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Palm-top that's not for yuppies

Thousands of the pocket-sized computers they call palm-tops can be found in schools - usually Acorn Pocket Books, based on Psion's Series 3. Pupils use them for writing and, at around Pounds 250, Xemplar sells them by the class set and sometimes by the kilo.

Teachers use them too - as diaries, address books, and some even say they can't exist without them. So common are they that you can use one in a staff room and not be called a yuppie. Different maybe, but thankfully not a yuppie.

The palm-top PC is undergoing a renaissance; all the big firms are launching new devices that work and feel like Microsoft Windows. Hewlett-Packard, the major competitor to Psion (maker of the Pocket Book), now has one - the HP 320 LX Palm-top PC.

Its smart offering had me wondering how to hit the Windows 95 start button. Then it dawned on me that it had a touch-screen that you press with a stylus, though it works well enough with a finger. That this was a pre-launch prototype with little documentation is my excuse, but it's also a sign that anyone familiar with Windows 95 may soon be using its capabilities - but without having to read the manual. For example, it has basic versions of Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheet. Word lets you type and format text with the inevitable small keyboard. Touch typists will find their fingers tripping over each other; one-finger typists will do better. Excel is useful for, say, putting results into a table, though this version doesn't do graphs as some classrooms will require.

This solidly built pocket PC also has the benefit of a screen that is wide and almost fills its cover. There's a back light on the top model and, although HP usually gets things right in the end, I'd advise you to check the screen's clarity on the shop model as the pre-launch one was not very clear.

The Microsoft Schedule and Exchange which come with the palm-top give you a diary and an address book that you can keep on a desktop PC as well as on the palm-top. You can plug into a desktop PC and automatically synchronise changes between the two systems. You can also copy files between the two by dragging them from one window to another and this works unusually well - excellently even.

The other excellent point about the HP 320 LX is that you can plug in a modem, surf the Internet and use e-mail. On something this small, this is very impressive. Those wanting much more will risk being called a yuppie.

Roger Frost * The HP 320 LXPalmtop PC comes with Microsoft Windows CE, wide touch-screen, infra-red port and standard PC card slot. RRP price: Pounds 540 ex VAT. PC flash memory card for 2mg additional storage, Pounds 62 ex VAT.Hewlett-Packard.Tel: 0171 512 5202.

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