Compare & Contrast
Beach Toys for Digital Lawyers
By Anthony Paonita
IT'S SUMMER TIME and your significant other is planning that week on the beach. It promises to be idyllic. Warm turquoise water, pinkish white sand, cocktails at sunset as you watch your e-mail come through on your Blackberry...
Hey, wait. What's wrong with this picture?
Like it or not, we're addicted to being connected. And if we're not personally addicted, our partners/bosses/clients have graciously taken it upon themselves to ensure that you're in touch. And if we're not connected, we've gotten used to other beach gadgets. Face it, that transistor radio tuned to Cousin Brucie just doesn't cut it for beach music (even if that old radio station were still playing your favorite hits). And then there's that old trail map that always manages to get you lost.
Fear not. Herewith, a selective guide to summer gadgets, things the serious digitally aware vacationer cannot do without.
Tune In, Drop Out
I don't know about you, but I'm really tired of old-fashioned radio, tape and CDs. They're just too much to carry around. Better to go completely digital and download your music to a nifty little MP3 player. Or for the truly obsessed (and pumped up), a big, chunky MP3 player.
The current object of technolust among the digerati is Apple's iPod, which doubles as a portable hard drive (and counterfeiting device). Like most of its Apple stablemates, it's sleek, and two-toned stainless steel and "ice."
The 5 GB model will give you 1000 songs, on the average, and a new, more expensive 10 GB model came out in the spring ($500). The minuses: It only works easily with Macs (though Media-Four says it's producing software that allows iPods to talk to Windows PCs) and the price is on the high side. But that doesn't seem to deter a lot of people; I'm seeing more people walking around Manhattan sporting the distinctive white pod earphones.
For slower downloads but good sound (and easier PC connectivity) there are some other good MP3 players out there, perfect for baking in the sun. The Big Magilla has to be SonicBlue's RioRiot, for $400. You get a 20 GB hard drive, as well as an FM radio for the same price as the cheaper iPod. But you don't get Firewire (or IEEE 1394), so it takes awhile to transfer songs. And it weighs half a pound--so it'll compete for carrying case space with that Pynchon novel you never got around to reading.
Connected and Guilty
Sometimes, you just have to check that e-mail, even when you're baking on the Vineyard. So don't feel guilty, take that Blackberry along. Just be discreet. You're liable to get sneers from the next umbrella -- and maybe an envious stare. Then there's good, old- fashioned voice communication. I didn't realize how dependent on my cellular phone I'd become until I took a recent trip abroad. Our normal cell phones don't work in Europe, and I suddenly felt out of touch, adrift. I must have been the only adult male without a phone.
The Holy Grail, at least to gadget makers, is combining some sort of e-mail device with cell phone capabilites. Qualcomm tried, but failed with its Palm/cell device, which managed to annoy most testers. But Research in Motion Ltd. and Handspring have come close to cracking it. (See page 1.)
R.I.M. keeps upping the ante. The Blackberry 5810 isn't too big, and you might be able to use it unobtrusively. It offers all the goodies we've come to expect from its maker -- the ability to get your e-mail from your existing service provider or your corporate network (and have it all synch), a not-so-tiny display, long battery life (forget about that excuse), etc. And, wonder of wonders, it's a cell phone, too, with neatly integrated software. Only one logistical challenge: The phone part works only with (included) earphones.
The 5810 isn't enough alone in making a nifty combo. Palm clone maker Handspring has its answer in the Treo. You get a reasonably up-to-date Palm OS handheld, with 16 MB of RAM along with full cellular capability. For $399, with cellphone activation, you get a choice of keyboard or graffiti model. I'd take the graffiti model, the alphabet's easy to learn and you can always add a keyboard later. Besides, keyboards don't like sand much.
Good news for Blackberry-challenged e-mail addicts: Handspring has released beta e-mail software that allows you to hook up with either a POP3 or corporate e-mail, such as Microsoft Exchange. It's free now, but as with all beta software, be prepared for glitches. And do the right thing and report any problems to Handspring.
All work and no play make for a dull girl or boy. Load that Treo up with Ancient Red for hours of role-playing fun. And be prepared to incur the wrath of those with whom you're spending quality time.
Let's Not Get Lost
If your e-mailing and role-playing has gotten you into hot water, here's one way to redeem yourself: Take along a portable GPS handheld. Never get lost on the trail again.
There are two basic kinds of handheld GPS devices: those that come with a map and those that don't. The mapless ones use coordinated and dots to connect routes; those with maps superimpose the coordinates atop a sometimes hard-to-read map. Since there are limited trail maps out there, the mapped ones can be of limited utility.
Either way, plan on spending about $300 (see chart). As an alternative, you can buy a GPS module for your Handspring or Pocket PC. The latter exploits the format's brighter color screen to give you a useful backroads and trail companion.
Just think: With GPS software and a PDA like the Treo, you can make calls, send e-mail and find your way up a mountain. Who said vacations were restful?
Anthony Paonita is a senior editor at The American Lawyer and Corporate Counsel magazines, and a contributing editor to Law Technology News.