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Someday technological historians will debate the moment when the ubiquitous wireless phone ceased being just a phone and began taking on the trappings of other devices, thus acquiring even greater cultural significance.
Opinions will no doubt differ. In two notable cases, companies known primarily for non-phone communications devices evolved to incorporate voice features. Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry was born as a pager-like device that provided access to e-mail, but later added the ability to make conventional voice calls. Meanwhile, Palm's (PALM) Treo -- a device first launched by Palm's sibling company Handspring -- emerged from the ecosystem created by the PalmPilot, the first commercially successful personal digital assistant and corporate status symbol of the mid-1990s.
But these future historians will all be able to agree that by the year 2006, the wireless phone and PDA had completed the first stages of their evolutionary marriage. The result: A plethora of devices that provide a wide range of features and capabilities, from connecting to corporate e-mail systems to displaying video clips and playing music during those less productive moments of our lives.
TODAY'S NEWS. Here's something that's less a concern to the historians of tomorrow, but front and center for consumers today: Which one to buy. We singled out nine high-end handheld devices (we call them killer PDAs though some fall outside the technical definition of a digital assistant).
Our reviewers put them through the rigors of day-to-day use to help you choose the one that best meets your needs. Among them -- Research In Motion's BlackBerry 8700s, Palm's Treo 700w, and a handful from makers and carriers including Samsung, Deutsche Telekom's (DT) T-Mobile, and Cingular Wireless, the joint venture of BellSouth (BLS) and AT&T (T).
Some devices in our sample group appeal primarily to the inner workaholic in all of us, while others are more fun -- displaying video and playing music or taking pictures. So those future debaters will not argue the point that for those willing to spend a little money to be well-equipped, there certainly was no shortage of choices.
Check out this slide show on killer PDAs, and the other slide shows on the new generation of mobile phones.