What: Hybrid handheld organizer and cell phone. Details: The pdQ-800 weds Qualcomm's excellent wireless-phone technology with the undisputed leader in the handheld computing world, the Palm. It's a rocky marriage. Yes, some elements work very well. Dialing is seamlessly integrated with the Palm's address book, just as it should be, and the device delivers reasonably quick access to e-mail and the Web (although graphics are stripped out of Web sites to fit within the pdQ's small screen and 14,400-bits-per-second bandwidth). And Bell Atlantic Mobile, the one wireless provider in the area to offer this phone, charges only $10 per month for this Internet access. And the Palm half works just like a regular Palm handheld, syncing to a computer and recharging its lithium-ion batteries with its serial-port cradle. But the phone is simply too big, too bulky and too expensive--a Palm V duct-taped to a phone would weigh and cost a lot less. And despite the pdQ's heft, the screen is smaller and duller than that of a regular Palm device, since it uses the lower-contrast LCD that Palm Computing retired months ago and further muddies the view with a plastic screen protector. The battery-draining backlight helps a lot in low light but does not make it less eyestrain-inducing in moderate or bright light. An overly busy interface causes more problems: A strip of screen gadgets along the right side of the screen is too close to the scroll bar and relocates some controls, such as the HotSync and phone on-off button, for no apparent reason. These flaws are compounded by an incomplete and occasionally inaccurate manual and cryptic error messages. When you try to browse the Web with the phone off, why doesn't it just turn the phone on instead of saying "Error: serial 00000302"? Bottom line: Hang up.

-- Daniel Greenberg

Win 95-98, $800


Lotus Development Corp.

What: Address book, calendar and to-do list. Details: Most of the "personal information managers," or PIMs, that aim to help you keep your life organized have evolved into business tools for salespeople, but Lotus has yet to make that switch in its Organizer product. So for those disinclined to put all their eggs in Redmond's Outlook basket, the new version of Lotus Organizer remains a solid choice to keep your calendar and phone book. This release takes aim at the biggest limitation of most PIMs--their uselessness when you're away from the computer. You can export your Organizer data to Palm handhelds and, with a connector cable, beam your phone-number list into a cell phone. And you can publish your calendar as a Web page, so you, friends and family can check your schedule or plan events. Back at your computer, Lotus's EasyClip tool, which already did a good job of capturing data from other applications, can now capture the address (and log-in data, if needed) for any Web page you want to revisit, allowing Organizer to be your Web directory as well. You also can store complete Web pages into Organizer's Notepad to view offline. But Organizer's day-planner interface may not work for everyone; download the free trial version to see if you're comfortable with the metaphor. Bottom line: Weaving the Web into this program adds value. -- Alan S. Kay

Win 95-98, $79 ($20 rebate for current Organizer users and owners

of competing products)



Purple Moon/Mattel

What: New-agey software for teens. Details: The gals from Purple Moon's Whistling Pines Jr. High are back from a corporate takeover (of girl-focused, formerly independent developer Purple Moon by kidware giant Mattel, that is), and in this game take teens on an inner journey to explore their dreams. Although the concept sounds like New Age hocus-pocus, the dreamy trip is actually inspiring and educational. The adventure begins in a serene forest setting, adorned with a dream catcher and rainbow, where five teens are casually hanging out talking about their nighttime reveries. Players listen to the stories, then click on a dream journal to record their own thoughts. A dream dictionary is on hand to help kids explore what those visions might mean, and a "Fantasia"-like painting activity enables them to illustrate their recollections with the help of animated paintbrushes that fill the screen with starfish, bubbles and puffy clouds. Okay, so that part gets more than a little goofy, but this program could be a terrific guide for adolescents trying to figure out their own heads. Mattel should be commended for staying true to the California company's gender-sensitive vision. Bottom line: Girls--and boys, too--can get a kick out of this imaginative program. -- Hope Katz Gibbs

Win 95-98, Mac, $20;

ages 9 and up


What: Playmobil knights come to life. Details: A simplified sort of Zelda for the PC, this adventure game offers lush 3-D graphics--and requires a 3-D accelerator card, marking the first time the annoying system requirements of most grown-up action games have infected a kids' product. Fortunately, there's also beautifully orchestrated music, colorful Playmobil characters and a time-traveling story line that should challenge kids of all ages, at least the first time around. Set in the medieval Playmobil universe, players assume the role of Hype, a knight who's been sent back in time by the evil Black Knight. Hype must revisit the land of King Taskan to restore order and vanquish the Black Knight; along the way, players get to ride a dragon through the sky, engage in duels and use a dozen spells to defeat enemies (who are stunned, not killed). From the detailed graphics of the castle, which changes with each of the four time periods, to the dynamic score, this game offers a dozen hours of straightforward, fun game play. The behind-the-back view provides near-perfect control (a first-person perspective is optional), and the wizard Gogoud is there to help players along the way, although only the youngest players will need his advice. Bottom line: A magical adventure for the price.

-- John Gaudiosi

Win 95-98, $30