High-tech tools that do the job.

Author:Zarowin, Stanley
Position:Includes related article on conference centers

New computer and communications hardware continues to inundate the market, numbing even the most technology-savvy user. But most of those new products tend to be blips on the horizon here today and gone tomorrow. Often they don't do what they claim, or they do it badly or what they do is not particularly useful to accountants.

Some new products not only do what's expected of them, but also do it well. This article describes some of the most useful products. The ones selected can make an accountant's work easier, faster, more effective and profitable--maybe even more enjoyable.


As competition grows in the cellular telephone arena, prices continue to shrink and the range of mobile services widens. Although the cost of cellular service is still pricey, the advantages of being able to place and receive calls from nearly any location are beginning to outweigh the premium charges. From a technical point of view, most cell phones are about the same--with one exception. The Motorola Star-TAC weighs only 3.1 ounces and is so small you can clip it onto a belt. It comes with two lithium-ion rechargeable batteries (the longest lived and most powerful batteries of their size); when one is depleted, the other automatically takes over. As a result, the tiny phone delivers talking time of more than 4 hours and standby time of up to 47 hours. Fast recharges can be done in less than 2 hours.

StarTAC has two down sides: Because its speakers are so small, an incoming call sounds tinny. And then there's the price: about $1,000--but that surely will soften as competitors make inroads. More information: Motorola (888-782-7822).

A new mobile phone service is being introduced in some parts of the country: digital service. While it's more expensive than the conventional analog service, it promises clear, static-free reception. Since the service is so new and untested and not yet universally available, this article omits mention of any specific products. Watch for it in your area.


Laptop computers come in three basic types: the lightweight, scaled-down machine for traveling; the hefty, fully loaded computer with sound and graphics muscle for multimedia presentations; and the workhorse, an in-between machine that offers a compromise in power and weight between the other two.

The workhorse models tend to be the most popular--especially for those who use their portables both in the office and on the road. Two economical machines are the IBM ThinkPad 365XD and the Texas Instruments Extensa 510. The ThinkPad, which sells for about $2,500, comes with a built-in CD-ROM drive. The Texas Instruments machine, which lacks a CD-ROM drive, sells for about $1,800. But if ruggedness is your prime consideration, take a look at Dell's Latitude XPi even though it's a bit pricey. The 133-megahertz (MHz) model costs $3,400 and lacks a CD-ROM drive. Not only is it designed to survive the bumps and bruises of travel but also its battery longevity is legend (about five hours, depending on how it's used, compared with two to three hours for most other laptops). A faster model (150 MHz) does contain a CD-ROM drive and costs about $4,200.

More information: IBM (800-426-2968), Texas Instruments (800-848-3927), Dell (800-388-8542).


When Apple introduced its Newton--the pocket-size personal computer into which data are entered with a special pen, not via a keyboard--many users said, "Wow; finally, a real pocket computer!" But once the pocket-size machine was put to the test, those wows dissolved as users realized that Apple's reach had exceeded its grasp: Newton was a good idea that was--and continues to be--a bit before its time. Now, while Apple continues to refine its design, U.S. Robotics has leapfrogged the Newton with its much simpler Pilot 1000. The Pilot may not be a perfect pocket computer, but considering what it can do--in the shirt-pocket space it takes and at a reasonable cost ($299 street price)--it's pretty close to pocket computer nirvana.

The Pilot is a scheduler, address book, calculator, notepad and sketchpad that also uses a pen as its input tool. However, unlike the conventional English letter printing used for the Newton--which does not do a very good job of translating handwriting into computer text--the Pilot uses an unusual alaphabet that takes about an hour or so to master but overcomes the Newton translation problem. And when you're back in the office and ready to download its contents into your full-size computer, all you need do is slip the 5-ounce Pilot into its little desktop cradle (which is connected by cable to your computer) and the data transfer is inaugurated automatically--synchronizing data between the two machines without fuss. More information: Pilot (800-881-7256).


How would you like to have a small package that (1) backs up data on a hard disk, (2) copies even huge files for sharing with others or for toting home in your pocket and (3) can function as a spare hard drive for any computer. And, as...

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