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Appointment With Your Pocket Organizer Destiny

A computer is a great way to keep track of phone numbers, appointments and notes, but sometimes you need that information when you’re away from your PC. For that you need a pocket-size electronic organizer that can exchange data with your PC.

There are many such products on the market from Casio, Sharp and other companies. This week we’ll look at the Palm Pilot from U.S. Robotics ([800] 881-7256) and the Sidekick Bookman from Franklin Electronics ([800] 266-5626).

Both are small enough to fit into your pocket, and both are able to exchange data with a PC and backup to a PC. As with most personal organizers, both offer a calendar, an address and phone directory and a place to take notes. Other than these common traits, the two organizers are vastly different.

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The Pilot is regarded among cognoscenti as the Mercedes of hand-held organizers. There are two versions: The Palm 1000 ($299) stores up to 500 addresses, 600 appointments, 100 to-do items and 50 memos; the Palm 5000 ($369) stores 2,500 addresses, 2,400 appointments, 500 to-do items and 500 memos.

The Pilot is even smaller than pocket-size. At 4.7 by 3.2 by 0.7 inches, it fits into a shirt pocket. It doesn’t have a keyboard--you enter information with a hand-held plastic stylus. Unlike the Apple Newton, the Pilot doesn’t attempt to recognize handwriting or even normal block printing. Instead you use a special alphabet called Graffiti.

That may seem like a hassle, but Graffiti is very easy to learn. Many letters are identical to the normal block printing alphabet but, to avoid errors, a few letters have been modified. You enter a T, for example, by drawing a line to the right and then down. I have terrible handwriting and even my block printing is hard to read, but the Pilot is able to recognize just about anything I enter.

The best thing about the Pilot is that you won’t have to spend a lot of time entering information by hand because it comes with software and a linking device that makes it easy to enter it in your PC and transfer it to the unit.

Pilot Desktop is a pretty good personal organizer program, with a phone and address directory, a calendar, to-do list and memo area. It’s simple but it gets the job done. The Windows version is available now; a Mac version is due in November. The Pilot is also able to download data from more sophisticated information managers, including Internet Sidekick, Microsoft Schedule Plus, Lotus Organizer, Gold Mine and others.

There is nothing unusual about a link between a hand-held organizer and a PC, but the Pilot does an especially good job. In addition to the software, the Pilot comes with a small cradle that you plug into your PC’s serial port. To synchronize data between the PC and the Pilot, you simply slip the Pilot into the cradle and push a button on the cradle.

That’s all there is to it. The Pilot sends a signal to the PC, which automatically loads the necessary software. It’s the slickest organizer-to-PC linking system I’ve ever seen.

The Bookman Sidekick is a very different breed of organizer from the Pilot, less elegant in many ways--although, starting at $89.95 for a low-end model, also a whole lot cheaper; $179.95 buys you a deluxe unit with more storage and a bigger screen.

The Bookman, which comes with a built-in version of Starfish Software’s popular Sidekick PC software, is able to synchronize its data with Sidekick--though not with any other organizers. Instead of a cradle, you get a serial cable with a plug (the size and shape of an earphone jack) that plugs into the Bookman. To synchronize, you then press a few keys on the Bookman and issue a command in Sidekick. The process isn’t nearly as slick as the Pilot’s, but it gets the job done.

Both the PC and Bookman versions of Sidekick come with pre-defined data structures (personal and business address book, e-mail address book, wine list and hotel restaurant list). But if you want to create your own, you can do so at the PC and download it to the Bookman.

The Bookman has a small keyboard that’s adequate for entering data from the field. Personally, I like it better than using Pilot’s Graffiti.

My favorite feature of the Bookman are the two little slots at the back for cartridges. Franklin publishes an entire line of add-in cartridges for this and other Bookman models. These include a variety of adult and children’s dictionaries, language translators, health guides, Bibles, recipes, games, movie guides and “Lord Jim"--the company’s first full length novel.

I’m particularly fond of the Voice Pad cartridge, which digitally records up to 20 seconds of voice memos. It’s an ideal add-on to a personal organizer for those times when you need to record a phone number or short message--like a phone number given to you by directory assistance--but don’t have the time or wherewithal to enter it into the unit.

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Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at magid@latimes.com. His World Wide Web page is at https://www.larrysworld.com


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