A PDA for your pocket - or your wallet

Admit it: Palm Inc. and Windows CE handhelds seem too bulky and complex when all you want is to keep things simple and have your calendar and contact info at your fingertips. But that doesn't mean you have to give up on taking your Filofax digital. Now in its third generation, Xircom Inc.'s US$189 Rex 6000 MicroPDA ($149 without docking cradle) serves up your address book, calendar, latest news briefs, and more in a slim device that's no larger than five credit cards stacked on top of one another.

Touch and Feel Xircom has coined the term "MicroPDA" to describe the Rex, and that marketing-speak actually fits. The tiny PDA weighs just 1.4 ounces and integrates an easy-to-read, nine-line LCD touch screen into a Type II PC Card. This makes the device easy for you to sync by slipping it into any PC Card slot.

The Rex is powered by two lithium watch batteries that will last about six months. And data is now stored in 2MB of nonvolatile flash memory, so you don't lose any valuable contact information or meeting schedules if your batteries run down.

The new touch screen makes navigating the Rex and entering information a snap-you simply tap the on-screen keyboard, also new with this iteration of the Rex, with your finger or you use the included stylus (which fits snugly into the Rex's included business-card-style faux-leather case). This virtual keyboard is automatically invoked whenever it's appropriate for you to enter information. While the keyboard is certainly easy enough to use for entering basic data, this tap-tap-tap method isn't viable for entering longer-form information, such as a lengthy memo. And unlike Palm and Windows CE devices, the Rex doesn't support handwriting recognition.

Information is presented in an intuitive and readily accessible manner. Between the touch screen, the five buttons alongside the right of the screen, and the row of shortcut buttons at the bottom of the LCD, I easily navigated through the menus one-handed.

In addition to the address book and calendar, there's a to-do list, memo pad, calculator, and dual-time clock with alarm; plus, you can download a customized batch of news and information from a variety of Web sources via Rex.net, a free service to Rex users that features Web content tailored for the device's display. While it lacks the plethora of supplemental applications available for the Palm and Windows CE platforms, the Rex has all the basics. Using the card with your PC is simple: Plug the Rex into a PC Card slot, or attach the sleek, purple USB cradle. (The Rex is sold with a serial cradle for $179, or you can buy a $49 USB or $39 serial cradle separately.) The USB cradle has one annoying characteristic: an incessantly flashing red light whenever the Rex is not in its docking slot.

Sync and Run

The Rex now uses Pumatech's popular Intellisync software for address-book, schedule, to-do, and notes synchronization tasks-a major improvement over previous versions of Rex, which used inelegant software. Once I installed the included Intellisync for Rex software on a desktop system, I ran through a quick configuration process to choose which elements the Rex will sync (such as schedule, notes, or addresses). I also chose how the Rex would handle data conflicts when syncing with the desktop and what calendar date range to transfer.

Synchronizing data between the desktop and the Rex was as simple as pressing a button on the cradle. (There's a software-based button, too, if you're using your notebook's PC Card slot to sync the Rex.) Out of the box, the RRex supports importing data from the Intellisync Mobile Desktop, Microsoft Outlook, and Outlook Express, as well as from comma -- or tab -- delimited ASCII files. You can also purchase Intellisync plug-ins to support other popular PIMs, including Symantec ACT and Lotus Organizer.

The Rex 6000 MicroPDA's ultralight, compact form is its major appeal: With this small and affordable PDA, you can take your data with you day or night. If you don't need all the features of a full-blown PDA, this slim model accomplishes all the basics without the size and heft of Palm or Windows CE handhelds. And it won't even weigh down your pocket.

This story, "A PDA for your pocket - or your wallet" was originally published by Network World.

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