Wireless E-mail: Wonder or Woe? Part III
July 23, 2000
Editor's Note: This is the third installment of the experiences of Newport editors with using wireless Internet access on the road.
As we go forward with the digital revolution, it seems pretty obvious that Microsoft will direct its efforts into Windows ME/Windows 2000, and Windows CE. The desktop and network platforms will diverge into home systems and business systems. CE will emerge as the software platform for all things portable.
I have been a CE believer for at least four years, now. First I used a Hewlett Packard 320 handheld unit until the screen died. It was very useful, if a bit restricted by its tiny keyboard. Now I have an NEC MobilePro 800. This is an absolutely brilliant machine with a totally usable keyboard and a screen as big as the Compaq laptop I've been using for the last eight years.
I've since ditched the Compaq as it's a: heavy; b: slow and c: uncool.
CE is a stripped down Windows 95 operating system. But it has an enormous functionality. On any keyboard-equipped CE device (there are also Palm-Pilot type CE devices), the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, Access, even PowerPoint) is available. More important for me, the e-mail client and general organizer Outlook is available in its four pocket modules. They hot synch with the desktop to keep my life organized.
Other plus points include the fact that the computer never turns off, so when you activate it, you find yourself back at the same point; the chance of losing work because it is not saved is eliminated; all CE devices are much lighter to carry than any laptop.
I also have a DeLorme GPS unit that works on the CE device, and it is really slick in helping me find my way around.
There's a smaller handheld version of the NEC MobilePro that fits into a large clutch-type wallet that's well worth considering.
In terms of mobile communications, there are a couple of PCMCIA radio modems that work with the CE operating system. One operates on the BellSouth wireless system, the other on Ardis (the service preferred by UPS for its handheld units). In my experience the BellSouth system is extremely restricted (only in the major metropolitan areas) and Go America-the BellSouth service provider I got stuck with--is a very inflexible service company that cost me a huge amount of money through poor billing practices.
The radio modem on the CE device can be extremely useful, but it can be very frustrating. I found that with the BellSouth service, up- and downloads would take ages in any but the strongest signal areas and a large file would choke up the system until it had been completely transmitted or received -- accounting in part for some exceptionally high billings. The 3Com modem I used was a battery hog and batteries had to be changed so frequently that eventually the contacts broke away from the motherboard - another frustration and not inexpensive, as a replacement modem is around $300.
However, with the right service provider, the convenience of the CE device with wireless connection is worth having. At an airport or truck terminal where there are no phone connections, or in hotel rooms where phone charges make a pauper of you, wireless is the way to go. But take my advice and opt for a service provider on the Ardis system.