Wireless Wonders

By Marge Brown  |  Posted 2003-04-18 Print this article Print

Wireless Wonders

Nearly all of the PDAs we tested have infrared ports for exchanging data, but thats childs play. Several models now integrate Bluetooth for personal area networks and 802.11b (Wi-Fi) for local area networks. Wi-Fi also lets you connect your PDA to hotspots like the ones at Starbucks. Setup for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi needs to be painless, and we are pleased with the ease of use for both, though theres certainly room for improvement (see the sidebar "Wi-Fi in Your Pocket"). PDA/phones offer wide area network capability via phone; most conventional PDAs can be configured to work with a separate cell phone for WAN access.

Only 8 percent of the PDAs shipped in the U.S. in 2002 had these integrated wireless communications features. But as the infrastructure matures, data security issues will be resolved, transmission speeds will finally equal advertised speeds, costs will stabilize, and network configuration will become truly seamless.

One popular trend is the combo PDA, with a built-in phone, a camera, maybe even a remote control. (Just 6 percent of consumers carry both a PDA and a cell phone, according to research firm The Yankee Group.) The Handspring Treo 300, for instance, uses phone carriers high-speed data networks for fast Internet browsing, wireless games, and of course, phone calls. Look for combo devices to gain a bit of popularity once Microsofts Smartphone interface, recently announced in Europe, make its U.S. debut by midyear.

Several PDAs offer built-in cameras, but the 2-megapixel camera on the Sony Clié PEG-NZ90 surpasses all the rest. For a PDA/remote, look for a device with built-in Consumer IR, such as the HP iPAQ h5455 Pocket PC, and the remote-control application Nevo, from Universal Electronics.

Despite the strides made in the past year, PDAs still have a ways to go, especially in the wireless department. Satisfying Internet browsing and streaming video are still just promises, though recent developments are encouraging. Bitstreams Web browser ThunderHawk, for instance, enables near–desktop-quality Internet surfing on select models equipped with Pocket PC 2002. So its only a matter of time before browsing on your PDA is as easy as on your desktop.


Marge Brown, a PC Magazine Contributing Editor, has worked in the technology field for twenty years, as Director of Technology at The Travelers Companies, as an independent Managed Health Care technology consultant, and as owner of Brown Consulting Associates, the family's freelance technology writing business.

Since 1998, Marge has worked on a full-time basis with her husband, Bruce Brown, also a PC Magazine Contributing Editor, writing reviews for PC Magazine and analytical articles for ExtremeTech.com.

Marge is the mother of Rich Brown, freelance writer, Liz Brown, employee of Text100, a technology public relations firm, and Pete Brown, freelance writer and aspiring Web site designer.

In her spare time Marge enjoys reading, swimming, boating, and taking walks with Bruce and their two Giant Schnauzers, Katama and Pepper, who are about to launch their own brand of salsa and hot sauce.


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