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Anywhere You Roam

By Team Digit | Published 01 Mar 2005 16:16 IST
Anywhere You Roam
There is something to be said about a world that expects you to carry your work with you, wherever you may be, whenever. As a digitally connected society, we are programmed to take blurred timelines, back-breaking roads, jetlag and virtual meetings in our stride, and sally forth to bring back that winning deal. While it is tempting to take a philosophical look at this state wherein "no time to stand and stare" is an accepted reality, such meanderings are best left to others.

So while the Deepak Chopras of the world address those issues through easily available paperbacks (perhaps as e-books readable on your PDA), we shall accept the status quo and make the best of it. We will, therefore, take a look at the best means of staying mobile with your precious data.

With mobility on our mind, our focus will be on two consumer devices-laptops and PDA-phones.

Did Someone Say Status Quo?
An interesting and recent development has been the proliferation of laptops in business houses, and to a lesser degree, within homes. These portable PCs are currently powerful enough to carry out the most common tasks-writing and staying connected with peers and loved ones, while offering the necessary digital entertainment via movies and songs. The most important criterion here is, of course, portability, quickly followed by quick, convenient and safe retrieval of that portable data. Right now, laptops offer all this in an affordable package, and are quickly replacing desktop computers.

We are, of course, not suggesting that the laptop is replaceable by the phone-not yet at least. The two complement each other well

Going hand-in-hand with laptops are handhelds. Indeed, the competition on this turf for both size and features is so fierce that it has become quite a mental exercise to  differentiate a phone from a 'smartphone', and a smartphone from a PDA. If you are looking at a communication device that offers rudimentary contact management and call management, then almost any cell phone in the market would be it. But we went a little further here.

With an eye on data manipulation and data portability, we argued that an ideal device would be a 'PDA phone': more PDA than phone, with a good, viewable screen, data input via either a keyboard or handwriting recognition software, and finally, with the ability to make phone calls. Such a device is ideal when called for noting down someone's contact (or for exchanging contact information wirelessly after a meeting or presentation); to create to-do lists; or for synching your calendar with the rest of your team over a shared Web calendar-instead of booting your sizeable laptop.

It is always easier to update your PDA-phone while on the go and then sync it later with your PC later at night. Similarly, reminders about meetings or birthdates, and checking e-mail while travelling, are tasks for which PDA-phones are more practical than laptops.

On-the-road practicality is what prompted Santosh Savant to opt for a PDA-phone over a laptop. As the brand manager of Cosmos Brands International Pvt Ltd, Savant relies on his Nokia Communicator 9210i for "scheduling meetings and anniversary reminders." As he puts it, "While travelling, the size and weight of the device really matters; a laptop weighs over a kilogram, and the 250 grams of a PDA-phone is a significant reduction… the PDA-phone notifies me about events instantly. The same can't be said about laptops for the simple reason that they won't be switched on all the time."

We are, of course, not suggesting that the laptop is replaceable by the phone-not yet at least. The two complement each other well-a phone to gather and check upon data quickly, a laptop to work upon collated data at a less hectic time and locale. As Santosh Savant, brand manager, Cosmos International Brands Pvt Ltd, agrees, "…a laptop is a better bet if you do lot of presentations, work with sheets, etc, but for e-mail on the go, a PDA is as good as a laptop."

Mobile e-mail has become very important in the business world. A 2004 survey by research firm InStat/ MDR highlighted that the biggest concern to mobile business users is staying connected to customers, co-workers, and critical data. The survey went on to note that for their cell phones, users want basic functionalities such as speakerphones and e-mail capabilities. This fact has been underlined by the industry itself-Blackberry devices are finding favour with users for their e-mail capabilities and their ability to tie seamlessly with Microsoft Exchange servers. Indeed, their success has prompted PalmSource to carve out a deal with Microsoft to be able to communicate with Exchange servers… Microsoft, in turn, is looking to add support for so-called 'auxiliary display devices' to their upcoming-any time now-Longhorn OS.

Microsoft wants PC makers to mount cell phone-like displays on the lids of laptop computers so that users can check the time, battery status and appointments, or see if new e-mail has arrived without having to start up their portable PCs. Such functionality is already planned for 'handtops' such as the upcoming FlipStart (

Will the future bring in the so-called 'road warriors'-men and women connected digitally to offices yet not tethered physically to a geographical location?

A look at present devices certainly points to such a scenario. When we tested devices for this article, convergence and portability featured prominently across laptops and PDA-phones. So let's take a look at what the market is offering. As mentioned, we have divided this article into laptops and PDA-phones. We begin with the laptops.
How We Tested 
The laptops were assessed on four main parameters-features, performance, usability and price. The weightages applied to these parameters varied from one category to another depending on the relevance of a particular parameter to that category.
We used a fresh copy of Windows XP Professional SP1 as the OS. After the installation, all the latest drivers were loaded for optimum performance.

We noted features such as the type of RAM, hard disk capacity, type of optical drive, types of ports, connectivity options, and so on.

A laptop's usability is evaluated on the basis of how simple or difficult it is to handle in day-to-day life-primary importance was given to weight, dimensions, and other ergonomically-inclined issues such as keyboard feel, touchpad sensitivity, etc.

Package contents
We noted whether the vendor provided an OS, a recovery CD, a user's manual and driver CDs with the laptop. We also noted the extra software provided, and the accessories-power adapter, carry case, etc-bundled along.

To gauge the performance of each laptop, we ran a battery of tests to evaluate each sub-system. The following benchmarking suites were used to test the laptops.

PCMark 2004: This is a system-wide benchmark that tests individual components such as the processor, memory, hard drive and the graphics sub-system. It returns aggregated scores as well as individual scores by running different applications used in day-to-day work, such as file encryption, virus scanning and so on.  SiSoft Sandra 2005 Professional SR1: This was used to evaluate CPU, memory and hard disk performance.
Ziff Davis Business Winstone 2004: ZD Bench's Business Winstone-a benchmark that tests the system with applications that are used on daily basis-evaluates complete system performance, and returns a unified score.
Video Encoding: A 100 MB VOB file was encoded using Dr. Divx 1.0.6 to the AVI format, and the time taken to encode the file was noted.
Gaming benchmarks: Call of Duty was used because it doesn't work on graphics chipsets that don't support Hardware T&L (Transformation and Lighting), and tests the OpenGL graphics subsystem. HalfLife 2 supports different versions of the DirectX API. The games were run at 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768, and the average frame-rate was noted.
Screen display tests: DisplayMate Video Edition was used to evaluate the quality of the LCD display. We used the test to gauge the sharpness and level shift of the LCD screens. Pixel Persistence was tested using the PassMark Monitor Test suite, in which white moving blocks were observed for the tearing effect, and the screens were rated accordingly. The laptops were then taken outdoors to see how viewable the text and video on the screen was in sunlight. The laptops were placed such that the sun fell on the screen at a slant, rather than perpendicular to the screen.
Digit Battery Meter: In order to stress the battery to the utmost, we ran a VOB file until the battery ran out, to gauge whether the notebook battery would last a full movie-pretty real-world.
Wi-Fi Test: To evaluate data throughput over Wi-Fi, we used the NetCPS program-a utility that pumps in data to check the TCP/IP connection. We also copied 52 MB of assorted data, and streamed a movie file, to further check Wi-Fi performance.
Based on its form, a laptop can either be an 'ultra-portable'-small and light-or a workhorse-big and feature-rich. One of the common elements threading through these disparate devices is battery life. Although it is an important element in the usability of portable electronics, battery life, at present, doesn't satisfy. Hovering around the three-hour mark, you would be remiss not to carry an extra battery pack along. Perhaps with the introduction of less hungry processors, better batteries, and someday, of OLED screens, this facet will improve.

Fujitsu LifeBook S7010

As of today, large screens, optical drives, fast hard disks, wireless connectivity, all conspire to hold battery life down-the best a laptop could do under our admittedly gruelling battery test was make it past four hours (it was an Acer TravelMate, in case you are wondering). Our recommendation is that you seriously consider investing in an extra battery pack when purchasing a laptop.

'Why I Use A Laptop' 
Jehangir Wadia, Trustee of the A H Wadia Trust, has been an avid laptop user for at least 10 years now; he currently uses a Fujitsu 7010 for everyday work.
Flexibility is the primary reason he cited for opting for a laptop over a desktop PC. According to Wadia, you can take your entire office with you if you have a laptop-whether you're on the move, visiting your branch offices, or working at home. "Such mobility and flexibility ensures that you deliver on both-professional as well as personal demands."

Barring the odd one here and there, most of the LCD screens on laptops are usable. Some are exceptional, such as the specially-coated screens offered by Sony or Sharp (with exceptional price tags too); some are not very usable under certain lighting conditions, such as the 'mirrored' Toshiba Satellite. But, on the whole, they are all usable for the task at hand, which is mostly reading, writing and some portable cinema, if you are lucky with time and if your battery allows.

Before purchasing a laptop, ensure that you are comfortable with the viewing angle-place it in a position you will most frequently use: on your lap, on a table, in a cramped airplane seat, or seated in a local train. If the screen is readable at the angles you try out, you are good to go.

Another noteworthy aspect is that of the hard disk speed, but all the laptops we tested had 4,200 rpm disks, which is good enough. Just remember that faster, though better, would also drain batteries quicker.

Lastly, on build quality-IBM laptops are the best in this regard, bar none. The quality of their keyboards is on par with, if not above, that of desktop keyboards, their machines are build extremely well, and to last. Time will tell whether the IBM-Lenovo deal will affect this; notably, Thinkpads will still be made under the aegis of IBM for at least one more year.

We will now move on to the crux of this section-the performance of the laptops we received, starting with the Workhorses.

The Workhorses
Workhorses are built to take care of demanding computing needs. They, therefore, include good I/O, graphics and multimedia sub-systems to enable you to tackle tasks we usually perform on our desktop PCs. We rounded 12 models from nine brands under this category. HP and Dell could not send in their models in time for our test, despite aggressive follow-ups from our end.

ACI Emerald C2

A workhorse is generally employed both at home (where you will likely use it for work) and at work (if the boss is looking, for work). These machines, therefore, are powerful enough to pull the requisite load. Let's look at their features, starting with what makes them tick.

Power: The Acer TravelMate 4002WNLCi comes with a fast 1.6 GHz Pentium M processor and 512 MB of DDR333 RAM. The Wipro LifeGenius 1000D, on the other hand, came equipped with a paltry 128 MB of RAM, which was shamelessly shared with the graphics chip-its performance did suffer on account of this. The Acer, Zenith Strategist and Toshiba Satellite all had wide screens, which are a plus while working on worksheets or while watching a movie.

IBM Thinkpad T42

Oddly enough, the Toshiba Satellite had a 'mirror finish' to its monitor, which took away much of the detail while viewing anything in a properly lit room. The MSI MegaBook sported the highest native resolution of 1,400 x 1,050. When it comes to connectivity, serial and parallel ports, while still important, are sidelined by the now-ubiquitous USB ports. A few models, from vendors such as MSI, came with a parallel and a serial port. The Zenith Director had four USB ports, which was the highest, three or two being the norm.

FireWire is also gaining in presence, and all laptops except for the IBM Thinkpad T42 came with a FireWire port. This provides a fast interface for connecting digital imaging equipment such as DV cams to a laptop.

An infra-red (IrDA) port, though old, was still present on almost every laptop except for the Zenith and the Toshiba. IR ports, slow as they may be, are a very useful feature for exchanging data with handhelds such as cell phones and PDAs. IrDA allows for synching of your Outlook address book, notes, to-dos, images and so on. The models from Acer and BenQ also supported the faster and more convenient Bluetooth.

As wireless networks increase in popularity within offices, and as Wi-Fi hotspots trickle into our country, Wi-Fi-enabled laptops make for a worthwhile investment. Most of these are based on Intel's Centrino platform. Wi-Fi connectivity was indeed part of every laptop, save for the Zenith Director.

Faster Gigabit Ethernet ports were provided with the Fujitsu, the IBM and the MSI laptops, and this number will only grow, as the popularity of Gigabit is fast increasing. Gigabit allows ten times faster data transfers over a LAN.

To be able to make presentations while on the road, D-Sub and S-video connectors are important. These can also be used to output video onto bigger televisions at home in order to watch movies, play a game or run a slideshow of your personal photographs.

When it comes to data storage, anything above 20 GB is decent for a laptop, and all the  laptops we tested had at least this much to offer. The MSI MegaBook M510C came with an 80 GB drive.

The integrated graphics chip present in most of the laptops is good enough for common usage. However, some laptops do offer the option of a dedicated card. If you are looking to do design work on your workhorse, such as CAD/CAM, consider such a solution. Some Thinkpads, for example, offer the option of workstation-class graphics cards with 128 MB of onboard memory.

The IBM T42 had an ATi Radeon 7500 with 32 MB of dedicated DDR RAM; the Acer and the MSI came with an ATi Radeon 9700 with 64 MB of dedicated DDR RAM, whereas the Toshiba came with an nVidia GeForce Go 5200 with 64 MB of dedicated DDR RAM.

All the laptops in this category came equipped with an optical combo drive capable of burning CD-ROMs. This is a handy feature, suited for taking backups on either archival CDs or on rewritable CD-RWs. The Fujitsu and the IBM T42 also featured biometric fingerprint scanners for added security. These allow biometric access to password-protected data within e-mail boxes, instant messengers and VPNs.

Usability: The Fujitsu LifeBook S7010 had the smallest dimensions and was the lightest. In fact, it weighed in at just 1.98 kg-much lighter than the next-lightest, the IBM T42, at 2.28 kgs.

Zenith Director

The Fujitsu is an ideal travel companion-it's so light that you can easily carry around that necessary extra battery pack, or even a spare mouse.

The usability of a laptop is enhanced by accessible expansion ports-it is better to have USB ports on either side of a unit than at the back; ditto for the D-Sub ports. Ports on the Acer, BenQ and Fujitsu units were nicely spread out and very easy to access.

Some laptops such as the MSI and the Zenith Strategist had touchpads with tacky keys. The Toshiba had the Windows key in the top row, and the IBMs simply did not feature a Windows key.

When the sole method of analogue input to a laptop is a touchpad, the touchpad needs to be sensitive and responsive enough to your fingers. Struggling with this will soon lead to tired fingers and a drop in productivity.

Here, the IBM Thinkpad offered the best tactile feel on both the touchpad and the keyboard. Moreover, its signature red pointing stick is a great replacement for a mouse in terms of ease of use.

The Fujitsu and the Toshiba Satellite fared equally well here. We found the IBM laptops and the Acer unit very ergonomic. IBM is to be commended for its rock-solid build quality. When we tested onscreen readability in daylight, except for the Zenith Strategist, the remainder were nothing but eye strainers. The Fujitsu S7010 had the most difficult screen to read. As far as viewing angle goes, the Fujitsu, the Toshiba and the MSI offered good angles of 170 degrees. ACI offered the lowest at 145 degrees.

For movies, the best viewing angle of 160 degrees was offered by the Zenith Strategist. The Wipro CP had a pretty bad screen, which didn't allow for any lateral movement; we had to sit right in front of it to get a viewable image.

Although all the laptops came equipped with speakers, none came close to the Harmon Kardon speakers that shipped with the Toshiba Satellite M30.

All laptops came with either Microsoft Windows XP Professional or Home, with Wipro and Zenith being the exceptions. They didn't come preloaded with an OS at all; you are expected to either install an OS yourself or pay extra for this barest of necessities.
Laptops falling in this category are flexible enough for home and office use. This means a good workhorse should run office applications as well as a desktop PC would. To test this, we employed the Business Winstone benchmark, under which common applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and Internet Explorer are run in a scripted sequence.

Here, the IBM T42 logged the highest score of 21.2, followed by the 20.7 that the Fujitsu S7010 scored. The IBM T42 also was the fastest in video encoding, and in the SiSoft Sandra 2005 synthetic benchmark suite. The T42 thus comes across as a machine that will not only perform well in most work-related applications, but one that also lends itself to minor workstation-class jobs such as rendering and image resizing and conversion.

Wipro LittleGenius CP

Under PCMark 2004, the Acer TravelMate 4002 scored the best, and should suffice for all computing needs-office, home or while travelling. The IBM T42 and MSI also showcased good performance.

Wi-Fi, though not very common, is finding a foothold in India. Wireless connectivity provides flexibility and lets the user work and access data and the Internet while away from the desk. Speed, however, still remains an issue, especially with the 802.11b standard, where the peak data throughput is just 11 Mbps. Thankfully,802.11g, with 54 Mbps, is gaining in popularity.

The Acer TravelMate 4002, with an 802.11g-based Intel card returned scores comparable to those of a wired LAN. It took just 34 seconds to copy 50 MB of data using Wi-Fi on this laptop!

We also ran a few games to test the DirectX and OpenGL performance of these machines. Since most had an integrated Intel graphics chipset, they returned very low scores, while the IBM T42 simply failed to run Half-Life 2. The Toshiba Satellite M30 running on a GeForce Go 5200 and the MSI MegaBook M510C with an ATi Mobility 9700 chip were the exceptions, and fared well in both games.

Finally, it was time to test the battery life. Most of the laptops we tested supported some form of speed throttling-wherein the CPU runs faster or slower depending on the load-and they also switch off the screen and park the drive after a while in order to extract the most from the battery. We wanted to test them under extreme conditions, however, and therefore disabled these features. Keep in mind, therefore, that real-world battery life will be better than what our tests reflect.

The Acer TravelMate 4002 was indeed a traveller's friend-it ran for a whole 230 minutes. On the other extreme were the models from Wipro, which drained out in just 66 minutes, which is poor by any standards.

Acer TravelMate 4002WNLC

While both the IBM T42 and the Toshiba M30 put up a solid performance in most tests, the Acer TravelMate 4002 came out on top as the best performer.

MSI MegaBook M510C

This wide-screen wonder with a 1.6 GHz Pentium M processor and 512 MB of DDR333 RAM sported a 60 GB hard drive and an 802.11g wireless card. The screen supported a native resolution of 1280 x 800, a resolution ideal for both work and leisure. Being powered by the ATi Mobility Radeon 9700 did not hurt its performance either. Although it weighs in at 2.98 kg, the performance is well worth the extra kilogram!
The MSI MegaBook M510C came in second, closely following the Acer. With a 1.5 GHz Intel processor and 256 MB of DDR333 RAM, the Acer also sports Gigabit Ethernet and an SD/MMC/ MemoryStick card reader. This laptop had an 80 GB hard disk, which was the highest capacity in the comparison test.

Download PDF File of Ultra Portable Laptops

While the Workhorses are meant to replace your desktop PCs, ultra-portables are designed to be as small and as light as possible. Their screen size is therefore small-less than 14 inches-and they weigh less than two kgs.

A small form factor calls for some compromises though, including the screen size, which may lead to eye strain after prolonged use-and a smaller keyboard, which can be cumbersome to work with. We tested five such models from five different vendors.

All the ultra-portables were based on Intel's Centrino platform: with an Intel Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 chipset and an Intel Pro Wi-Fi chipset.

The Fujitsu S2020, with an AMD Athlon XP-M 2100 , was the exception. The Acer TravelMate 381TCi had a whopping 512 MB of RAM, a lot for its size!

'Lighter Laptops Make Sense' 

Dr Uday Lajmi , Dean, D Y Patil Institute of Management Studies
Dr Lajmi has equipped himself with an ultra-portable laptop. Why an ultra-portable one? "Weight and size were the two things I was looking at, and it's only an ultra-portable that fits the bill. I often have to lug the laptop around for presentations, so a lighter laptop makes more sense. Moreover, the small size ensures you can take it almost anywhere." 

All these laptops had a 4:3 screen, except for the Zenith VU, which featured a 16:9 wide screen. The Zenith Presidio VU also had the highest resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels; the other laptops featured 1024 x 768. The Zenith's only drawback was a 'mirror finish' screen, which was very distracting-it reflected too much light. The Fujitsu LifeBook S2020 had the largest screen size of 13.3 inches, and was a lot easier on the eyes.

The Toshiba Satellite M30 running on a GeForce
Go 5200 chip fared well in both games

The Zenith Presidio VU had three USB 2.0 ports, while the others only had two. The almost-obsolete serial port was only available on the Fujitsu LifeBook S2020, which also sported a parallel port-along with the ACI Ethos Lite.

All these laptops had a FireWire port. They also all had a PCMCIA slot that supported Type I and II PC Cards. Due to their small size, the support for the thicker PCMCIA Type III was absent. The Zenith Presidio VU supported SD/MemoryStick/MMC cards, whereas the ACI Ethos Lite supported SD/MMC-and the Toshiba Portégé M100 supported only SD cards. The rest had no memory card reading capability at all.

IrDA ports were present on all laptops except the Toshiba Portégé M100. It doesn't hurt to have an IrDA port onboard, especially if you wish to transfer files between a cell phone and the laptop.

All the Centrino-certified laptops, as well as the Fujitsu LifeBook S2020, had Wi-Fi connectivity, which is fast getting popular in offices, airport lounges, hotels, and even a few retail outlets.

The Acer TravelMate 381TCi, Fujitsu LifeBook S2020 and the Zenith Presidio VU supported the 802.11b/g standard, while the rest supported the 802.11b standard. It should be noted that the faster 802.11g (54 Mbps) should be preferred over the older and slower 802.11b (11 Mbps). None of the ultra-portables supported Bluetooth. However, all were equipped with a 10/100 Mbps LAN port as well as an internal 56 Kbps modem.

All the laptops came with a 40 GB hard drive, except for the Acer TravelMate 381TCi, which had 60 GB. Only the Toshiba Portégé M100 had a 5,400 rpm hard drive-all the others had 4,200 rpm drives. On the graphics front, only the Fujitsu LifeBook S2020 came with the ATi IGP 320M graphics chipset: the others had the vanilla Intel Extreme Graphics 2, which is a decent solution when you limit usage to presentations, movies and office applications.

The Acer and ACI models came with external optical combo drives-the Acer had a FireWire drive, the ACI a USB one; the other laptops came with inbuilt combo drives.

It is important to note that in this category, an external drive grants greater flexibility. By not integrating an external drive into the device, the laptop can be smaller; you are granted the freedom to only use it when needed. Thus, the Acer was the lightest laptop tested at 1.66 kilograms, followed closely by the ACI at 1.72 kgs.

Acer TravelMate 381TCi

Notably, the Zenith Presidio VU had an inbuilt swivel Web camera, ideal for ad-hoc video-conferences. Also worth noting was that the Toshiba lacked a touchpad, which made navigation a torture.
As pointed out earlier, the Acer and ACI models were the smallest and the lightest, thanks to their external optical drives. For those who will always require an optical drive, the Fujitsu offered the best portability. One negative about external drives is that they occupy a port while in use.

Speaking of ports, the Fujitsu's ports are not placed all that well, but the device made amends with its touchpad and keyboard, which we found to be the best to work with in this class. We found the build quality of the Toshiba to be the best. The Acer had an unconventional, round touchpad and a small keyboard. The Zenith featured a touchpad whose feel was worse than the feel of the surrounding surface, and the touchpad keys were tacky to boot. The Toshiba did not feature a touchpad at all, going for a pointing stick instead.

All these laptops came bundled with Windows XP Professional, with the exception of the Zenith Presidio VU, which came without an OS. Only the Fujitsu came with a complete software package, which included a recovery disk, RecordNow-which is CD-burning software, Norman Virus Control and Cyberlink PowerDVD 4. It skipped the driver CD, though. The Toshiba Portégé M100 made system restoration easier by providing a restore DVD instead of multiple CDs.

When we put these laptops through the Winstone suite of tests, the Toshiba Protégé M100 scored the highest at 19.4.

Surprisingly, the ACI Ethos Lite with a 1.7 GHz Intel Pentium M processor could only manage 9.5, which is a very low score.

The Zenith Presidio VU has an inbuilt swivel Web camera,
ideal for ad-hoc video conferences

We encoded a video file to determine the muscle of the processors. Here, the Zenith Presidio VU took just 217 seconds to encode our VOB file to AVI. The ACI was once again the slowest, at 287 seconds.

The Zenith will offer you the best frame rates if you plan on watching movies while in transit. The ACI did do well in the synthetic SiSoft Sandra 2005 CPU test, which tests the CPU in isolation, a scenario that is hardly practical.

As we noted before, a fast hard drive goes a long way in improving your computing experience. The Toshiba M100 with its 5,400 rpm drive was certainly the fastest, logging an impressive 32 MBps as the drive index and offering an access time of just eight ms, which is usually in the range of 10-12 ms. Applications will launch faster, and data will be saved and backed up faster on this laptop.

While you might not play games on these machines, gaming scores reflect the capabilities of the video card, and are important if you are a CAD/CAM designer or an architect.

In Call of Duty, an OpenGL game, the Acer 381TCi gave the highest frame rates of 25.3 fps at 800 x 600. In Half-Life 2, a DirectX game, the Fujitsu S2020 with its Athlon XP-M processor and an ATi IGP320 chipset returned the highest scores of 15 fps and 12.22 fps at 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768 respectively. 

While testing viewing angles, all the screens offered readable text from angles as high as 160 degrees, with the Toshiba going as high as 170 degrees. For movies, however, the Toshiba was visible within a range of 130 degrees, whereas the Fujitsu offered 150 degrees. When tested in daylight, except for the Toshiba M100, the others were too dark to be readable.


When it came to battery life, the Zenith Presidio and the Acer 381TCi went 170 minutes on a full charge, which is as good as it gets for an ultra-portable. The Fujitsu, with a 100-minute battery life, demands that an extra battery pack be carried alongside.

For wireless data transfer, the Fujitsu S2020 with a transfer rate of 2.37 MBps one-upped the Acer 381TCi at 2.03 MBps. This will let you stream music from colleagues without a hitch.

The mixed marriage between the Pda and the
cell phone is promising the ideal breed

The ACI Ethos Lite and the Acer TravelMate 381TCi, both of which featured an external combo drive, earned almost equal points in the final scorecard, with just  a point separating them, and were the second and third runners-up respectively. At the end of the day, the Fujitsu LifeBook S2020 was adjudged the winner, followed by the Zenith Presidio VU.

Fujitsu LifeBook S2020

Even though the Fujitsu cost Rs 10,000 more than the Zenith, what it lost in price, it made up in features. With a 13.3-inch screen driven by an ATi IGP 320M chipset, the Fujitsu offered a great viewing experience. It also sported a variety of ports, save for a memory card reader-which wasn't present on any of the laptops in this category.

Zenith Presidio VU

In terms of ergonomics, the Fujitsu excelled. Also worth noting is that it carried along the best software bundle.
How We Tested PDA-Phones 
Parameters such as portability, usability and productivity formed the backbone of this PDA comparison.
In 'Portability', we noted the dimensions and the weight of the device. We also looked at  whether the device fits easily in a pocket. 'Usability' included general ergonomics, where we assigned scores by typing messages using the QWERTY keyboard/pad or using the stylus.
We also used the device for browsing the Internet, and logged its ability to render Web pages well. As for contact management and schedules, we added some entries and then synchronised the device with a desktop PC to check compatibility with MS Outlook. We also used the provided data backup tool to back up the data, and assigned scores based on how simple this task turned out. We also took the devices' ease of use into account.
In 'Productivity', we assessed how easy to use the bundled software was-such as the word processor, the spreadsheet application, the PDF reader, the presentation tool, the e-mail client, etc.
To obtain realistic values in the battery test, we had the device simulate optimal usage, and noted the time it took for the device to drain the battery from a full charge.
We have talked about and tested laptops to this point; that device class in its current avatar is not ideally suited for instant, one-minute tasks. Making a quick phone call, perhaps even a conference call, sending an emergency SMS across, scheduling or rescheduling meetings, taking small notes, recording voice memos, exchanging electronic contact information-such tasks as these require a different beast to drive them.

While a PDA was ideally suited for all these tasks a few years ago, the mixed marriage between that strain of product and the cell phone is promising the ideal breed. What we have termed the PDA-phone is a device that straddles the boundaries, offering the best of both worlds. The key is the means of data entry, then screen size, and then the other features. So why not smartphones? Smartphones typically have much smaller keypads-this is essentially what differentiates them from the PDA-phones we are discussing here, which have a full-fledged data entry system.

In the scenario we've painted, laptops are your primary device, while a device that provides the functionality of a PDA and the connectivity of a cell phone plays the sidekick. Thus, Nokia's Communicator 9500 is more of a phone with slapped-on PDA features, whereas O2's XDA-II mini is essentially a PDA with cell phone features.

'For e-mail on the go, a PDA is as good as a laptop' 

Santosh Savant, Brand Manager, Cosmos Brands International Pvt Ltd.

As a brand manager for up-market luxury brands, Savant often has to shuttle between his office in India and headquarters in Europe. He relies on his Nokia Communicator 9210i for daily communication. Here's what Savant had to say to us about his preference for a PDA-phone over a laptop.
"When you're travelling, the weight and size of the device really matters. Any laptop weighs over a kilogram, and the 250 grams of a PDA-phone is a significant reduction. Secondly, I use the 9210i for scheduling my meetings, anniversary reminders, etc. when travelling; the PDA-phone notifies me about such events instantly-it's not this way with laptops for the simple reason that they aren't switched on all the time.
Practically speaking, a laptop is a better bet if you do lot of presentations, work with sheets, etc. But for e-mail on the go, a PDA is as good as a laptop. The added phone features make it even better-you can stay in touch with your loved ones."

We received two devices from Nokia-the 9500 Communicator and the 7710; the Treo 600 from PalmOne; the O2 XDA II mini; the Blackberry 7730 from Airtel; and the A768i from Motorola. Sony-Ericsson failed to send us the P910i in time.

We tested each of these devices on the various parameters that would be of importance to a mobile professional.

These devices need to be pocketable. Dimensions, though important, should not affect important elements such as screen size too much; an ideal device will therefore have the correct balance of dimensions and screen size.

Motorola's A768i is most pocketable; the clamshell design aids it further, serving as a screen protector, and you can safely throw it along with loose change and house keys. However, as you will soon find out, the A768i isn't very feature-rich.

The O2 XDA II mini on the other hand, has a perfect balance of dimensions and screen size. Despite its large screen, the O2 mini maintains a small profile, thanks to minimal face buttons, and can be easily slipped into your pocket.

The Blackberry 7730 has a sufficiently large screen, but is somewhat too large to be easily carried-this one is definitely a coat pocket or a trouser pocket device.

The PalmOne Treo 600 is surprisingly small and pocketable; it does have an external antenna, though.

The Communic- ator series from Nokia was not meant
for the pocket, and the 9500 is no exception

While Nokia's 7710 might be considered pocket material, its large display is prone to scratches, and should not leave home without protection. Finally, the Communicator series from Nokia was not meant for the pocket, and the 9500 is no exception.

Blackberry 7730

Next, we tested the usability of each device. Here's where the data input method, display properties, UI speed, applications and connectivity come to the fore, and make all the difference between a good product and a bad one.

Display Properties
We looked at and evaluated the screen size, screen resolution, screen orientation, legibility of text, and colour depth of the display used in these devices.

The Nokia 9500 is graced with a 65K colour display-long, crisp, and perfectly legible even with outdoor lighting. The screen is horizontally placed and is perfect for reading documents and browsing the Net. These same qualities can be attributed to the 7710's screen; however, the 7710 has the upper hand when it comes to the size and resolution of the screen.

The O2 XDA II mini comes with a 320 x 240, 65K colour screen, which is almost the same as the Nokia screens in terms of quality. With its ability to switch between the landscape and portrait modes, it has its own benefits to offer. The Blackberry's screen has sufficient resolution for messaging-its screen, though low on brightness, offers excellent contrast, and is very legible under all lighting conditions.  The Motorola A768i comes with a crisp 65K colour screen, but the screen is useless in daylight-it turns dark and is unreadable.

Data Input
Nokia's 9500 Communicator comes with a sufficiently spacious QWERTY keyboard that makes data entry a breeze. In general, the keyboard is fairly ergonomic, but people with short fingers might have problems with key navigation-stretching for a key is a common scenario, which in time leads to fatigue.

Both the PalmOne Treo 600 and the Blackberry 7730 employ a small QWERTY keypad. The keys on the Blackberry are well-spaced and slightly slanted to avoid accidental presses, and data input is fuss-free. The keys on the Treo 600 are tiny, but are raised like a dome; these take some time to get used to. A point to remember with the Treo 600 is that although it is based on the Palm OS, it does not support data input via the stylus; you can only use the stylus for navigation.

The 7710 is the first production device from Nokia with a touch screen, employing a stylus for data input. Data input is where, however, the 7710 could have done better. While its letter recognition is highly accurate, the 7710 can only take one character at a time. Furthermore, the scribble area is too small for comfort. It does come with an onscreen keyboard though.

Motorola's A768i also makes use of a stylus; however, its character recognition and speed is nowhere near the likes of the O2 XDA mini or the Nokia 7710.

Thanks largely to Microsoft's Pocket PC OS, data input via a stylus on the O2 XDA II mini is fantastic. Character recognition is excellent-so much so that you can input data much faster than you can with the keyboard-based 9500 Communicator!

For any handheld device, one-handed operation is a must; the PalmOne Treo 600 and the Blackberry 7730 were the only devices to offer complete one-handed operation. The Nokia 7710, the O2 XDA II mini, and the Motorola A768i meet you halfway on this facet, while the Nokia Communicator 9500 requires you to use both your hands for data input or for accessing information.

User Interface Speed
The answer to how fast applications open largely determines the usability of a device. This apparent speed depends on the processor performance as well as the OS.

The O2 XDA II mini was the zippiest of all, thanks to its 416 MHz XScale processor and Microsoft's Pocket PC OS. The PalmOne Treo 600 took second place, while the Blackberry was sufficiently responsive. Tasks involving larger files, though, slowed down the device. Both the Nokia 7710 and the 9500 were the least responsive of the lot. The snail's pace at which they launch your applications wrecks your nerves. Having noted that, it has to be said that these devices exhibit sluggishness only during the launching of applications; once the application is launched, the devices resume acceptable speeds.

If your life revolves around e-mail, the Blackberry should be your first stop. It makes your e-mail system as fast as an SMS service-immediately following the receipt of a mail, you get a system notification, thus eliminating the need to download mails from the server as in the O2 or Treo. The mails are delivered to your handheld. As of now, the only device available and compliant with this service is the Blackberry 7730. Consider buying this one only if, like we said, your life revolves around e-mail.

PalmOne Treo 600

The Nokia 9500 Communicator makes a great messaging device due to its full keyboard and easy-to-use applications. The PalmOne Treo 600 comes in at second place, offering the advantage of one-handed operation alongside its mini keyboard. The O2 XDA II mini and Nokia's 7710 are pretty much in the same league when it comes to messaging, with their stylus-driven interface.

Motorola A768I

Motorola's A768i does no better than a cell phone on the messaging front. All these devices support POP, and hence make it possible to receive your corporate e-mail via GPRS.

Contact Management And Scheduling
Both the Nokia devices, the O2 XDA II mini and the PalmOne Treo 600, offer easy contact management with multiple fields for numbers, addresses, e-mail IDs, etc. Notably, the Nokia 7710 automatically links a contact's birthday to your calendar. Synchronisation of contact information with MS Outlook works perfectly on these devices. The Motorola A768i and Blackberry 7730, though not in the league of the Nokias and the PalmOne, also have a decent contact manager.

Nearly all the devices have good scheduling  features. The Nokia 9500 and 7710 made good use of their large screen by showing the current month on one half of the screen and the event on the other half. The 9500 offers you a yearly view of meetings and anniversaries as well. The O2 XDA II mini has the familiar Outlook feel, and is simple to use.

The O2 comes bundled with Pocket Excel and Word,
making it simple to work with documents and worksheets

Data Manipulation
When it comes to reading and editing documents, the O2 XDA II mini and the Nokia 9500 take the top spot. O2's OS comes bundled with Pocket Excel and Word, making it simple to work with documents and worksheets. The ClearVue application allows you to work with presentations and PDF documents. Nokia devices are bundled with their own versions of word processor and spreadsheet; the 9500 comes with a PowerPoint presenter too.

PalmOne's Treo 600 features 'Documents To Go', which provides support for MS Word and Excel. The Picsel browser on the Motorola A768i allows for viewing of common documents and browsing the Internet.

Web Browsing
Thanks to its excellent widescreen, Nokia's 7710 is the best device for surfing the Internet. The Web browser, however, lacks features, and sadly, Opera is not yet available for this model. The Communicator 9500 comes in second, followed by the O2 XDA II mini; the browser on these devices is decent and their screens are reasonably large. The browsing experience on the Treo 600 and Blackberry 7730 is limited largely due to their small display; ditto with the Motorola A768i.

Nokia's 9500 Communicator lives up to its moniker, sporting the maximum number of connectivity options. The 9500 supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, IR and a proprietary Pop port for a USB connection with a PC. All this makes the Communicator an ideal device on a business trip.
The O2 XDA II mini and the Motorola support Bluetooth and USB for connecting to a PC. The PalmOne Treo 600 and the Blackberry 7730 lack Bluetooth, and use USB for PC connectivity.

GPRS is available on all these devices, so connecting to the Internet via a GPRS-enabled SIM is simple. However, you might need to carry some of these devices to your service provider's outlet, as over-the-air activation is not yet supported.

When it comes to good, old-fashioned telephony, the Nokia 9500 offers the best interface, followed by the PalmOne Treo 600. The Blackberry 7730 with its keypad is also usable. For all the other devices, you need to use either the touch screen or a five-way d-pad to scroll through your contacts, and then dial.

In this section, we were looking for a compact PDA-phone ideally suited for the mobile professional. Two devices stood apart from the rest: the Nokia Communicator 9500 and the O2 XDA II mini. The highlights of the Communicator were Wi-Fi, the full QWERTY keyboard, and the intuitive applications. For a globe-trotter, these features are a boon, more so the wireless capability, which grants the 9500 unparalleled flexibility.

Nokia 9500 Communicator

Some might be put off by the bulky form factor of the 9500; if you are, you might want to  look at the O2 XDA II mini-this little device, though devoid of a keyboard, allows for fuss-free and unrestrained operation. Overall, it is a great everyday device due to its ultra-compact size and the features it offers.

O2 XDA II mini

The Nokia 7710 is a great device, packing in a lot of features, but its means of data input isn't exactly ideal - and is its biggest negative. While the Blackberry 7730, as a general device, can't match up with the rest, we give it a thumbs-up for its e-mail service; it is exclusively offered with Airtel's service.

The Verdict
If you are looking for a device that fares well on contact management, calendaring, and offers easy e-mail management features, the Nokia Communicator 9500 fits the bill perfectly. If you are into sales and marketing and often have to give presentations, and at times travel a lot, the ideal solution would be the Acer TravelMate 4002 as your primary device and the O2 Xda II Mini as your secondary device.

If you think a PDA-phone is too small and a laptop too big for comfort, we recommend Fujitsu's S2020 ultra-portable laptop. Even then, we advise you to add on a small, basic PDA-phone such as the O2 Xda II mini.

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