Lately, I've been doing something I never expected: I'm using a PDA. That probably doesn't sound worth mentioning, but I've never been a big fan of PDAs. I'd either manage to break them, or they'd run out of power just when I needed them. And they always fell a little short of the functionality I've needed to make them useful.

However, the recent availability of PDAs with 640x480 (VGA) screen resolution and the added functionality of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition gave me the impetus to invest in a Dell Axim X50v. And after a few weeks of use, I'm glad I did.

The device's wireless connectivity (802.11b) and usable screen size has made the PDA handy for tasks that used to tie me directly to a computer console. The built-in RDP client lets me access servers in my network via Terminal Services, and the 640x480 screen (Windows Mobile 2003 SE allows the screen to display in landscape format, like a typical computer screen, as well as in typical portrait mode) gives me enough screen real estate to perform management tasks. The Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) implementation lets me use Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) and other Web-enabled email systems to check and send email--and works far better than using my cell phone to browse the Web or with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) to access email.

As I prepare for a trip to a major trade show, the common PDA activities--synchronizing my Microsoft Outlook calendar to track the vendor appointments and events I have scheduled over the first week in January and downloading notes and reference information to the 1GB Secure Digital (SD) card I'm using for extra storage--are just as simple as I remembered from past PDA experiences. Because the PDA's OS includes Windows Media Player 10 (WMP), I'd probably be adding music to another 1GB SD card if I didn't already have a 20GB Dell Digital Jukebox to handle music for the trip. I downloaded some ebooks from Baen Publishing's Web site in Microsoft Reader format in order to have some reading material available on the cross-country plane trips--the PDA's screen resolution makes reading books on the device a pleasure.

For sheer novelty, when I bought the device I also ordered the Dell GPS Navigation System, a combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) and mapping software. Surprisingly, the navigation system has proven very useful over the past few weeks as I've made trips to some new client sites. The directions the system provides are reliable, the maps are easy to follow, and the fact that the small GPS device connects to the PDA via Bluetooth means that I don't have even more wires running between devices in my car. The GPS system includes a mount for the PDA, and although my car is beginning to resemble my desk with all its electronic gadgetry (I also use the music player and its cup-holder mount), the GPS and directions functionality was unobtrusive and practical to use.

Although the PDA doesn't take the place of my Windows XP notebook when I'm traveling on business, the current incarnation of Windows Mobile and the hardware technology available has me convinced that practical PDAs are possible. Now, if the prices would come down just a bit....