications, and has a 256-color display, touch screen (no QWERTY keyboard), Graffiti handwriting recognition, and infrared communication. It has 8MB of memory for user data and applications, measures 4.92 x 2.28 x .83 inches, weighs 5.99 ounces, and retails at $499 (www.samsungelectronics.com).

Compaq’s iPaq Pocket PC 3870 gives you wireless phone, e-mail, Web browsing, and messaging4as well as the usual PDA capabilities. Weighing 6.7 ounces and priced at $649, it also comes with 64MB of RAM and integrated Bluetooth (www.compaq.com).

So, will convergence fly? “I think once people learn they have to ditch their PDA along with their phone to switch carriers, there’s bound to be a renewed and negative consideration of the wisdom of merging [the phone and PDA],” says Rich Santalesa, chief analyst at PDA & Wireless World, a New York City-based analysis firm specializing in the handheld and wireless markets.

Although you may actually be ditching inches and ounces by combining a phone and a PDA, Santalesa says there’s a “sense that the combo [comes] at a cost in weight and in basic functionality.” Of course, if adding PDA functions to your phone means leaving the laptop behind, it might be worth losing the extra ounces. Give some thought to what you want the device to do and consider whether the trade-offs make sense.

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