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Organization in the Palm of Your Hand

September 08, 1997|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Relatively few people carry a hand-held computer, but a growing number carry some type of pocket organizer to check their schedules, look up phone numbers or, perhaps, view short documents.

The Palm Pilot (starting at $299), which weighs 5.7 ounces and measures about 4 inches by 3 inches, has become quite popular. Other devices from Sharp, Seiko and other companies typically weigh a few ounces more and fit easily into a briefcase or coat pocket. Hand-held machines that run Microsoft's Windows CE operating system are a bit heavier, and Apple's Newton MessagePad--the only device to recognize a user's handwriting--is even larger, though at 1.4 pounds it's still quite portable.

But if you want something really small, Franklin Electronic Publishers ( and Starfish Software ( are about to release a new pocket organizer that easily fits into a shirt pocket.

The Rolodex Electronics REX PC Companion ($129.95) weighs only 1.4 ounces and is slightly smaller (though thicker) than a business card. Yet it has an easy-to-read screen and can display your schedule, contact list, to-do list and memos.

Unlike most pocket organizers, you can't enter data directly into the Rex. Instead, you enter it on the PC and transfer it to the card. The REX itself is actually a PC card (also known as PCMCIA), so if you have a notebook PC or a desktop PC with a PC card slot, you can transfer data directly to the device by inserting the Rex into the slot and clicking on the synchronization icon.

There are no cables, and the transfer process is extremely fast. Desktop users without a PC card slot can insert the Rex into a cradle that plugs into the PC's serial port.

Transferring data via the PC card slot is incredibly fast. Mine took only a few seconds to transfer about 300 entries. It took about 40 seconds when using the desktop cradle.

The entry-level Rex1 ($129.95) has 64 kilobytes of storage, enough for about 750 entries, but the desktop cradle costs $39.95 extra. The Rex3 (about $179.95) comes with the cradle and 256 kilobytes of user memory, enough to store up to 2,500 entries. Prices and specifications could change by the time the product is available in October.

Both versions come with the TrueSync Information Manager (TIM), a Windows 95 program that's similar to Starfish's Sidekick. It allows you to maintain and update your calendar, your contact and to-do lists, and memos on the PC, and transfer the data to the card.

The software can also serve as your PC's personal information manager. Users wanting extra contact management features can purchase Sidekick 98, which can transfer data to the Rex device as well as to the Palm Pilot and Windows CE devices. I've used both Sidekick 98 and TIM and prefer TIM because it loads faster.

Rex can also be used with imported data from Microsoft Schedule Plus, Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer, ACT, SideKick and other personal information managers. The card is only compatible with Windows 95. The Palm Pilot, Newton MessagePad and several other hand-held devices work with both Windows and the Macintosh.

Rex can also store and display standard text files. I copied a 1,000-word Microsoft Word document into the Windows 95 clipboard, pasted it into the TrueSync Information Manager and transferred it to the Rex so I could read it later, turning the device into something of a hand-held personal reference center.

The absence of a keyboard, handwriting recognition or any other way to enter information other than via a PC turns out not to be as much of a limitation for Rex as one might expect.

I've used several hand-held devices that link to PCs and have discovered that I rarely enter information on the device itself. That's because no hand-held device has a good keyboard, and various schemes that recognize handwriting, block printing or special pen-based languages are generally difficult to use.

The best one I've used is the Palm Pilot, where users enter data via a special easy-to-learn alphabet called Graffiti, but even that's awkward. I'm looking forward to the time when these small devices have built-in speech recognition software. In the meantime, I'm content to use them as read-only look-up devices and rely on the PC and its full-sized keyboard for data entry.

Although Franklin is marketing the Rex device, Starfish is reportedly working with other hardware companies on follow-up devices. "Our goal," according to Starfish Chief Executive Phillipe Kahn, "is to build software for wearable devices." I wouldn't be surprised to see this technology show up in wristwatches, cellular phones and other consumer products.

The idea of using a PC to transfer data to look-up devices makes a lot of sense to me. My cellular phone, for example, can store and display up to 100 names and phone numbers, but the only way to enter the information is via the phone's touch-tone keyboard. It would make a lot more sense to enter it in a PC database and transfer it to the phone via cable or perhaps wireless cellular connection.

The same goes for my home phone. Like a lot of phones, it stores numbers, but there is no convenient way to enter them. A software program and some type of PC-to-phone interface would be an ideal companion product.


Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at His Web page is at

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