CALL ME FRUGAL, but I just wasn't able to jump through the requisite hoops of self-justification and spend a few hundred dollars to replace my

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Cheap Hand Job

For $30 at Costco, I got what I paid for.

CALL ME FRUGAL, but I just wasn't able to jump through the requisite hoops of self-justification and spend a few hundred dollars to replace my address book and desk calendar with a snazzy electronic hand-held. (Though primarily I've seen these "personal digital assistants," or PDAs, used for such highbrow pursuits as Tetris, Pong, and, my personal favorite, the Palm razor, which makes your Pilot emit a low buzz just like a cordless shaver.) So instead, I went for the low end of the market.

The really low end.

For $30 at Costco, I picked up a Royal PC Compatible Personal Organizer, a slim 6- by 3-inch device in file-cabinet gray. This makes it larger than most PDA devices out there, but it also allows a built-in keyboard, something you won't find with those other models. Unfortunately, the tiny keys are suited only for the hands of either chimpanzees or very small children, and because of the ridiculous efforts of the ASPCA and our so-called child labor laws, my efforts to retain an appropriate secretary have gone for naught.

Still, my first model, the euphonically entitled "DS 2080," was a pleasant surprise. The unit had 192kb of memory, more than enough for my entire phone list, along with a full schedule, "to do" and "memo" components, a currency converter, a calculator, and an expenses form. It even had a snazzy "RoyalGlo" unit that lit the screen with a soft green glow when pressed.

Best of all, for an additional 30 bucks I was able to order, from the folks at CompanionLink, their Windows Link program, which allowed me to enter all relevant information via my PC, then download it into my organizer via a cable. It was efficient, effective, and best of all, supremely cheap. I scoffed at my friends who, even if they currently owned vast houses, stock options, and vintage cars, had missed out on a real bargain.

But after my unit was thoroughly soaked by an inadvisable jog through the rain, I needed a replacement. I cheerfully ordered not one, but two models of the upgrade, the DS 2260 II, which I was told was entirely compatible with my existing CompanionLink program.

And that's where my troubles began. This "interim" model actually needed an entire upgrade of the existing CompanionLink program, so I had to save all my information separately, reinstall, and run it back into my new machine. Think of it as transplant surgery. But the transplant didn't take. Since then, both of my DS 2260 IIs, despite having more memory (256kb), have suffered a series of small "strokes," in which they will suddenly reduce all their stored information to aphasia-styled gibberish. As I morosely stare at such arcane messages as "*&(^&U6545X," I reflect that in the realm of PDAs, the safe, reliable, and cheap model just hasn't arrived yet. Royal has agreed to send me a free upgrade, though. The DS 380, which boasts 320kb, also costs about $30. They swear it is going to be glitch-free. Really.

 
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