Network: A Psion for the serious businessman

Geofox-One is the handheld for those unwilling to make compromises, writes David Fox

There are now two standards vying for supremacy in the handheld computer market - Microsoft's Windows CE and Psion's EPOC32 operating system. Until recently, the Psion Series 5 was its only user, but now a new Cambridge company, Geofox, has launched the Geofox- One, a business-oriented machine which is much more than a Series 5 variant.

Where almost all rival handhelds have gone for pen-operated screens, Geofox has realised that this makes the screen harder to read (due to the pressure-sensitive layer over the screen). Instead, it has a glidepoint mouse and a bigger, clearer screen than any rival.

Unlike the Psion, it can take a plug-in PC Card modem, and makes the most of this in its Professional versions, which can easily be used for e-mail or Web surfing - where the 6.8in diagonal screen makes a big difference. Menus can be turned off for less clutter and you can zoom in and out at the touch of a button, which is useful when reading in poor light, rather than using the power-hungry backlight screen.

It comes with more memory (either 4Mb or 16Mb of Ram), so you can have several programs open at once and swap between them - or access large picture-based Web pages. However, the Web browser doesn't yet support frames so it can't access some Internet sites - a new version is being developed. It also had difficulty accessing the Web via CompuServe. But a very helpful technical support engineer, his technical director and their people in the US managed to devise a fix for this in less than two hours. CompuServe and AOL users may also be dismayed that it only uses POP3 e-mail, but this is now becoming available on CompuServe.

The rest of the software will be familiar to Series 5 users, with its good word processor, card-file database, spreadsheet, diary, calculator, UK and US route planners, and two games. The other big difference is the keyboard. Although the gap between the keys is the same, it isn't as easy to type on as the Series 5. The rubber Chiclet keys lack feedback, but having a calculator keypad helps make up for that. It is also very easy to access each program through a second set of keys to the left of the glidepoint pad. The only other trade off is the Geofox's size - it is very slightly wider than the Series 5 and a full ounce heavier.

It comes with PsiWin software, allowing it to share data with applications on a Windows 95 PC (a Mac version is also now available), and, unlike Windows CE, it is not limited to Microsoft's Word and Excel - good news for Lotus 1-2-3 or WordPerfect users. An infrared port makes data exchange with other Geofox-Ones and Series 5s, or a suitable printer, easy.

The two AA batteries can last about 25 hours, but the modem would drain them so quickly that it should only be used with the mains adaptor. As the Geofox-One can only be bought through the Internet or by phone, prospective users can try it out for 14 days and get their money back if not satisfied. A three-year hardware warranty and lifetime support is included. Prices range from pounds 375 (inc VAT) for a standard 4MB model, to pounds 570 for the Professional 16MB version including modem and adaptor.

Overall, unless you do a lot of writing (where the Series 5 keyboard triumphs), the Geofox-One forces you to make fewer compromises than any other handheld.

Geofox - http://www.geofox.com (0845 844 0109).

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