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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS

Yes, You Can Take It With You

September 14, 1998|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

When I travel through airports or sit in meetings, I often see someone reach into a briefcase or pocket and pull out a pocket organizer. There are plenty out there, ranging from Sharp and Casio products that start at about $25 to premium units such as 3Com's Palm III and Palm Sized PCs from Casio, Everex and Philips that can cost $300 or more.

All of these devices are quite portable and small enough to fit in a suit pocket and, in some cases, a shirt pocket.

But if you want one that's really small, check out the Rex or Rex Pro. The device, which was developed by Starfish Software of Scotts Valley, Calif., is marketed by Franklin Electronic Publishers (http://www.franklin.com).

The Rex devices, which are about the size of a credit card and weigh 1.4 ounces, slip easily into any pocket, yet, depending on the model, can store up to 6,000 names and addresses and six months' worth of calendar items.

The Rex is so small that you almost don't know you have it with you. In fact, my biggest problem with the Rex is that it's pretty easy to lose or misplace, especially when your desk is as cluttered as mine.

The original Rex, which was introduced about a year ago, is an excellent look-up device, but unlike the Palm Pilot, Palm Sized PCs and most other hand-held organizers, it doesn't allow you to add or modify data.

Other hand-held devices have either a keyboard or a touch-sensitive screen that enables you to enter data with a stylus by block printing or tapping out letters and numbers on a virtual keyboard.

The only way to get data into the original Rex is to type it in at the PC and transfer it. The device is cleverly designed to slip into the PC card slot of a laptop PC, where data can be transferred in seconds. You can transfer data from desktop PCs via a docking station that connects to the serial port.

I never considered the Rex's inability to accept user information from the field to be a major disadvantage. I've tried using block printing and the virtual keyboard to enter names, addresses, phone numbers and appointments in the Palm III and Palm-Sized PCs and never found it to be a very fast or satisfying experience. Nevertheless, it's nice to know that it's possible in case you must change an appointment time or update someone's contact information when you're away from your computer.

Franklin has just introduced the Rex Pro ($229), which has an edit key that lets you enter or modify information. You "type" by moving the cursor over the character you want to enter and pressing one of the six buttons on the front of the unit.

To say that it's difficult to enter a full name, address and phone number this way is an understatement. As bad as other methods are, this is even worse.

Yet it's not all that hard to modify existing information, such as the date and time of an appointment. It's surprisingly easy to enter an appointment with someone who is already in your contact database because you don't have to reenter the person's name. You just select it with the cursor keys and press the select button.

The Rex Pro comes with 512kb of memory and a docking station for desktop PCs. It also comes with personal information manager software and TrueSync Plus software.

TrueSync Plus, from Starfish, lets you synchronize the device with data in Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer and Symantec Act. I use Outlook 98 and found the synchronization to be pretty smooth in both directions.

The original Rex, which is still available, costs $99 and comes with 256kb of memory and the PIM software, but not with TrueSync Plus or a docking station. For $129 you get the original Rex, a docking station and the TrueSync software, which, if you don't plan to enter or edit data in the field, strikes me as a better deal than the Rex Plus.

I know lots of people who feel they can't live without a hand-held electronic organizer. The Palm Pilot (and now Palm III) has gained a particularly strong following among high-tech executives and entrepreneurs. But after having used the Palm III, the Palm-Sized PC, the Rex and several other units, I'm not thrilled with any of them. All of them have their strengths and there is no denying that it's important to be able to look up phone numbers and appointments when you're away from your PC.

But there is a less expensive technology that also does an excellent job. It's called paper.

I know this sounds like an odd concept, but Outlook, Sidekick, Organizer and all other personal information managers have a print command that makes it possible to create a highly portable listing with all your essential information. What's more, you can modify this printout from wherever you are, using an ingenious device called a pen. Admittedly, the Rex and even the Palm Pilot are smaller than a printout with thousands of names, but most people don't need to carry around information on thousands of contacts.

What's more, there are software programs available that will let you print out your address book or calendar as a small booklet that can slip into your pocket.

ClickBooks, from Blue Squirrel Software (http://www.bluesquirrel.com) lets you use your existing inkjet or laser printer and just about any software to create booklets that are much smaller than standard 8 1/2-by-11 printouts. The software costs $49.95 to register, but you can download a free trial version at the company's Web site.

I used the program to create a listing of 800 records from Outlook on four sheets of paper that fold into a 4-by-5-by- 1/8-inch booklet. It's not as high-tech as a Rex or a Palm III, but it's a lot cheaper and, arguably, easier to use.

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Lawrence J. Magid can be reached at magid@latimes.com. His Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com. On AOL, use keyword "LarryMagid."

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