PDA Bargain Bonanza

Four budget PDAs compete on features

By Yardena Arar

High-end palms and Pocket PCs can cost $500 or more, but several vendors now offer personal digital assistants--some with comparable features--for more-modest budgets. I looked at four such newcomers: Dell's Pocket PC-based Axim X5, ViewSonic's Pocket PC V35, Palm's Zire, and Royal's Linea16.

Dell and ViewSonic--both making their debuts in the PDA market--offer breakthrough pricing for Pocket PC 2002 devices. ViewSonic's lightweight (4.2 ounces), compact (4.8 by 3.0 by 0.4 inches) V35 ($299) is powered by a zippy new 300-MHz Intel XScale CPU. The preproduction unit I looked at featured a handsome 64K-color transflective LCD, 32MB of ROM, 64MB of SDRAM, and a Secure Digital disk slot.

The Axim X5 is available in $349 and $249 versions (before a $50 rebate). Both are powered by rechargeable, removable batteries; the more expensive model comes with a cool syncing/recharging cradle that has a dedicated slot for charging a spare battery (not included). But thanks to the removable battery, the Axim X5 measures 5 by 3.2 by 0.7 inches and checks in at a hefty 6.9 ounces; my preproduction unit looked bulky next to the slinky Pocket PC V35.

The $349 Axim XS's specs either match the V35's--including its screen--or exceed them, with a 400-MHz XScale CPU and both SD and CompactFlash slots. The $249 X5 substitutes a sync cable for the recharging cradle and comes with a 300-MHz XScale chip as well as 32MB of RAM.

SUB-$100 PDAS. Based on the older (but still very capable) Palm 4.1 OS, the monochrome-screen Zire's chic white plastic case has just two buttons for launching applications (addresses and a datebook), instead of the customary four. You get a USB cable for hot-syncing data (to either Palm's desktop organizer or Outlook) and an internal rechargeable battery.

The Zire's 2MB of memory (no expansion slot) is sufficient for a reasonable number of contact entries and some apps, but skimpy by current PDA standards. In addition, my shipping Zire lacked a backlight. I'd rather spend my $99 on the older Palm M105 and put up with Palm OS 3.5 and serial-port syncing in return for getting a backlight and much more memory (8MB).

The main selling point of Royal's Linea16 is a built-in 56-kbps modem to send and receive e-mail from a dial-up POP3 account (but currently not AOL or MSN e-mail).

The Linea16 runs a proprietary OS, so you miss out on thousands of Palm or Pocket PC apps. But you get 16MB of memory. The Linea16 syncs with Royal's desktop software and with Outlook, Goldmine, ACT, and Lotus Organizer.

You enter data via either a software keyboard or natural characters in a pop-up handwriting input area; and the device's backlit monochrome screen is slightly larger than a Palm's. I found that setting up e-mail with a preproduction unit was tricky, however, and the icon-based navigation is difficult to master.

Despite their budget prices, I can't wholeheartedly recommend the Palm Zire or the Royal Linea16. But the ViewSonic Pocket PC V35 and the Dell Axim V5 are exceptionally worthy models for any prospective Pocket PC owner.

From the January 2003 issue of PC World magazine

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