Lighten Your Load With Portable Power

Enough is enough: New featherweight, multipurpose tech tools help you go mobile without the heavy lifting.

September 1, 2000

If you’re one of today’s “well-connected” real estate practitioners, you’re always within reach, thanks to an assortment of gadgets: your cell phone, pager, laptop, digital camera, palmtop computer, portable printer, and fax.

Do you juggle them all? Then maybe it’s time to lighten your load.

That’s now a viable option, because vendors are combining communications functions into compact multipurpose units. There are mobile phones with computing power and Web access; combination cell phone-watches; pens that double as scanners and microcomputers; laptops with features that rival any desktop system; and pocket PCs that truly live up to the name. Each advance lets users carry less and accomplish more.

“A lot of people get very elaborate with all the equipment they carry, but I wasn’t sure whether I needed all that,” says Keith Mathison, residential sales specialist, Prudential Northwest Properties, Battle Ground, Wash. A year ago he started asking peers how they actually used their laptop computers.

To his surprise, many said they rarely booted up their laptops in the field. Mathison was convinced: All he needed away from his office, he decided, was contact information. So he bought a Palm III (www.palm.com), because it was compatible with the ACT! (www.actsoftware.com) contact management system installed on his desktop.

“It’s replaced my contact manager, calendar, phone book, notebook, calculator, and more if I want,” he says. “It clips to my belt and is a little larger than a pager.” The only other equipment he carries is a dual-mode analog-digital cell phone. “I always have coverage because it switches between the two modes automatically,” he says.

Don’t overdo it

If there’s one secret to mobile efficiency, it’s recognizing how much technology is enough.

“Sit down and figure out what you actually use,” offers Dan Daniels, broker, Governmental Employees Realty Associates, Alexandria, Va. “I don’t believe in buying more than I need. Some equipment is so complicated you won’t use half the features.”

After evaluating his work habits, Daniels set aside his laptop in favor of a REX PC Card, now available from Xircom. The credit card–size device stores up to 3,000 contact records, as well as calendar and scheduling information, and synchronizes data with a PC. “The REX is so small I forget I’m carrying it until I have to look something up,” he says.

For broker Douglas Barber, The Rawhide Co., REALTORS®, Colorado Springs, Colo., mobility is achieved with a cell phone, Dell Inspiron 7000 laptop (www.dell.com), and Sony Mavica digital camera (www.sony.com). He’s thought about carrying a pager or palmtop but considers them redundant technologies. “I have the ability to program a couple hundred numbers into my phone,” he says, “and with caller ID I can simply screen calls as they come in and decide whether to answer them or let them go to voice mail.”

“PDA? I’ve looked but don’t see the benefit yet,” he adds. “My schedule and address book are in the notebook.”

In fact, his laptop takes care of all his computer needs. “Once I got used to carrying the notebook,” he says, “I abandoned the desktop machine entirely.”

Tom Christensen, ABR®, CRS®, GRI, broker, The Christensen Co., Madison, Wis., has gone in the other direction. He once carried a laptop but decided it was more computer than he needed in the field: “I was using it primarily for presentations but found that most people prefer to have a printed presentation they can take with them.”

Last year he traded in his laptop for a Palm V. “I carry the Palm and a mobile phone with me all the time,” he says. “All my contact information is in it, and that’s what I really need.”

Even the phone isn’t as vital a link as it once was. “More and more of my communications are now handled through e-mail,” he says. “That’s what most people seem to prefer. I’ll use whatever technology I can to stay competitive and close to the leading edge.”

Today that edge belongs to people who’ve discovered that carrying less equipment can mean more in productivity and mobility.

So which pieces do you really need?

Before you invest in any mobile equipment, think about what functions each tool will offer you and decide whether that’s something you need.

  • Laptops—If you want to do electronic listing presentations, want all your information at your fingertips, and don’t mind waiting to boot up, one of the latest laptops will meet your needs. But be forewarned: You’ll need to carry extra batteries and a power adapter to maintain productivity.
  • Smart phones—The latest full-featured digital phones enhance voice communications with palmtop functions, paging, messaging, and wireless Internet access. But remember, they're phones first; their screens and keypads aren’t designed for heavy use. If you require more than basic contact and scheduling information, you’ll be better off carrying both a phone and a palmtop.
  • Palmtop computers—When your needs are more focused on contacts and scheduling and you require the ultimate in compact convenience, consider a palmtop. Choices include Microsoft’s new Pocket PC devices or a Palm or Visor compatible with the Palm OS.

Before you buy any handheld device, evaluate what you need to know and how much information you create when you’re out and about. To input anything more than cryptic memos, you’ll want to purchase one of the optional snap-on keypads.

Fun and functional compacts

Check out these devices, which combine two or more functions in an ultracompact package.

  1. C-Tech’s C-Pen (www.cpen.com) highlighter-sized device holds contact records, and scans and stores documents into its 100-page memory. The starting price is about $200.
  2. If all you need away from the office is key contact names and numbers, Xircom offers the credit card–size REX PC Card, starting at less than $150. It features an LCD screen for viewing and entering info and can be synchronized with records on your PC.
  3. For a real estate–specific palmtop, Supra offers the eKEY (www.supraekey.com) for $399. It comes loaded with Top Producer software and can download MLSdata.
  4. For a more conventional palmtop, Handspring’s Visor Deluxe (www.handspring.com), $249, runs on the Palm operating system, yet boasts an expansion port that transforms it into a digital camera, with more add-on modules on the way.
  5. Some cell phones have become smarter, and in the process assumed some of the functions you’d expect from a palmtop. The $399 NeoPoint 1000 is a good example. It sends and receives voice and e-mail, has a built-in contact management system, and offers wireless Web access.
  6. Finally, for the ultimate in compact communications—and a James Bond fix—strap on Samsung’s new Watch Phone (www.samsung.com). Pricing is not yet established, but the 1.3-ounce phone you wear on your wrist is scheduled for fall delivery. Features include voice-activated dialing, a contact directory, and up to 90 minutes of talk time.
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