Cell phone- PDA gets it all right

March 26, 2001|By Mike Himowitz

Over the years, I've tried out dozens of electronic gadgets. A lot of them were silly or didn't work very well. Some worked just fine and were fun to fool around with but definitely weren't keepers. And a few got it just right - like the Kyocera 6035 Smartphone.

This superb hybrid integrates a digital cell phone with a wireless, Web-connected Palm organizer in a stylish package that's easy to use and works as advertised right out of the box. Available now through Verizon Wireless, it's the first of a new generation of multifunction phone-organizers that will appear over the next six months.

Many of the prototypes showed up last week at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association's Wireless 2001 show in Las Vegas. Sprint plans to offer a Palm-powered superphone tied to its network, while other manufacturers are preparing gadgets based on "Stinger," a stripped-down version of Microsoft's PocketPC operating system. If the products turn out to be as good as the Smartphone, gadget lovers will be in for a treat.

From the outside, the $500 Smartphone looks like a standard, if somewhat bulky cell phone, with a keypad and a large LCD screen. Weighing in at 7 ounces, it's 50 percent larger and heavier than today's standard digital phones. Flip down the clamshell cover that houses the keypad and you'll see why - a screen that's twice as large as it first appears, displaying a menu familiar to users of Palm personal digital assistants (PDAs).

You'll find the usual Palm applications - an address book, calendar, to-do list and expense tracker, along with a writing pad for entering information with a plastic stylus using Palm's Graffiti handwriting recognition system. The Smartphone synchronizes this information with your desktop PC through a docking cradle-charging stand that connects to the serial port of your computer.

You'll also find a couple of applications that don't show up on standard Palm PDAs - a Palmtop version of the Eudora e-mail program, and Eudora Web, a browser that does a solid job of translating Web pages to the small screen.

This is where the system shines. By signing up with Verizon (a one-year contract is required), you get instant access to the company's voice and wireless data networks. Whether you're chatting by voice, downloading e-mail or Web surfing, you pay the same per-minute charge. The cost depends on which plan you choose.

The cheapest option is $30 a month for 200 minutes of airtime, but Verizon says more customers prefer a $59 plan that provides 600 minutes. If you exceed your monthly allotment, you'll pay 25 cents for each additional minute, which can add up quickly. There are also local variations and occasional specials. The price structure is confusing, so investigate carefully before you choose a plan.

Unlike some wireless providers who restrict you to an address on their own systems, Verizon is agnostic about who provides your e-mail. In fact, Verizon doesn't provide e-mail service at all. You'll need an account that's accessible through the industry-standard POP3 protocol, which most Internet Service Providers can handle. To set up the phone, you enter your account name and the Internet address of your mail server.

That done, start Eudora and tell it to check your mail. In a few seconds, the Smartphone logs onto Verizon's Internet gateway and pulls down your messages. It won't display attachments; but, otherwise, it's easy to browse through the list and call any message to the screen. To compose a message, you can pick the recipient from your address book or enter the address by hand. Given the limitations of Graffiti, you won't want to compose long missives, but it's fine for short correspondence.

If your e-mail provider won't relay mail from a third system (a restriction that some ISPs impose to thwart spammers), you can program the phone to dial directly into your ISP's local access number. Unfortunately, this feature is buried in the phone's setup menu, not immediately obvious.

On the downside, Verizon's data network is no speed demon. It's limited to 14.4 kilobits per second, which is one-fourth the speed of today's modems. It's sufficient for e-mail, but it makes Web browsing painfully slow, particularly when you're paying by the minute.

The SmartPhone tries hard with the Web, but surfing with a 2 1/4 inch-square display is still frustrating. While many Web-enabled cell phones are limited to sites serving pages specially "clipped" for the small screen, the Smartphone does its best to display any page you ask for, minus the graphics. The result depends on the design of the page, but don't expect miracles. You're better off downloading specific Web-clipping filters from Palm (www.palm.com), each of which is designed to retrieve small-screen data from a specific Web site.

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