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E-Gearing Up for the V-Office
by Les Goldberg (April 28, 2003)

A quarter century ago, futurists like Alvin Toffler envisioned the idea of the "virtual office", where workers no longer needed to work side by side or even meet face to face. Lo and behold, that time has come.

The information revolution, with its plethora of electronic wizardry anchored solidly by portable computers, the Internet, e-mail, cell phones and other wireless devices, has transformed our society into a world of mobility.

People are no longer tethered to their offices. Everyday business functions - scheduling appointments, conducting meetings, accessing files, exchanging written or verbal communications and even searching for or hiring a new employee, can now can be performed anywhere -- from a city park to a country field.

All you need is some help from the latest and greatest mobile-minded office power tools like these:

Toshiba Satellite 1955-S801

Of course no business is functional without a computer, and today's new notebook PCs are actually capable of being desktop replacements. They combine power with mobility. One of the best on the market is the Toshiba Satellite 1955-S801, priced at $2,499.
Built around Intel's 2.2-gigahertz Pentium 4 desktop processor, it boasts 512 megabytes of system memory, expandable to 1 gigabyte, and comes with a 40 GB hard drive and CD-read/write and DVD-ROM combination drive. But the most noticeable advantage of this Toshiba notebook is the massive 16-inch screen, powered by NVIDIA's GeForce4 440 Go video adapter with 32MB of DDR random access memory (RAM).

For road warrior connectivity, it houses an integrated 56K modem and 10/100BaseT Ethernet adapter. An optional 802.11b wireless networking module is available for $130 and other extras provide further functionality.

In addition to the interface offerings of a VGA, parallel, three USB, FireWire, IR and video-out ports, the notebook is well-stocked with useful software, including Windows XP Home Edition, Lotus Smart-Suite Millennium Edition, Intuit Quicken Basic 2001 and Symantec North AntiVirus 2002.

HP iPAQ 3870

More and more, business people from sales representative to field technicians, from CEOs to mid-level managers, are finding the PDA - personal data assistant - a worthy extension of their desktop and/or notebook PCs. Especially with the rapid technological advancements in operating systems, displays and wireless performance.

Take the iPAQ 3870 from Hewlett Packard, for instance. It is a polished, professional-looking Pocket PC with a sharp 320 x 240-pixel color display that is brighter and easier to read than most handhelds.

Powered by a fast 206-MHz StrongARM processor and 64 MB of RAM, the iPAQ 3870 offers a unique expansion pack system that allows optional "sleeves" to slide onto the PDA, providing added expansion solutions for GPS, wireless modems and other applications.

Also included are handwriting recognition, digital voice recorder and a rocker button for games.

And, the iPAQ 3870 is the only PDA on the market with built-in Bluetooth support. That means it can access the Internet via a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. Cost: $649.

Socket Wireless LAN Card

A necessity of any virtual office is wireless connectivity. When you are on the road, you need to be free of wires to connect to your company's network or to the Internet. If you're watching your pennies (and who isn't these days), why pay top dollar for a full-blown wireless device when you can get the same features in a PDA accessory? That is why the Socket CompactFlash Wireless LAN Card is a bargain at $189.

Virtually unnoticeable when installed, it works with the 802.11b Ethernet protocol for complete compatibility. A major advantage of the Socket card is its Automated Power Savings mode, which means it runs on the least possible battery power. Using the Ad Hoc mode, you can connect directly to other, similarly equipped PDAs to share files or play games on the fly.

TravRoute Pocket CoPilot

If there is one add-on device a Pocket PC PDA is perfect for, it's a global positioning system (GPS). The color screen, audio features and add-on functionality make it a perfect driving companion, especially when you are in a rented car in unfamiliar territory.

TravRoute, which is sold in various models, responds to verbal commands and supplies such information as direction and distance to the next turn, street names, landmarks, restaurants, transportation centers and other data required by most road warriors. It can even recalculate directions on the fly if you missed a turn due to road conditions or driver errors.

When you purchase the Pocket CoPilot, you get the hardware, an installation CD, a nationwide data CD with street-level detail, up to two external antenna mounts, an in-vehicle power adapter and a user's guide. These devices cost from $299 to $349.

Sierra Wireless AirCard 555

Available through Verizon for $299, the Sierra Wireless AirCard 555 is a dual-band device, which means it can be connected to a normal phone line at up to 14.4 kilobytes per second, or to a 1xRTT high-speed wireless network with speeds up to 153 Kbps.

Laptops running Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000 and XP are all compatible with the card that runs on the Pocket PC, Pocket PC 2002 and Handheld PC 2002 operating systems.

The card features a headset jack so you can make mobile phones through your laptop or handheld, as well as voice and two-way messaging.

Creative Labs PC-Cam 600

As security tightens at the airports and in the skies, business travel is taking a back seat to videoconferencing. Technology has advanced in recent years to allow clear, accurate and reliable video communications over the Internet. Videoconferencing cameras, also known as Webcams, now can make business more productive by reducing travel expenses and the cost of long-distance telephone calls. For Windows users, videoconferencing software is readily available from Microsoft and others to make the "virtual" meetings as easy as word processing.

One of the best Webcams on the market is the PC-Cam 600 from Creative Labs. At $149, it is two cameras in one. In the videoconferencing mode, it captures live video in up to 16.7 million colors at a resolution of up to 640 x 480 pixels. It connects to your computer using a USB port and sits in a base that can rest on top of your monitor or tabletop.

As a digital still camera it operates with 16 MB of built-in storage and can hold up to 20 images of 1280 x 960 resolution or 200 images at 640 x 480 resolution. An integrated flash can be operated in Manual or Automatic mode and includes red-eye reduction.

Canon Bubblejet BJC-85

Wherever you go for business, there usually pops up a situation in which hard-copy documents are needed. Maybe it is a presentation e-mailed from headquarters at the last minute before a meeting. Or, it could be a contract ready for signatures. Portable printers are handy to have around and fit easily into your laptop carrying case. They sure beat the alternative - looking for a hotel business center, a Kinko's or someplace where your valuable work can be printed out.

The industry's most reliable in this category remains the Canon BJC-85 color bubble jet printer. At $250, it is sleek and light, measuring 11.8 inches wide, 2.3 inches high and 6.2 inches deep and weighing 3.1 pounds (4.5 lbs. with AC adapter and optional battery pack).

It accepts letter-sized, legal-sized and #10 envelopes and prints your documents with 720 x 360 dots per inch (dpi) black resolution at 5 pages per minute (2 ppm in color).

With the optional IS-12 Color Image Scanner Cartridge, the BJC-85 transforms into a 360 dpi color sheetfed scanner.

Battery life is up to 200 pages per charge, and the printer will operate with most Windows and Mac desktop or laptop PCs. Ink cartridges are available through Canon or a variety of online printer cartridge outlets.

Advice to the road warrior: Pack plenty of extra ink cartridges.

BenQ SL705X Ultraportable Projector

Designed for use on the road, in the boardroom or in your kitchen that serves as your home office conference center, the portable projector is an impressive tool to show that winning presentation. They have matured greatly in recent years from the cumbersome luggables that required a techie to be close at hand to install, to the lightweight models at about five pounds, and to the ultra-portables weighing less than four pounds.

That is why the BenQ SL705X is a wise choice, even at the $3,000 price point. It weighs just three pounds, is about the size of a hardcover book and is packed with features found only in larger models.

This projector, which works with most PCs and offers an optional Mac adapter, is popular for its combination of extreme portability, great brightness, a super wide-angle lens and a short "throw" distance, an important consideration when purchasing a projector. It can project a 60-inch diagonal image from 6.5 feet away, while most competitive products offer a 40-inch maximum throw at this distance.

It is completely loaded with all the connections and formats that might be needed, and the 120-watt lamp, which provides about 1,500 hours of life, delivers 1,100 ANSI lumens of brightness and a 600:1 contrast ratio for brilliant images even in well-lit rooms.

Road warrior tip: Always bring replacement lamps.

Copyright 2003 Les Goldberg All rights reserved.

   
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