Small, but oh so perfectly formed

Sharp bids for Psion's market with a new hand-held, while AST gets big on games
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A computer makes storing and retrieving information so easy that many of us now feel lost without one. So how can we cope when far from base? One answer is to carry a hand-held Personal Digital Assistant.

The Sharp ZR-5000 is a competitor to the British Psion 3a. It is small enough to fit into a pocket, and like the Psion is remarkably powerful. But it does have a special feature - a touch-sensitive screen and its own special pen. You can use this to give commands, select menu options or highlight text you have entered to manipulate it - for example cut, copy or paste. You can also write or draw directly on the screen, although the ZR-5000 does not decipher handwriting, it simply stores it for you as part of a drawing. If you want to make handwritten jottings you use its Notes facility: these are indexed by date and time.

The keys are large enough to let you use all your fingers for typing, although an experienced typist may find it disconcerting in that the right- hand side of the keyboard is truncated. The return key is directly to the right of "L" so there is no "home key" for the little finger of the left hand. The Documents application has many facilities of a full word processor - including spell-checking, bold, italic and underline, left, right and centre justification and the ability to find a text string. It also has a Make a Letter feature, which takes the details of a recipient, uses them to create the start of the letter and adds your supplied closing plus name and signature - remember the handwriting facility - at the end.

The ZR-5000 is a very able information manager. It has three inbuilt databases in its Contacts section, suitable for business and personal purposes, and you can set up other databases of your own. Its strongest facilities, however, are in its time management functions. These are divided into four sections - Appointments, To Do tasks, Birthdays/Anniversaries, and Holidays. You can easily record both one-off and repeating events, with alarms if required. There are five calendar views to let you see your schedule in convenient ways. The most detailed view of Day shows all activities for a single day while the weekly graph view indicates which time periods are free and which are allocated to appointments.

If you are concerned about confidentiality the ZR-5000 allows you to designate data as secret with password protection. Optional extra equipment allows you to hook up to a printer and to communicate with other ZR-5000s via infrared link. It uses standard PCMCIA cards for backup and third- party add-ons such as fax-modem cards. One accessory that is vital if you are a PC user is a link which enables the exchange of data in a number of standard formats.

The Sharp ZR-5000 is an attractive unit. With so many features on offer, there's quite a lot to learn to get the best out of it but it's well worth the investment of time and effort.

The Sharp ZR-5000 costs pounds 399.99, including VAT. Tel: 0345 125387.

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