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Your New Year's Resolution Can be in the "Palm" of Your Hand

Thinking about your New Year's resolution? Maybe it'll be to finally get organized. No more yellow sticky notes all over your desk or computer. No more missed appointments or "Honey, I thought you were picking up the kids after work!" crises.

But how? Maybe you've taken a time-management course, read "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" or just promised yourself to be more diligent with your Daytimer, but you still can't seem to get your life in order. The answer just might be one of those handheld gadgets you see us geeks (and more and more businesspeople) using.

Maybe you're thinking, "just what I need, another gadget to sit on the shelf and collect dust." Before I bought my first Palm, I felt the same way. I thought there was no way that little screen was readable (I have Mr. Magoo eyesight). And efficiently type or write in that little rectangle? Not likely! Or so I thought. It turns out I was wrong.

First of all, if you're already using a computer program such as Outlook for your calendar, task list or contact list (phone numbers and addresses), the question of whether a Palm is useful is almost moot. You'll be able to input most of your information at your computer keyboard, then just push a button and "sync" (synchronize) it with your Palm. Imagine being able to check and update your calendar while you're away from your desk, then syncing your Palm and Outlook calendars when you get back. Or quickly looking up any phone number or address in your contact list while you're on the road.

Secondly, tapping or scribbling on the screen with the Palm stylus is surprisingly efficient. You can either display a "virtual" keyboard on the Palm so that you can tap in your info, or write the characters using Palm's "Graffiti" keystrokes, which are essentially simplified, one-stroke ways to write letters and characters without lifting the stylus from the screen. For letters that only take one stroke anyway, such as "C," you just write the "C" as usual. For more complicated letters, such as an "A," you write an upside down "V" (think of an "A" without the horizontal line). In fact, my Palm understands my Graffiti writing better than most people can read my regular handwriting (I do the lefty slant)!

Now you're thinking "OK, maybe it's practical to use, but how much will it cost?" For the basics, such as managing your time and information, the entry-level Palms at $100 to $150 will do everything you need. (By the way, I'm using the term "Palm" generically here – not just to refer to the Palm brand name, but also compatible handheld devices such as the Sony Clie and Handspring's Treos and Visors). The key is that they all run Palm's software. (Handhelds that run "Pocket PC" software aren't compatible with Palms – I'll write about them in a later column). If you want a color screen or other features such as wireless Internet access, built-in keyboards, music playback or GPS capability, they can run into the $600 range.

So why not just stick with a cheap, tried-and-true paper system like a Daytimer? Size is one reason – Palms are smaller, especially if you need to look at your calendar months, or even years, ahead or back (nobody's going to lug around a year or two's worth of calendar pages). Another reason is "search-ability." Say you're trying to remember the name of the person you met a year ago in Lewiston. With a Palm, you could perform a search on the word "Lewiston" and find that appointment, along with the notes you took during the appointment. Try that with a paper calendar or some sticky notes!

But there's more to Palms than just replacing your calendar, contact list and notes. All Palms have a built-in calculator and most also come with utilities to track your expenses or sync your e-mail so that you can read it while you're way from your computer.

And because the Palm is really nothing more than a tiny computer, you can install additional programs on it. This is where things get interesting and fun.

For example, you can download entire "eBooks" onto your Palm. While I personally wouldn't try to read "Treasure Island" on my Palm, it works well for reference books where you just need to look up information. Or install a check register program that syncs with the Quicken or Money personal finance programs running on your computer.

If you work in the financial world, replace the built-in calculator with a financial calculator (like an HP-12c emulator) or a currency-conversion utility.

Also, because our personal and business lives can be so intermixed, a Palm can be much more than "just" a business tool. I write down important but obscure personal items in it, like my wife's shoe size, our cars' license plate numbers and the wattage of our home's light bulbs. Then the next time I'm asked for my license plate number, or am shopping and don't know which size shoe or kind of light bulb to buy, I check my Palm and have the answer.

When I'm at the video store and can't find anything good to rent, I check my Palm's list of video classics for ideas. Or when my six year old son is dragged along on boring grown up errands, I hand him my Palm so he can entertain himself with a game of chess, Tetris or solitaire.

Some other Palm programs are dictionaries, maps, stop watches, labor trackers, shopping lists, and exercise and diet trackers. There are literally thousands of programs that can be installed.

If I've piqued your interest in Palms, a good place to get more information, including reviews and prices, is "PC Magazine's" website: www.PCMag.com. Click on "Reviews," and then "Handhelds." By "handhelds" they mean both Pocket PCs as well as Palm-compatibles, so be sure to pay attention to which kind of handheld you're reading about.

Here's to an organized (and fun) 2003!

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