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Around the US in 8 PDAs

Fri Aug 18, 2000 - 11:15 AM EDT - By Scott Hanselman


After five years of hard work I decided it was time for a vacation. You see, I'm not very good at vacation. I tend to take time work on other things. So, I took a month off and decided to go across the country with a friend, via Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. But, in true geek style, I loaded up my backpack with all the portable and wireless devices I could find. 

When I was done, I had a pretty good variety.

My goal was to find out just how "connected" can one be on a cross-country trip. Now, no one wants to be accessible all the time, but when those servers are down, or someone needs a document forwarded to them or the world will end, it doesn't hurt to know what you can and can't do on the road.

I went from Portland, OR to New York City in 10 days. I hit all the hot spots, sent email from the Grand Canyon, surfed the net from the streets of Brooklyn, and most importantly, I found the nearest Starbucks Coffee in Oklahoma City. We went from Portland to Denver to Phoenix to Dallas to Oklahoma to Chicago to Detroit to Philadelphia to New York.

The Philosophy

This review will focus on the eight devices I took with me. I know there are many more devices out there, but these are the ones I had lying around (and the ones that were loaned to me by the marketing departments of several fabulous companies. Thanks!). Many of the results I've found can be applied to other Portable Digital Assistants (PDAs), so use your best judgment. This isn't a scientific or official test in any way, just documentation of 8 devices in 10 cities in 10 days by 1 guy.

I'm going to explore:

  • Wired Access vs. Wireless Access - including speed and coverage
  • Email - how do you receive it on the road, what can you send and receive, and attachments
  • Web Access vs. Web Clipping - can you surf any site, or just receive specialized web content
  • Instant Messaging - real-time communication and chat

But mostly I'm going to use my common sense as a geek. What is the status of the industry? What useful work can I truly get done in the middle of nowhere? on a plane at 30,000 feet? In a taxi? On a street corner?

The Devices


  • RIM 950 + Wolfetech PocketGenie - Pager-Like Wireless Email
  • RIM 957 + GoAmerica Go.Web - Pilot-sized Wireless Email + Web Browser
  • PalmV + Minstrel Wireless Modem + OmniSky Service
  • PalmVII + ThinAirMail + Lots of "PQA" wireless apps


  • Handspring Visor Deluxe + Stowaway Keyboard + Thincom Springboard Modem + MultiMail + Avantgo
  • PalmIII + Palm 14.4k Modem + GoType Keyboard + Modem HotSync
  • IBM z50 WindowsCE w/ built-in Keyboard and 33.6k modem
  • Casio E115 PocketPC + Xircom 56k CF Modem

Also as a last resort, my <sigh> 10 pound Dell Laptop and a Cell Phone + Modem

RIM 950, RIM 957 "Blackberry" >>

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