- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

The MC50, an “enterprise digital assistant” from Symbol Technologies Inc., is not your father’s handheld — or your roommate’s, either.

This device, for which prices range between $735 and $950 at various online vendors, is as much as three times the cost of similar, but hardly comparable, models from Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett Packard. The price, and extra heft, of the unit, means the MC50 is designed for business, not for show.

The unit not only checks your appointments, but also scans bar codes, wirelessly sends data to the host computer system and makes VoIP calls using your company’s in-house network.

I didn’t have the chance to test the voice capabilities of the MC50, but as a handheld this is a nice performer, limited only, as shall be seen, by the Windows Mobile operating system. As a handheld, it’s an impressive device.

Out of the box, the MC50 has the full suite of Windows Mobile applications: stripped-down versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and Outlook components such as e-mail, contacts and a calendar. So far, so good: hook the device up to a PC running the main Microsoft Office applications, and you can sync quickly and be on your way.

The model I tested included a small built-in keyboard, call it “thumb capable,” which can be used to enter information, compose messages and similar tasks. Both numeric keypad and “caps lock” modes can be invoked, making it easy, in the former case, to do a string of calculations.

A wireless 802.11b radio is built into the unit; Bluetooth communications is an option via a SecureDigital form-factor slot. Also built-in is a 1.1 megapixel camera, which can be configured to work as a scanner. There are 64 megabytes of user memory, which could be expanded through the SD card slot.

The device is “sturdy,” and while some may call it “rugged,” it’s not “ruggedized” in the sense that military and other high-demand users would call it. It is far more durable than your average PDA. I didn’t bat it around during testing, and I suspect the LCD screen would be as sensitive to gravity as would any other, which also is why optional screen protectors are available.

If you are walking the factory floor, or a regional distribution warehouse, this might be the product for you. For the sales floor in a large store, it might also work very well, especially if the VoIP communications are enabled. Having that feature would allow your office phone to follow you, and that’s rather neat.

But there are problems with the Windows Mobile operating system, and they are not inconsequential. One of the biggest is with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as installed on the device. There’s no way to switch from “portrait” to “landscape” mode, the latter being far more suited to Web surfing. I tried, several times, to download Opera’s mini-browser for Windows Mobile 5.0, and the Opera server didn’t comply, leaving me stuck with IE.

Should you buy the MC50 for your company? Perhaps, but probably only if you have the resources to customize and outfit this device for your workers’ specific needs. It’s a good product, but it’s not for everyone.

Information can be found at https://www.symbol.com/mc50/.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog, updated daily on The Washington Times’ Web site, at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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