Outside the dedicated audience for Palm handhelds, the market for personal digital assistants has yet to take off. But Motorola Inc.'s PageWriter 2000X has the potential to make PDAs mainstream.

The PageWriter with SkyTel service just might be the perfect marriage between PDA and pager. At about 7 ounces, the PageWriter is a little bigger than a standard pager, but its functions are close to amazing.

There's even a QWERTY keyboard. Though it's nowhere close to full size, I could key in complex e-mail messages quickly using the 50 keys. The trick is not to type as a touch typist would but to rest the device in your palms and type with your thumbs. It sounds awkward but works well.

The PageWriter has a 2.25-by-1.5-inch monochrome LCD screen with backlighting for the screen and keys. I checked and sent messages outdoors at night without problems.

This is really a multiuse device that acts as a regular full-text pager, exchanges pages with other PageWriter users, and sends and receives e-mail from any e-mail address. It stores and retrieves notes and contact information and schedules events and appointment reminders.

Given the small size and the constant wireless access, the PageWriter could give real competition to far larger PDAs such as palmtops and handhelds.

One weakness, however, is the PageWriter's ability to synchronize its data with the data on personal computers. Starfish Software Inc. makes a TrueSync program for the Motorola PageWriter, but it's not included with the unit.

Motorola did include a small application for basic PC interfacing. I transferred all e-mail addresses for my contacts from my PC to the PageWriter with relative ease, although I found the directions lacking when it came to importing data in the appropriate format.

The PageWriter docks in a small bay that connects to the PC's serial port. The dock base also serves as a recharger for the nickel-metal-hydride battery, which has a long life. I kept the pager on for close to a week without needing to recharge. The dock base also has space to recharge a spare battery.

At $395, the PageWriter 2000X might seem pricey, but its functionality puts it in the same ballpark as other PDAs. Of course, it does cost $24.95 more per month for nationwide SkyTel Communications Inc. coverage at up to 10,000 characters of messages.

But the convenience might be worth it.

Short of a cellular phone, the PageWriter with SkyTel service packs in most major communications functions. Say you're not close to a phone, your cell phone isn't working and you need to get in touch with a colleague who does not have e-mail or a pager. Type in your message and send it. SkyTel will convert the text to speech and call the colleague's telephone number. My editor called the voice "a little creepy," but it works and is easily understood even without pauses for commas and periods.

You navigate the device via the NavDisc, a round button with up, down, left and right arrows to active areas. The PageWriter also has "Tab" and "Enter" buttons. Sometimes navigation gets tedious, but it's no worse than on any other miniature device.

The 4.5 megabytes of memory for the Flex operating system and software can be upgraded, if necessary, via the docking station. And if you don't want to waste space with games or other applications, you simply remove them.

One thing the PageWriter lacks is security; it doesn't have password protection to prevent access to stored information if the pager gets lost.

The PageWriter 2000X and SkyTel service is a winning combination. If the synchronization software works well, the device could become nearly indispensable for the user who seeks a constant connection to the workplace but wants to forgo bulky hardware.

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PageWriter 2000X

Motorola Inc.

Boynton Beach, Fla.

Telephone: 1-800-548-9954

Web address: www.mot.com/SmartPagers

Price: $395 for pager, $24.95 per month for nationwide SkyTel service

Grade: A-

PROS:

+ Very easy to use

+ Complete QWERTY keyboard for text entry and navigation

CON:

- No password security

Real-life requirements: For Motorola's PC interface software: Windows 95 or higher; Pentium processor, 32MB RAM, 2MB free storage, available serial port