PALM-COMPUTING WARS HEAT UP

PALM-COMPUTING WARS HEAT UP

What's blue, yellow, white, silver and red all over? Nope, not a newspaper. Its the new Helio ($199 plus a $20 rebate) from VTech Information.

The Helio is the latest, and least expensive, entrant in the palm computing wars. It boasts all of the standard features of the basic personal digital assistant - an address book, calendar, memo pad and so on. But the makers have thrown in a few extras.You can dictate personal messages into the Helio's built-in voice recorder. You can sketch maps or other items using its sketchpad. And you can enter data by writing with a stylus or tap it out using the on-screen keyboard. You can also track your expenses or prioritize your ''to-do'' list. Plus you can download e-mail from your PC or draft messages to be uploaded and sent later.

Handwriting recognition is accomplished using JOT Software from CIC, which has become known as the standard for such things. Unfortunately, as with most software of this type, you have to take the time to train it, which can be a slow, arduous task. But there's a strange sense of satisfaction once the job is completed.

I do have one peeve, and to me it's a big one. I can't import my old names and addresses into the software that comes with the unit. But the folks at VTech promise me this will be resolved within the next month.

For those who need to know, here's all the technical information:

* It comes with eight megabytes of SDRAM plus two megabytes of flash RAM, which stores the operating system and other data.

* You can add more memory through a separate memory expansion board.

* It boast a 32-bit, 75-megahertz RISC processor.

* It can run for 30 days or continuously for 15 hours on two AAA alkaline batteries.

* It only weighs six ounces and can easily fit in a briefcase, pocket or purse.

* It has a standard serial port and a high-speed data communications port (for a soon-to-be-released 19.2 baud modem).

* It will be compatible with ACT, Goldmine, Outlook and Organizer.

* It can store up to 25 minutes of audio.

* It attaches to your computer via a cradle and serial cable for easy synchronization.

* It has three shortcut keys for instant access to its applications, three voice recording/playback keys and two scroll keys.

* There's also a bevy of cases and several styluses (some manufactured by Cross) you can purchase if you want to replace those included with the unit.

* They're developing a keyboard with built-in modem ($99) that will attach to the unit in case punching letters on an LCD screen isn't your thing. The keyboard can also be folded into a carrying case.

Right now you can only order these babies via the Internet at www.vtechinfo.com.