The folks who developed Rex Pro 5 deserve a big hand for packing a personal digital assistant into what amounts to a thick business card. Unfortunately, it's so small that it's not good for much other than appointment reminders and addresses.

It's a PC card. You can use it on its own, or slip it into a PC-card slot on your PC to synchronize with a scheduler there, using the included TrueSync Plus software from Starfish Software Inc.

The unit has a clear, tiny monochrome LCD screen measuring 1 1/4 inches by 2 1/8 inches. Along the right side are six buttons, which provide the only way to input data directly. It comes with 512 kilobytes of memory, and its two watch-like batteries, included, are supposed to last up to six months.

If you think you can do more than reminders and addresses in any practical way, just try entering a short note. The alphabet appears on two lines. To type, you must highlight each letter, one by one--we're talking tedious. And forget e-mail.

It took quite a bit to get the Starfish software to synchronize with my Microsoft Outlook 2000 schedule and contacts. When I finally succeeded, the TrueSync software got too helpful and scheduled a second set of the exact same appointments throughout my calendar.

I organize contacts by categories. Outlook, by default, offers more than a dozen categories. But TrueSync can handle only four and, if not properly mapped, fails to transfer categorized contacts to the Rex Pro. My most important contacts--those marked priority--did not appear on the Rex Pro on the first try.

Starfish has updated TrueSync for Outlook 2000, but the update confuses the current version with the previous version, Outlook 98. Moreover, there is no utility to enter directly into the Rex Pro information that you might not want to keep on your PC.

Some of the device's size restrictions could be overcome with a friendlier desktop interface. I wanted to try out TrueSync Desktop, the personal information manager written specifically for the Rex Pro. But once I had installed TrueSync for Outlook, I was forbidden to install the other version, even after I had wiped the Outlook version from the hard drive.

TrueSync Plus can also link with Outlook 97 and 98, Microsoft Schedule+ 7.x, Lotus Organizer 97 and 97GS, Symantec Act 3.x and 4.0, and Starfish Sidekick 98 and 99.

The Rex Pro has two alarms, short and long. The short alarm doesn't ring long enough, just four seconds, and the long alarm rings too long at 20 seconds. No snooze delay is available, and if you miss hearing the alarm, which is easy to do, there is no follow-up beep to make sure you acknowledge the appointment.

The main screen ought to show the owner's name; password protection also is lacking. As it stands, if you lose the Rex Pro, anyone could look at your data.

Its size and convenience are enticing, but the TrueSync software and the hardware limitations make the Rex Pro fall about as flat as a PC card.

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Rex Pro 5 Personal Digital Assistant

Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc.

Burlington, N.J.

Telephone: 1-800-266-5626

Web address: www.franklin.com/rex

Price: $199 (Web price with docking station)

Grade: B

Pros:

+Compact size

+PC card compatibility

Con:

-- Needs more customizable options

TrueSync Plus

Software

Starfish Software Inc.

Scotts Valley, Calif.

Telephone: 831-461-5800

Web address: www.starfish.com

Grade: C-

Price: Free with Rex Pro 5, $50 separately

Pro:

+Synchronizes data if properly configured

Cons:

-- Hard to understand

-- Messed up appointment calendar on first sync

Real-life requirements for both products:

Windows 95, 98 or NT, 133-megahertz or faster Pentium, 32 megabytes of memory, 25 megabytes of free space on disk, CD-ROM drive, Type II PC card slot or available serial port for docking station