Technology

Holding Hands With Handhelds

Personal Digital Assistants Are Powering Up to Provide More Info on the Go.

An e-mail survey of commercial real estate professionals who use personal digital assistants reads like a wish list for Santa Claus. Many industry people — especially those on the road — are tired of juggling PDAs, pagers, laptops, cell phones, and calculators.

“I am waiting for the all-in-one machine that would include the financial HP calculator, wireless phone, PDA, and if possible, a camera,” says Jim Donahoe, CCIM, of Coldwell Banker Bain Associates in Bellevue, Wash.

He's not the only one. Several respondents would like to integrate the PDA's calendar and address book features into a cell phone that has e-mail and Internet browsing capabilities.

So far, the cell phone companies are closer to that all-in-one solution than the PDA manufacturers. Kyocera's QCP 6035 Smartphone combines a Palm PDA with a cell phone and modem, and Gregg Schoh, CCIM, ABR, GRI, owner of Re/Max Land & Lake Realty in Lakeside, Mont., recommends it. “I'm basically a one-man show ... I use Microsoft Outlook for contact management, which HotSyncs with the Smartphone database. ... I can look up a client and dial them with one tap on the screen instead of entering the number by hand on a separate phone,” he says.

Using an earpiece, Schoh talks to clients while accessing his calendar or address book; he also checks e-mail from the Smartphone and downloads MLS multifamily and land search results using the Pocket Real Estate program. “The only negative I see with the Smartphone is the screen is a little smaller than a stand-alone PDA, but I can live with the compromise to have one integrated unit to carry,” he says. ($500; Contact Kyocera Wireless Corp., (800) 349-4188 or http://www.kyocera-wireless.com/.)

Jeff Gage, CCIM, SIOR, senior vice president with Albert B. Ashforth in Stamford, Conn., says he doesn't use a PDA; instead he relies on the Nokia 7160 phone to stay connected. “My handheld mobile phone incorporates ... a complete contact management system interfaced with my computer, Daytimer appointment functions, calculator, e-mail service, games, and regular phone functions. It has plenty of memory, and it is portable. I value the all-in-one aspect.” ($300; Contact Nokia, (888) 665-4228 or http://www.nokiausa.com/.)

Another PDA alternative touted by a number of commercial real estate professionals is the BlackBerry wireless pager.

“In my opinion, the BlackBerry ... is the most effective PDA/wireless tool available in the marketplace today, nearly equaling the benefits of a cell phone,” says David C. Mayo, CCIM, president of Vector Realty Advisors in Louisville, Ky.

Cynthia Shelton, CCIM, vice president of business development for Commercial Net Lease Realty Services in Orlando, Fla., appreciates the fact that BlackBerry gives her “the ability to check e-mails while standing in line. There's no need to dial in or boot up your computer. You're on all the time.”

BlackBerry comes in pager and handheld sizes; both have keyboards and thumb wheels for navigation. It works with existing e-mail accounts running on Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino, so users don't need a separate pager e-mail address. It also comes with a calendar, address book, task list, memo pad, and calculator. And it can synchronize with a number of contact management programs including Act!, Goldmine, and Outlook. It also provides Internet and paging services. ($399-$499; Contact Research in Motion, (877) 255-2377 or http://www.blackberry.net/.)

Palm or Pocket PC? While these solutions sound like the ultimate holiday gift for mobile professionals, be aware that all the kinks still haven't been worked out: BlackBerry provides no phone service, all-in-one cell phones are not available through all wireless services, and no company yet provides fast Internet connections for Web browsing on the road. It will come, but it isn't going to be in time for Christmas this year.

In the meantime, many commercial real estate professionals have chosen one of the more traditional PDA paths.

Most PDAs run one of two operating systems. The Palm OS powers the family of Palm devices (models III, V, and VII being most popular with survey respondents), as well as the Handspring Visor and Sony Clié products. These PDAs are compatible with Macintosh, Windows, OS/2, Linux, and Unix desktop operating systems and — just as important — with each other. Any PDA running Palm OS can beam information to another one regardless of the PDA brand.

Palm OS devices usually come with a stylus and an on-screen keyboard. Users enter information with a shorthand system of symbols and letters. They also can input data on a regular computer and transfer it via a cradle or cable connection. Or they connect a portable keyboard to the device.

Palm OS PDAs come with calendars, address books, calculators, memo pads, and to-do lists, and a variety of third-party applications exist (see sidebar). Most synchronize and download data from full-size contact management programs such as Act! and Outlook.

Most Palm OS devices do not have internal modems, but some models include software to connect to Internet-based applications such as e-mail by using an external modem.

The second PDA group, sometimes called handheld computers or Pocket PCs, uses the Windows CE operating system. Pocket PCs include the HP Jornada, Compaq iPaq, and Casio Cassiopeia. They tend to be more expensive than Palm OS devices but offer more features. They have more memory and run the Pocket version of Microsoft Office programs, with the exception of Microsoft Works and Outlook Express. They usually have real (although small) keyboards, microphones, and speakers, and built-in modems or expansion slots.

“I use an HP Jornada as does all my staff,” says Teresa Yocom, CCIM, owner of RealCorp & Associates in Chattanooga, Tenn. “It's virtually a computer in your hand that uses infrared to print, capture information, e-mail on the go, and view and read many Microsoft files.”

Charles Marina, CCIM, CRB, GRI, president of First American Realty Co. in McAllen, Texas, uses a Jornada 548, which comes with Outlook installed. However he's an Act! user and purchased Act!'s CompanionLink software to download his more than 3,000 contacts. “I have also purchased an external 4-port hub to make the connection easier. I have downloaded Excel as well as Word documents to my [Jornada].”

Gerald Gamble, CCIM, SIOR, president of Gerald L. Gamble Co. in Oklahoma City, uses the Compaq iPaq 3635. He likes the lighted color screen and 32 megabytes of memory, which he says is plenty to hold his contacts in the Act! 2000 database.

However, some users find the Pocket PCs more than they need. “I use a Cassiopeia and it is way too much for me,” says Louis Sinclair, CCIM, owner of Sinclair Properties in Raleigh, N.C. “I'll probably simplify next time to a Palm with schedule, contacts, and task menus. ... I don't need to write letters or keep files on this small screen.”

The World in Your Palm Although Windows CE offers more memory, programs, and power than Palm OS, Palm PDAs and their clones are favored by commercial real estate professionals for their ease of use. Of course, the popularity of Palm OS increases its usability: Its ability to beam information makes it perfect for teamwork.

When John Shaw, CCIM, broker/ appraiser with Nomad Investments in Menlo Park, Calif., put together a team serving a large nonprofit housing developer, “I informed all potential service providers that the minimum standard was a Palm device. ... At meetings, one of us takes notes using the [folding] keyboard, and at the end of the meeting we beam the notes to other members.”

To get around Palm's lack of an internal modem, Robert Dikman, CCIM, owner of the Dikman Co. in Tampa, Fla., uses a Palm Vx with an Omnisky wireless modem. “I use REA [Real Estate Assistant] and the Net and have been quite pleased. Memory hasn't been a problem.”

Other devices running Palm OS include the Handspring Visor line and the Sony Clié. Handspring offers add-on modules, including a cell phone, modem, and digital camera. Its newest module, the Web Digital Link, provides wireless Internet access and turns the Visor into a cell phone that uses the Sprint PCS network.

Reviewers praise Sony Clié devices for their sharp color screens and memory that expands to 128 MB, which give it an advantage for working with photos. The newest models include Picture Gear software for viewing photos at high resolution.

The PDA product line is evolving quickly and threatens to eclipse the need for laptop computers. “There is a definite blurring of benefits between a good PDA and a notebook for useful mobile information,” says Chuck Wise, CCIM, of Wise Realty Advisors in Encinitas, Calif. He uses a Handspring Visor for the memory and expansion slot for add-ons. Although he has downloaded e-mail to his Handspring, the speed is slow, a fault of all handheld Internet connections.

Experts suggest that those buying PDAs to take on the road should look for at least 8 MB of RAM in Palm OS devices and 32 MB of RAM in Pocket PCs; either an internal modem or an expansion slot to add a modem for transmitting e-mail; rechargeable batteries; and a cradle or cable for synchronizing data with a desktop or laptop system.

Newer PDAs at a Glance      

Device

Price

Operating system

Features

Clié PEG-N610C
Sony
(888) 222-7669
http://www.sonystyle.com/

$400

Palm OS 4

8 MB RAM; color screen; USB cradle; Memory Stick expansion slot; 15 days between battery charges

iPaq H3670
Compaq
(800) 888-0220 http://www.compaq.com/

$649

Windows CE

64 MB RAM; color screen; dual PC card expansion pack $199; USB cradle; 12 hours between battery charges

Jornada 525
Hewlett-Packard
(800) 752-0900
http://www.hp.com/

$359

Windows CE

16 MB RAM; color screen; CompactFlash card expansion slot; serial sync cable; 8 hours between battery charges

Palm m505
Palm
(800) 881-7256
http://www.palm.com/

$449

Palm OS 4

8MB RAM; color screen; expansion card slot; USB cradle; 3 weeks between battery charges

Visor Edge
Handspring
(888) 565-9393
http://www.handspring.com/

$399

Palm OS 3.5

8MB RAM; black and white screen; expansion slot for Springboard modules; USB cradle; 4 weeks between battery charges

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