View this month's Buyer's Guide

Convergence is everywhere. We want to condense and combine our procedures, our software, and even our hardware. Among the most recent convergence efforts is the "all-in-one" mobile device, which combines the functionality of the cell phone with that of the PDA so that you can take calls as you, for example, address your various calendar, email, and Web-surfing needs.

Increasingly, these devices are proliferating in IT environments. You probably don't want to use one for serious systems administration. But the all-in-one mobile device is ideal for giving you on-the-go access to the data to which you need the quickest access, as well as taking advantage of that information to engage in near-instant communication. In this Buyer's Guide, we've compiled a listing of the hottest new devices in the all-in-one device market. Here are some of the considerations to keep in mind if you're thinking about a purchase.

Size Matters
Do you want a device that fits neatly in your pocket, or do you want something you can attach to your belt? In the end, your choice of an all-in-one mobile device might just depend on what you think of its cosmetics. Some of these devices have the bulk of a PDA and are somewhat weighty for phone use. Others function primarily as a phone, with "added" PDA functionality that's not as burdensome. Others fall somewhere in between, but the generally held wisdom is that the smaller the device, the better.

Keyboard
Some devices offer built-in alphanumeric keyboards, whereas others use screen-based keyboard images, with which you interact using a pen device or the number pad—a far more cumbersome solution. We recommend a built-in keyboard because we assume your professional life is as consumed by email as ours. And although you might be put off, at first, by the small QWERTY keyboards common to these devices, you'll be surprised at how quickly you adapt. Another handy feature is Bluetooth-connected keyboards. And don't forget the benefits of handwriting recognition and Palm Graffiti, old standbys that can be quite usable with practice.

Embedded OS
One advantage of the all-in-one mobile device is its built-in OS, which lets you run applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook. You'll typically find either the Windows Mobile, PalmOS, or Symbian OS on these combination devices, giving you some pretty powerful computing power. Some devices also incorporate the Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) runtime environment, and we might soon be seeing increasing support for Qualcomm's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW).

External Connectivity
Bluetooth has recently found a foothold in the arena of all-in-one mobile devices. Wireless-modem capabilities let you use your phone not only for voice communication but also for data flow. And available Wi-Fi functionality gives you Internet access on the go.

Your local cell-phone provider will determine your type of reception coverage. The device will conform to one of three wireless-networking formats—Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), or Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). The most popular format is GSM, which supports a digital network called General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) that's vital for wireless data services such as email and Internet access.

Price and Considerations
An obvious determining factor is pricing and availability, both of which also depend on the offerings of local and national cell-phone providers. Communications companies such as ALLTEC, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Earthlink, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, have been quite competitive about their offerings and pricing structures, so be sure to search for the deal that's right for your wallet. And be sure to watch for hidden data charges.

The Value of Convergence
Perhaps you simply require voice communication and text messaging. Maybe you value calendar functionality, or perhaps you place more value on whether a device offers Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless capabilities, or maybe your primary need is a big, bright, colorful display. All the devices in this Buyer's Guide offer differing arrays of functionality, so weigh your needs before making your choice. With these devices, we're getting closer to IT management in the palm of our hand.