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According to a report yesterday by International Data Corporation, a technology research firm, sales of handheld devices are improving this quarter, yet down by two percent compared to this time last year. One of the conclusions the analyst made is that the competing companies – such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sony – bundle in new technologies to entice buyers. The new bells and whistles are already on their way. Earlier this week, HP announced the co-development, with T-Mobile, of the h6315: an iPaq that can switch between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Sometimes, however, such new enticements fall flat. For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing around with the new Nokia N-Gage QD, an update on the company’s game/phone hybrid. Nokia took some flak for the original N-Gage, which was awkwardly shaped, and felt like talking into a big clam. The new one is slimmer and sexier, and Ashen, the first person shooter I’m playing, is fun. But once the novelty wears off, it’s not the kind of thing I want to carry around in place of my considerably more compact flip phone. And when I’m waiting for a train, there are plenty of cell phone games – poker, bowling, trivia – I can play that work even on a screen that, relative to the N-Gage, is Lilliputian at best. Form beats out function once again.

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