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E-Mail in Your Hand, No Matter Where You Go


E-Mail in Your Hand, No Matter Where You Go

E-Mail in Your Hand, No Matter Where You Go


S the palmtop computer and the cellphone invade each other's turf, giving rise to devices like the Treo 600 and the BlackBerry 7230 that serve as both communicators and organizers, access to e-mail anytime anyplace seems to go without saying. But suppose you're not ready for convergence.

If you are intrigued by the idea of having mobile access to your e-mail but are not ready for the leap into the world of smart phones, there are other options to consider. Several of the big palmtop computer makers have strengthened their product lineups, integrating wireless connectivity into higher-priced devices and making it easier to use them for e-mail on the go.

Such palmtops come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built in, and they can provide access to e-mail using several different methods. What's more, they offer powerful processors, good-size screens, expandability and various shapes that may add to their appeal for business and personal use.

One of the newest is the Axim X30 from Dell. Introduced in May, the X30 comes in three versions, two of which have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With Wi-Fi, e-mail can be received or sent from anywhere within range of a wireless network, whether at work, at home or at one of the growing number of hot spots, or points of access, in places like restaurants and cafes, airports and hotels.

One advantage of Wi-Fi over smart phones can be faster connection speeds. Wi-Fi access points are typically linked to high-speed Internet lines, while cellular carriers often provide data transmission speeds that are closer to dial-up. Faster connection speeds are especially helpful when sending and receiving many messages at once and when working with large attachments.

One disadvantage of Wi-Fi is that connecting to a wireless access point is not always seamless. Extra tapping around on a palmtop may be necessary to establish connections to wireless networks in areas densely packed with access points, for example, and that can take some time. And there is a cost factor. Service plans from T-Mobile, for example, can range from $30 a month for unlimited access to $6 an hour for a metered option, with access provided at Starbucks, Borders and Kinko's locations.

Pocket Outlook is the default e-mail program on the X30 and other Pocket PC devices. The program is easy to use and can provide access to personal e-mail accounts as well as corporate mail systems (using the POP3 or IMAP4 protocols). Web-based e-mail applications designed for the smaller screens of mobile devices, like those from Yahoo ( and MSN (, can be opened by using the devices' Web browsers, another e-mail alternative for travelers.

Like other new Pocket PC devices, the X30 models come with new processors from Intel and the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system. The processors offer speeds of 312 megahertz ($280) or 624 megahertz ($350) and power management features designed to extend battery life. The operating system, Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, adds new features like landscape mode and the stronger Wi-Fi encryption known as WPA.

Hand-held devices with built-in connectivity exist in the Palm OS world as well. One that has Wi-Fi is PalmOne's Tungsten C ($400). The Tungsten C is slightly thicker than the X30 and its screen is smaller, but it comes with a built-in qwerty keyboard, which some users prefer to using the stylus and on-screen keyboard. It has a 400-megahertz processor and a three-inch screen. The default e-mail program on Tungsten devices, VersaMail, is easy to learn, and it also works with personal accounts and corporate systems.

Another PalmOne unit with wireless connectivity, the Tungsten T3 ($400), has a unique design. The bottom third of the unit slides open to reveal additional screen space. This boosts the screen size to 3.9 inches from 3.3 inches. The T3 takes advantage of the additional screen space by offering either landscape or portrait mode.

The T3, however, uses Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi to connect to wireless networks. One way to use Bluetooth for e-mail is in combination with a Bluetooth-enabled cellphone. Such cellphones can be used as modems, allowing a palmtop to dial an Internet service provider like EarthLink or Verizon. Once a connection is established, the user can send and receive e-mail, browse the Web and use other Internet applications. Enlisting a cellphone for those tasks usually requires you to add a data service plan to your cellular account at an extra cost of $15 to $20 per month, depending upon the carrier and level of usage.

One drawback of this strategy is that not many cellphones have Bluetooth. Taking advantage of a Bluetooth-enabled palmtop in this way may require buying a new phone or switching to another carrier, which could bring about early termination fees. Another drawback is the shorter range of Bluetooth, which would mean keeping the palmtop within about 30 feet of the cellphone.

A new cordless 56-kilobit-per-second modem from Socket Communications ( offers an alternative way for Bluetooth-enabled palmtops to connect to the Internet. It plugs into a phone jack and can be used with such a palmtop to connect wirelessly with an Internet service provider. The compact $120 device, which has a rechargeable battery, is smaller than the palmtop itself and can easily be carried along on a trip for use in a hotel room or between home and office.

Another option is a Bluetooth access point like the F8T030 from Belkin ($120) or the Axis 9010 from Axis Communications ($320). Such devices plug into a network by way of Ethernet, and make network resources like Internet access and local servers available to Bluetooth-enabled devices within range.

Current iPAQ models from Hewlett-Packard offer significant connectivity and other features as well. Next week the company is scheduled to announce new iPAQ units with additional features but so far it has declined to discuss the details. Among the current iPAQ models, the h4155, a Pocket PC, comes with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

An important feature of the h4155 ($400) is its svelte size. The device is compact considering its built-in connectivity, 400-megahertz processor and relatively large 3.5-inch screen. The bottom corners of the unit are rounded, making it feel light and small in your pocket. At 4.5 inches long and 2.8 inches wide, it is slightly smaller than the Axim X30, which measures 4.8 inches by 3 inches and has a 3.5-inch screen. The iPAQ h4355 ($450), a close relative of the h4155, offers many of the same features plus a built-in qwerty keyboard.

The iPAQ h5555 ($650) also has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a biometric fingerprint reader for added security, a 3.8-inch screen and 128 megabytes of RAM.

Even with all these wireless options, it's a good idea to have a backup plan for those times when you're beyond the range of an access point. Cables that allow you to connect a palmtop to a cellphone and use it as a modem are available from companies like Gomadic ( and SupplyNet ( It took me only a few minutes to configure a setup using one of these cables with an iPAQ h4155 and a Samsung N400 cellphone. Prices for these cables generally range from $40 to $80.

Finally, if this is your first foray into the world of palmtops, one of your first decisions will be to choose a platform. The two dominant ones, the Palm OS and the Pocket PC, offer similar ease of use for classic palmtop functions like the address book, calendar and to-do lists. It's a tough choice because both are good at handling the basics. A good strategy is to spend a few weeks experimenting with various units at electronics stores, talking to longtime users and researching which platform will provide the software, expandability and third-party accessories that you may want further down the road.

And if your primary goal is mobile e-mail, it is worth keeping an eye on smart phones, which are also being augmented with new features. As more hybrid devices that combine voice and data services are introduced, the line between cellphones and hand-held computers is becoming blurred. And in a signal that growth in the palmtop market is slowing, Sony announced in June that it would stop selling its CliƩ units in the United States.

Still, devout legions of hand-held aficionados are perfectly happy to keep their cellphones in one pocket and their organizers in another, said John Jackson, an analyst for the Yankee Group, a telecommunications research company. For that reason, the hand-held market is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

"It's still too early to call it a day for the hand-held space," Mr. Jackson said. "But momentum is certainly swinging toward the smart-phone segment."

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