With its moderately priced Cassiopeia Pocket Manager BE-300 handheld, Casio delivers the most in-demand features, including a bright color screen and MP3 playback. Though it's built on Windows CE 3.0, an OS notorious for being difficult to use, Casio equips this PDA with its own, more user-friendly interface. However, the BE-300 has some limitations that make it hard to recommend over similarly priced handhelds from Palm and Handspring--even if they don't have built-in MP3 playback. With its moderately priced Cassiopeia Pocket Manager BE-300 handheld, Casio delivers the most in-demand features, including a bright color screen and MP3 playback. Though it's built on Windows CE 3.0, an OS notorious for being difficult to use, Casio equips this PDA with its own, more user-friendly interface. However, the BE-300 has some limitations that make it hard to recommend over similarly priced handhelds from Palm and Handspring--even if they don't have built-in MP3 playback.
A welcoming start
At 5.6 ounces, the BE-300 is about the same weight and size as the Palm IIIc. The Casio PDA's interface isn't as snazzy as that of Pocket PC 2002, but we liked how simple and straightforward it is. Rather than icons, you get a list of applications showing on the bright, 15-bit color screen, which displays an impressive 32,768 colors.
Double-tap on an application with the stylus, and it launches relatively swiftly, thanks to the handheld's 166MHz processor. As with Palms and Pocket PCs, you can use handwriting recognition or an onscreen virtual keyboard to enter text.
You get the standard suite of PIM applications--calendar, contacts, tasks, notes (including a sketchpad), and a calculator--plus an Internet browser and an e-mail client. However, these applications' interfaces are inelegant; the contact list is especially cluttered with buttons. And while we're griping, the sound to alert you to upcoming appointments is too quiet to really grab your attention.
On a more positive note, the CD-ROM that ships with the BE-300 includes several add-on programs: a file manager, to find files as you would on a Pocket PC; a digital music player--MP3s play back just fine over headphones, which aren't included; a movie player; a photo viewer; and Quick View, which lets you look at files in common formats, such as Word and Excel, but won't let you edit them. We are, however, a little concerned about additional software for this device. Some of the applications written for older Casio devices--the E-100 and E-110, for example--also run on the BE-300, and there's a small but growing library of third-party software for sale. According to Casio, developers need only recompile their existing Windows CE and Pocket PC applications to make them run on the BE-300.
Outlook not included
Though many users have Outlook installed on their computers, Casio doesn't package a desktop PIM for sharing data between the BE-300 and your PC. Palm and Handspring devices come with the Palm Desktop PIM for Mac and Windows and a conduit for syncing up to Microsoft Outlook on the PC. The PC Connect synchronization program that comes with the BE-300 will exchange data with only Outlook (Outlook Express won't do). To sync up, you just drop the BE-300 into the included USB cradle.
The BE-300 stores all programs and data in its 16MB of flash ROM and uses the 16MB of RAM only for running programs. Consequently, unlike most PDAs, the BE-300 won't lose your data if the batteries die. But you'll quickly fill that 16MB of flash memory with basic applications and data, so factor in the cost of a CompactFlash card to take advantage of this PDA's multimedia abilities. There is a CompactFlash Type II slot for adding memory cards, modems, digital cameras, and other devices. Casio claims a four-hour battery life with the display on the lowest brightness setting, which isn't too hot compared to the battery life of the Palm IIIc or the Handspring Visor Prism.