Road-warrior conundrum: Laptop or handheld?

Can users leave their laptops in the office when they travel? Maybe not just yet

"Do I still carry the laptop? Yes," Castellow wrote in an e-mail. He uses the PC less than he did in the past but said that bringing it with him "might be a hard habit to break" unless the genetic testing company's IT department makes the CRM apps and the VPN accessible via the iPhone.

Colin Dickerson, an engineer at The Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gillette Engineering Group, said that for personal trips, he recently started leaving his laptop at home and taking only his iPhone with him. "I love having just one device to carry around," Dickerson said, adding that he has noticed business executives from various companies toting only their BlackBerry devices on road trips.

But Dickerson conceded that for work purposes, "I don't see myself traveling without my laptop anytime soon." Even while on the road, he needs to access heavy-duty engineering programs such as Unigraphics and AutoCAD, "which I don't see being available on smart phones" in the near future, he said.

As a compromise between carrying a full-sized laptop and trying to get by with a regular handheld, Mathias and other analysts said they expect many users to convert to so-called Mobile Internet Devices, a class of sub-laptops that are being touted by Intel and various hardware vendors. The MIDs introduced thus far are based on Intel's Centrino Atom processor and typically have screen sizes of 7 to 10 inches.

Mathias himself is using an Asus Eee system that fits the MID mold. Other vendors that have introduced such devices include Taiwan-based Micro-Star International, which offers a system called the Wind. Mathias said he expects Dell to soon announce a MID offering of its own.

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