New York The new breed of Microsoft-juiced handheld computers struts shimmering color screens, bucketloads of memory and the prospect of wireless access to your corporate network.
I tested a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 565, a powerful minicomputer shielded by the ultimate millennium-era accouterment: a flip-up titanium cover.
Was it time to say goodbye to the tattered paper agenda that rides in my back pocket?
Not yet. While the Jornada, loaded with Microsoft's latest handheld software, is impressive, it still has a way to go before I'll tote one around.
Fancy, but failures
Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system, version 2002, has come a long way since the days of Windows CE, which shriveled even in comparison with the Palm OS.
The new OS contains richer color graphics, new versions of Microsoft Pocket PC applications and more input options, including an Etch A Sketch-like transcriber that attempts to translate your scrawl into live text.
Support for Virtual Private Networks allows you to spelunk your corporate database from home or, with the purchase of a wireless network card, from a couch at Starbucks.
But the fancy machine failed me in a few key ways.
At $600, it's too expensive. Drop it and the ensuing loss is more tragic than watching your keys slip down a sewer grate.
By comparison, simpler Palms run from around $200 for the black-and-white Palm Vx to about $400 for the Palm m505, with similar color screens, wireless-capabilities and expansion slots.
And the Jornada like all handhelds is mobile, but it's not a phone or a laptop. You can't sit on the train and type into it unless you spend $99 for a portable keyboard.
This leaves the user dependent on the stylus, wherein they must try to "write" using the transcriber or Palm-graffiti knockoff. This works for some folks. Not me. The keyboard still rules my data-entry world.
Also, unlike an emerging number of Palm-fueled PDA phones, you can't make a phone call with the Jornada. The Jornada can't even send e-mail unless it's docked to a desktop or you spend $179 on a Symbol Technologies wireless card and buy monthly service.
Although the Jornada's rechargeable battery is touted for longevity the company says it will last two days with the backlight off I found it inadequate. I left the Jornada dormant for a few weeks and the batteries died.
Finally, the machine won't fit into the pocket where your cell phone already sits. Which is why I won't buy one until it merges with a cell phone, so I can keep them together in the same package.
Truth is, the Jornada isn't really aimed at people like me, who just need a nudge to keep track of things and don't care to plumb the corporate intranet while at the laundromat.
Most are sold to companies looking to coax more productivity from executives. Or they go to employees whose data-entry tasks allow them to use a stylus.
They're also marketed to Microsoft purists who want a seamless way to take their work on the road. If you share these attributes, a Pocket PC handheld is worth examining.
When docked, the little machines sync flawlessly with Microsoft's Outlook e-mail and organizer program.
The Jornada also includes a handy thumb button for recording a voice memo another thing you can't do with a Palm. The memos, unfortunately, are saved as sound files, not converted to text. Innovations by IBM and others promise to remedy this soon.