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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
The battle of the handhelds

Following Psion's decision to pull out of the handheld computer market, Adam Shaw, of BBC 2's Working Lunch, reviews the big players in the palmtop computer sector.

THE CONTENDERS

Psion is easily the oldest handheld around. The first ones came out about 20 years ago.

It was followed by Palm, which came on the market about four years ago.

Then only two years ago the heavyweight champion of the PC market, Microsoft, came on to the market with a handheld operating system which powered all manner of other people's computers, such as Compaq, Hewlett Packard and Casio.

Also, part of the development team from Palm has split off to develop a rival handheld - although it shares the same operating system as Palm - called Handspring.

PSION

Looking at Psion first, there are a range of versions. Some have diaries, alarms, a calculator and a simple word processor.

Psion Revo
Address book is the best feature
But its best feature is, arguably, the way it handles your address book.

It is simple and straightforward and means you can search for a person by name, address or subject.

And it does that as well if not better than the rest of the handhelds on the market.

The most powerful Psion handheld has a 133 megahertz processor and 16 megabytes of memory.

Prices range from about 250 to 350.

But the main drawback to Psion is that it is not at all easy to get the Psion to talk to your PC.

So, if you are now looking for alternatives to a Psion, this is your choice.

PALM

Palm handheld computer
Palm: full colour screen
Palm has its own software which is different from Microsoft and Psion.

Although it does appear to talk to a Microsoft PC better than a Psion.

The newer version of Palm is in full colour.

As well as addresses and calculators, its also has a note pad, to do list, memo list and games.

The most powerful one you can get is Palm m505. Prices range from 150 to 390.

You can also add up to 64 megabytes of memory to the m500 and m505 series by slotting in a card at the back.

HANDSPRING

Handspring visor
Shares a lot of the Palm functionality

Not surprisingly the Handspring Visor is similar to the Palm and shares much of the same functionality.

Basic models do have some extra features such as a date book that interacts with your to do list.

They are more common in the US and range in price from $149 to $399.

Most of the models were designed with eight megabytes of memory.

COMPAQ

Compaq handheld computer
Compaq: easy PC connection
The Compaq Ipaq uses Microsoft so has the most straightforward connection to a normal PC.

It's in colour has all the bells and whistles including photos and being able to read books.

The most powerful one has a 206 megahertz processor and 64 megabytes of memory.

Prices range from 339 to 499.

CASIO AND HEWLETT PACKARD

Casio handheld computer
Casio: more powerful than Hewlett Packard
Casio and Hewlett Packard's machines do exactly the same things.

The Casio is slightly more powerful than the Hewlett Packard and it's slightly more expensive.

It has a 150 megahertz processor and 16 megabytes of memory. It costs 352.

DRAWBACKS

The big drawback to the Psion competitors mentioned so far is that they don't come with an integral keyboard.

You have to use an electronic pen to put in information and that can take some getting used to.

With some of the handhelds, such as Palm, you can buy an add-on, foldable keyboard for about 100.

But the Jornada from Hewlett Packard does come with a keyboard and has the advantage of being in colour, working from Microsoft software and therefore talks easily to your home PC.

Hewlett Packard handheld computer
Hewlett Packard: cheaper than Casio

The most powerful one is as fast as the Ipaq, with 106 megahertz processor and 32 megabytes of memory.

But its hugely more expensive, costing 727.

If you are thinking of swapping your Psion, the company say all you need to do is synchronize the Psion with a full version of Outlook and that can download to your new computer.

They say its easy, I've never found anything particularly easy when it comes to transferring things from one computer to another so I'll just wish you good luck.

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