Word in the Hand
By WALTER S. MOSSBERG
AS SMART PHONES and personal digital assistants become more like
little computers, they have begun to compete with laptops as portable
digital workstations. For short or light-duty business trips, you can
now leave the laptop at home and rely instead on a smart phone with a
keyboard, such as a BlackBerry phone from Research in Motion, a Treo
from Palm or a keyboard-equipped iPAQ from Hewlett-Packard. These
devices can place and receive phone calls, send and receive e-mail,
surf the Web in a basic fashion, and maintain your calendar and
contacts list, synchronized with your computer. They can even play
music and videos, display your photos, and just like your laptop,
they'll let you play solitaire.
But what about the other major function of a laptop - viewing and
editing Microsoft Office documents? Well, it turns out you can do
that, too, on these devices, at least to a point. Currently, you can
read Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, as well as Adobe PDF files, on
certain handhelds; you can even edit them and synchronize the changes
back to a PC.
Here's a look at how that's possible, on the three most popular types
of smart phones and PDAs in the U.S.: those powered by the Palm
operating system, those powered by the Windows Mobile operating system
(formerly known as Pocket PC), and the BlackBerry, which uses both
hardware and software from RIM.
First, make sure your device has lots of storage capacity, either in
internal memory or on a removable memory card, if your device can
accept them. (The Treo, the iPAQ and most other devices running
Windows Mobile software can; BlackBerry models cannot.) You will need
that room to store your Office documents.
Second, I strongly advise those wanting to edit documents to buy a
phone or PDA with a full keyboard, rather than one that relies solely
on handwriting recognition or a phone keypad. The software for viewing
and editing documents does work on devices without a keyboard, but
unless you just want to read documents, the process is painful on
You might think that the devices running Windows Mobile software would
do the best job of handling Microsoft Office documents because both
systems are made by Microsoft. Or you might imagine the BlackBerry was
tops at this task because it is bought mostly by corporate computer
departments, where Microsoft Office is the application software of
choice. But in fact, the best devices for viewing and editing Office
documents are those using the Palm operating system, such as the Palm
Treo 650. That's because of a helpful third-party program, Documents
to Go, from DataViz, which is packaged with many Palm devices,
including the Treo.
Next best are the Microsoft-powered phones and handhelds, which come
with built-in mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Bringing
up the rear is the BlackBerry, which can display Word, Excel and
PowerPoint files when sent as e-mail attachments, but doesn't let you
edit or synchronize them with a PC.