Thinking about some mobile technology for spring? Here's my short take on your choices.
Laptop PCs have come down so much in price that you can pick up a usable brand new (but plain-vanilla) model for less than $700. For that price, no way would I want to be tied to a desk anymore. Spend a couple hundred more, and you can find models that are a little more durable, with WiFi wireless networking built in, and a travel weight under six pounds. Wireless is a must in any portable computer these days.
Like notebooks, TabletPCs are “real” computers that run Windows, except you enter data directly on the screen with a special pen-like stylus. With the right software, they can be excellent replacements for your clipboard and paper forms. Some models, like the Toshiba Portégé M200 are “convertible” — they have a laptop-style keyboard but can flip their lid, transforming into a tablet, giving you at least some of both worlds. www.toshibadirect.com
A PDA (personal digital assistant) or SmartPhone won't replace your computer but can be a great supplement to it for remodelers. Take my word for it: You're not going to crunch big spreadsheets or even edit a contract very often on a puny 3-inch screen — but you can read e-mail, take job notes, check a schedule, and keep your contacts. My advice: Don't buy a PDA you can't get your e-mail on directly. That means whether it's a SmartPhone, or a regular PDA, it needs some kind of wireless connectivity. —Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org