Are you a road warrior with an under-used PDA or smartphone device? I have no empirical evidence for this view, but I suspect that, like me, many PDA and smartphone owners are not taking full advantage of the processing power in their pocket.

Whether you own a Palm-based machine or one running Windows Pocket PC or the Symbian operating system, there are dozens of services and thousands of programs out there designed to turn your device into a more useful, more productive machine - or simply add some fun.

So I set out to rediscover some old favourites, and find some new ones. I was an early convert to two online services for PDAs -AvantGo and Vindigo -and they are still among the best.

AvantGo (www.avantgo.com) pioneered the delivery of business and other information to handheld devices. Once you sign up for the advertising-supported service you can download thousands of specially formatted brand-name websites or “channels” on your PDA or smartphone.

Channel categories include news, weather, sports, stock quotes, maps and movie reviews.You can even create your own custom channels to download updates from family sites, local news or company portals. Most impressively, content can also be tailored to the user’s location -currently the service supports users in the US, UK, Spain, France and Germany.

Information stored on the device is updated when you synchronise your PDA or smartphone with your desktop machine or, if you have a wireless or Wi-Fi hotspot service, the data is updated wirelessly.

Unlike AvantGo, Vindigo (www.vindigo.com) is a subscription service, but it is still a bargain if you are a Palm or Pocket PC user who works in, or visits, one of the supported cities often. The Vindigo service provides users with up-to-date information about the best restaurant, bar, store, and museum in major US cities and London.

It also serves up information on every movie and live music show playing in the city you select and tells users about bank ATMs and parking lots nearby. What makes Vindigo especially useful for road warriors is that it also tells users how to get to a selected destination with full colour maps, walking directions and public transit information.

Like AvantGo, the information is updated when the PDA or smartphone is synchronised. The service costs $24.95 a year or $3.50 monthly and there is a 30-day free trial.

Beyond these two services there is another that I would also recommend specifically for US-based smartphone and wireless PDA users. HandMark Express (express.handmark.com) is a $7-a-month ($70-a-year) service designed for Palm, Windows Mobile Pocket PC and Windows Smartphone devices.

It delivers current news, weather, stock, map, movie, sport and telephone directory information wirelessly and is really designed as an alternative to the often excruciatingly slow process of browsing the web for information on a smartphone where the small screen and low bandwidth can really take a toll.

Aside from these services, there are several software packages that I have found to be particularly useful. Thousands of software packages are available for PDAs and one of the best ways to sort the wheat from the chaff is to check out user ratings on a site such as palmsource.palmgear.com -a site which, as its name implies, is for Palm OS PDA users.

While many PDA programs are written as “one-off” packages by independent developers, there are also a couple of software companies that either specialise in the PDA market or that have brought out a range of PDA titles. One of these is DataViz (www.dataviz.com) which sells one of the most popular PDA packages, Documents To Go.

Documents to Go Standard edition costs $30 and enables users to use Microsoft Word and Excel files, including support for their native file formats, on a Palm OS 5 handheld. DataViz also sells a $90 package called Documents To Go Total Office with support for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access.

Given the vulnerability of PDAs it is also a good idea to consider installing some of the anti-virus and security packages that are now available for handheld machines. Symantec (www.symantec.com) Anti Virus for Handhelds costs $40 and works with Palm and Pocket PC devices.

DataViz also has a security program designed to protect Pins (personal identification numbers) passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information that many users store on their PDAs for convenience. Passwords Plus costs $30 and uses 128-bit encryption on the PC and mobile device.

Finally, while most PDAs come with a basic back-up application, Blue Nomad’s Backup Buddy 2 automatically protects all the contents of your Palm handheld by storing, in a database on your PC, all changes made to your device since your last back-up.

Backup Buddy 2 costs $30 and can restore copies of your programs, data files and settings in the event of any emergency: crashing of your handheld caused by an errant program, an accidental file deletion and damage or theft of your PDA.

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