Digital Assistance Putting A Pda To Good Use

Since Apple Computer introduced the Newton MessagePad in 1993, the personal

digital assistant has been in search of a practical use. Sony's new Magic Link, which began shipping at the end of September, could help give PDAs a reason for being.

The first device built around General Magic's Magic Cap operating system, the $1,000 Magic Link was designed as a communications tool for executives and professionals on the go. To enter data into the 1.2-pound device, the user taps an on-screen keyboard with a special pen, or with fingers. For heavier-duty work at your desk, an auxiliary keyboard is available.

Magic Link's real strength is General Magic's Telescript communications software and its connections to AT&T's new PersonaLink network. This hook-up makes it easy to write a message on the Magic Link, then use PersonaLink to dispatch it to the recipient's fax machine, pager, or mailbox on nearly any public E-mail system, including MCImail, CompuServe, or the Internet.

Magic Link's major lack is two-way wireless communications. Its 2,400-baud modem needs a phone line to send data or faxes, although a $250 credit-card sized accessory lets it function as a pager. Leaving out wireless allowed Sony to escape some of the woes that have plagued Motorola's otherwise similar Envoy, still expected to ship by yearend.

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