Renaissance Online Magaizne Bytes and Picas

MARCH 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 3



TECHNO, ETC. >>

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DAN SULLIVAN is a staff technology writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.


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Discontinued z50 Adds Zest to the Desktop
IBM may have kicked it to the curb, but the z50 is anything but garbage

DAN SULLIVAN

What's $299, portable, surfs the web, has Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, and weighs less than two pounds?

Discontinued computer equipment!

In early February IBM decided to get out of the Windows CE platform. It might be time for you to get in.

IBM discontinued the WorkPad z50, a Windows CE powered handheld PC with a street price of $800 to $1,000, in early February. What killed this product was the high price. Expecting consumers to drop $1,000 on this was lunacy. That's $100-$200 shy of a functional Compaq Celeron laptop.

CE 3.0 is an operating system with many plusses and few minuses. One of the immediate merits of CE is the preloading of almost every application you'll need. Pocket versions (familiar to the full-blown Windows versions) of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and even Explorer) greet you the first time you boot up the machine. Boot time is less than ten seconds, which beats most Windows 98 and NT machines by two minutes.

Shutting down the z50 is as easy as closing the lid. Regardless of what you were doing, the z50 will resume where you left off once you flip the lid back up. At three pounds, it feels ridiculously light. Before you spend $100 on the IBM-designed carry case, check out the Performance toiletry kit from Staples. It fits the z50 snugly, looks like a Targus case and costs $15.

Bundled with the z50 is synch software to allow for the transfer of documents and schedules to your desktop PC. The ActiveSync 2.2 that's included did not work for me with Windows 98 or NT 4.0. ActiveSync 3.0 (a free download from www.microsoft.com) worked flawlessly on 98 but couldn't find the serial port in NT. ActiveSync will transfer Pocket Word documents into a shared folder on your Windows 95/98 machine. This file is easily opened by standard Microsoft Word, and those files can be transferred back to the z50 and re-opened there. If your base PC runs on NT (the z50 is a great little unit, but needs a regular PC to install software on it) then the z50 may not be for you without additional third party software for synching.

Unfortunately, with NT as the popular platform for networked business machines and the z50's inherent ability to sync with Microsoft Outlook and Schedule, poor ActiveSync performance out of the box was a little disheartening.

Standard equipment on the z50 is a 33.6 kps modem and an 8.2-inch color screen. Sending and receiving faxes is a snap. Surfing the web is possible and even free through organizations like www.freewwweb.com. Any Web page coded for 4.0 level browsers or higher (complex secure forms, for example) will essentially choke Pocket Explorer, but at $300 it's difficult to complain. A type III PC and compact flash card slots are available to increase memory and add accessories. Reports from other z50 users attest to wireless synching and Internet surfing via WaveLan 802.11 cards and Apple's AirPort base station.

The screen is dual-scan, not active matrix, and suffers from occasional ghosting. The most annoying thing about the screen is the frequent lack of visual confirmation for the cursor because the refresh rate is so slow. Slow cursor movement via the pointing device is advantageous for z50 users.

Because the z50 was not a hot seller, my unit's backup AAA batteries were dead on arrival. Keep some new Duracells available for when you pull the z50 from the box.

I'm typing this column on the z50 and enjoy it. The keyboard is 95% of a standard version, but feels natural and is easy to use. The weight is unbeatable (half that of my iBook) and a charged battery will run for seven hours with heavy use. Compared to my Palm III, the z50's features are awesome, but it won't fit in my shirt pocket, so I'm reluctant to have it replace my Palm as a daily planner. If you have a desktop already and want to type an e-mail on your Adirondak for three bills, check it out. Stock on these puppies is going fast. Outpost and uBid had several in stock at press time, with prices between $300 and $369.

IBM created a great little unit with the z50, but asked too much for it at $1,000. For under $400, it's a great value as long as you don't use NT.

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