Skip to main content

Hey big spender, spend a little time somewhere else.

Today we're appealing to the person who just mailed in the quarterly federal income tax check. The parent still suffering chest pains after thanklessly paying the first of several college tuition checks. An individual who has always been curious about those little handheld organizers, the



and such, but considered them an expensive curiosity. Maybe you've secretly burned for a better price point. Perhaps you have a school-age child or a spouse who's been dropping conspicuous hints and withholding pleasantries lately.

Seize the moment, this is the time to buy.

Palm and



are engaged in price wars. Some sort of inventory crisis mixed with financial-market ruin -- you know the story. What's important is that you can get a starter personal digital assistant for around $100. No kidding, the Palm m100, the standard teen handheld, is selling on the Internet (check CNet's

shopping service, for starters) for less than $100. On its site, Palm is advertising the device with three detachable face plates -- in colors from "glitz" to "turbo red" to "burl wood" -- all for $129 until October, a $49.85 saving.

That compares with $329 and $449 for two members of the new Palm m500 family, released before the summer began. The thinnest, newest Handspring product, the Visor Edge, will set you back $299, a heavily discounted tag. Handhelds with color screens run more like $400. Last Christmas' big feature, wireless connectivity, costs $199 in the Palm VIIx.

The newer handhelds feature more up-to-date versions of the Palm operating system, which is constantly being tweaked for faster speeds, connectivity and the ability to handle music or pictures. Palm is expected to upgrade its operating system a half-step before the end of the year for better multimedia handling, which you'll miss out on by buying now. If it's any consolation, the next upgrade isn't expected to be revolutionary (the zowie upgrade comes next year). And you're already getting a reasonably complex device dirt cheap.

Handspring's bargain Visor can be had for $99. It doesn't have a lot of memory -- we're talking plain and simple handhelds here -- but it still has Handspring's signature expansion slot. The expansion slot allows you to pay $50 to $200 for a small add-on device that snaps into the back of the Visor and transforms it into a digital camera, MP3 music player, phone and the like. You can also snap in more memory.

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends

Your basic PDA setup includes a calendar, your address book, a to-do list and a calculator. These all hook up to your PC, typically through a cradle in which your little technological marvel will rest as it undergoes data transfusions -- your updated contact info hurtling to and from your PC and handheld device. Each handheld has an available set of applications that are easily downloadable and add to the functions of your handheld.

You can buy the $100 Palm m100 for your favorite disorganized teen-ager, pay $5 for an application that will help her keep track of her homework and pay another $5 to get her a subscription to the full text of your favorite financial publication to help her understand why the market keeps you from buying a more lavish handheld at the moment. Handspring has its own set of applications, as well, and you can pay $29.95 to bring the joys of

Electronic Arts'

pocket gold featuring Tiger Woods.

We must remain focused, because we're doing this on the cheap. If you want a top-of-the-line gadget that will have tons of storage for hundreds of family photos, a flawless color screen or the familiar Windows interface, there are ample choices. You'll enjoy perusing the powerful Palm m500s, the stylish


(SNE) - Get Sony Corp. Report

Clie or the industrial-strength


iPaq. They'll cost you upward of $300 to $500, without the add-ons. Let me remind you that

JDS Uniphase


is trading at less than $7.

If you want a little something to try out without a big cash commitment, the time is now. If you were willing to loosen the purse strings a smidgen, the well-received and still popular Palm Vx can be had for $200. A better version of the Visor with four times the memory is still reasonable, with the many colored-case versions of the Visor Deluxe priced at $169 and the faster Visor Platinum coming in at $199. You'll get more memory to store items and faster performance for just a little more money. But it's OK to be thrifty. At these prices, you won't look cheap.