The Whole World in Your Handheld
Ever wish for a massage at the end of a hard day? Or that you could afford a personal golf coach to trail you around the links? And what about when that craving for tekka maki strikes--where's a concierge who can direct you to the nearest late-night sushi bar?
Stop dreaming. Thanks to a growing number of software programs and accessories, your Palm (PALM ), Handspring Visor (HAND ), or Pocket PC can deliver all that and more. And don't forget about work: Handhelds are more than just a place to store reams of appointments and addresses. Nowadays, you can deliver complicated business presentations on them--or even pop on a camera attachment to instantly capture images, then e-mail them to clients.
The best add-ons are easy-to-install software downloads, disks, or snap-on modules. Some are even free. The first-rate ones take full advantage of all the available technology--the ability to "sync," or back up your handheld's content on your desktop PC or the ability to swap data and software via infrared beams.
There are a slew of programs that can turn your handheld into a traveler's best friend. AvantGo (AVGO ), for example, is a free download (avantgo.com) that gives you portable access to favorite Web sites even when you're not connected to the Internet. Just pick the sites you want. Then, whenever you hook up to your computer--provided you're connected to the Net--AvantGo automatically searches out the latest Web pages from those sites and stores them on your handheld. You can get city guides, monitor your stock portfolio at My Yahoo!, or read headlines and stories from your favorite magazines and newspapers. One caveat: If you use a dial-up connection, AvantGo will slow down your sync, so you'll want to limit your selections to your top two or three sites.
DIRECTIONS. If travel guides are all you need, take a look at Vindigo software. It's easy to download (vindigo.com) and install on your handheld. It's free for Palm and Visor users, while users of the jazzier Pocket PC version pay $29.95 a year. It gives you up-to-date details on restaurants, shopping, and entertainment in 20 major cities. Just enter the intersection that's closest to you, and it will direct you from there. Like AvantGo, it updates every time you sync, so you won't find yourself stranded at a restaurant that has recently closed.
If you travel a lot, you know how cumbersome it is to tote around all that gear--laptop, handheld, cell phone, projector, printer, what have you. One way to pare back is Margi Systems' Presenter-to-Go. Compatible with PowerPoint and other major slide-making programs, Presenter-to-Go lets you design slide shows on your Visor or Pocket PC. When it's your turn on stage, you use the adapter it comes with to connect directly to a projector. The little remote control, also included, talks to your handheld's infrared port, directing it to advance to the next slide. It's $299, a reasonable price for the luxury of leaving your laptop at home.
What if you need to print when you're on the road? Pentax' portable PocketJet II prints full-size pages, but at 10 in. by 2 in., it's a little bulkier than you might like. A pretty good alternative is SiPix' Pocket Printer A6 for Palm, Visor, and Pocket PC. At 9 oz., and 4 in. by 5 in., it's easier to carry than a paperback. You can beam print commands to it provided you've created your documents using SiPix-compatible software, such as DataViz' Documents To Go. "I've impressed quite a few people by offering printouts during meetings," says Francis Lo, a business-development manager for CLP Holdings, a Hong Kong utilities company. At $179, it's also $100 less than the PocketJet.
But beware--the slightest nudge during the printing process can interrupt the connection to the printer. Tip: If you're bothered by the notepad-size printouts, have the hotel's business center photocopy them at 200% to get them to standard letter size. It's not laser-perfect quality, but it'll do in a pinch.
Quality is also the rub for most of the digital cameras designed to be attached to handhelds. Visor Eye Module 2, Kodak's PalmPix (EK ), and Hewlett-Packard's Pocket Camera (HWP ) for its Jornada Pocket PC snap right on to your handheld. They're all tiny and lightweight, and they make it easy to attach photos to documents or e-mail messages. But the HP product ($140) is clearly the best. It's packed with extras, such as the ability to attach sounds to pictures. "The quality is on par with other digital cameras," says Sven Johannsen, a systems engineer for Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC ) in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Plus, because it's coupled with a little computer, you get image editing and manipulation capabilities."
Your handheld can act like a Walkman, too. With the free Audible Advisor software (www.audible.com) for the Visor and most Pocket PCs, you can download audio books from the Web site as well as subscribe to radio programs such as All Things Considered. The popular daily radio show costs $9.95 per month or $59.95 per year. Make your purchase on audible.com, and your audio program will shoot right into your handheld the next time you sync. Audio-book prices are competitive with those charged by online booksellers, though the selection isn't as good. A recent Audible search for Amazon.com best-seller Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came up empty.
If golf is your passion, you've got to try SkyHawke Technologies' SkyGolf GPS. Designed for the Palm V, Vx, and all Visors, SkyGolf's GPS receiver snaps on to your handheld and turns it into a personal caddie. It calculates the distance between your ball and the hole, automatically updating as you play the course. The U.S. Golf Association bans such tools in tournaments, but for practice and friendly games it's handy. "The more you know, the easier it is to pick the right club to get closer to the hole," says Dr. Mark Reed, a Jackson (Miss.) pediatrician. "I improved my handicap from 14 to 12 with this."
You can download maps of more than 600 U.S. courses from skygolfgps.com or, by following simple, onscreen instructions, configure the product to the course you're playing that day. And you can beam course maps to other SkyGolfers. It costs $399--about what you would pay for a Big Bertha--plus an average of $9.95 for each course map you download.
TINY FINGERS. And how about that massage after a day on the links? Give yourself a relaxing rub with the Raycom Personal Massager, a $99 module for the Handspring Visor (no Palm or Pocket PC version yet). It comes with two gel pads, each about the size of a business card, that connect to your handheld via a 45-in. cord. Place them directly on sore muscles or accupressure points and the massager alternates among vibrating, squeezing, and tapping motions, with little animations on the screen to show you what's happening. You can even adjust the pressure. The pads are a tad small, but a five-minute session with your handheld masseuse will do wonders for a sore tennis shoulder or that cramp in your leg you get from sitting on an airplane.
So go wild. You may have thought your handheld was just a convenient electronic respository for all your business information. But now, it can be one of your best buddies, too.
By Arlene Weintraub in Los Angeles