Sharp Wizard OZ-570 personal information organizer PDA, $20.

I'm really not sure what to say about this little critter. About a year ago, a friend told me about these Sharp Wizards and how he always keeps an eye out for them, and since then I have too. When it comes to electronics, I often tend to shy away from the newer stuff in favor of the older, more collectable pieces.

Technology is progressing rapidly, and electronics getting cheaper every day, because yesterday's electronics have already been replaced by today's electronics, which will be obsolete tomorrow. Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad, but you get the picture. Where contemporary electronics are concerned, unless you're dealing with really high-end stuff, it's often wiser to steer clear. That's what's so weird about the Sharp Wizard.

The Wizard was first introduced back in 1988 as the OZ-7000 (Get it? OZ? Wizard?) and was an immediate hit as one of the very first PDAs (personal digital assistants). Sharp kept making the Wizards and people kept buying them and loving them. As things normally go, Sharp periodically updated the Wizard line with new models and discontinued the older ones, but it seems that people still really like those older, discontinued models. As you can see, there's opportunity here.

It's important for you to understand that people are not after these older Wizards because they're collectibles. Wizards are not like the vintage Hewlett-Packard calculators that collectors will snap up even if they've been run over by a truck and set on fire. The people buying Wizards on eBay today are doing so because they love to use them.

Nowadays, Wizards are intended to connect to a home computer or laptop and "synchronize," by exchanging files and other information. But when the early generations of Wizards were made, the standards weren't yet in place for this sort of connectivity, and as a stand-alone device it's relatively worthless to the folks who want to synchronize it with their home computers. In short, the "vintage" Wizards, which cannot provide the user with the functionality of the newer ones, are worthless on eBay.

The older and less desirable Wizards have a couple of telltale characteristics you can look for. First, they're "portrait" oriented, in that they open like a book, with the screen on the left side and the keyboard on the right. And instead of the QWERTY style keyboards we're all used to nowadays, the old Wizards used what I guess you'd call the ABCDEF format.

To confuse things even more, Sharp also makes cheapo Wizards that look a lot like Palm Pilots, with the big touchscreens and no keyboards. These things sell brand new on eBay for around $15, so you won't even want to bother with them when and if you see them.

The strategy here is to keep an eye out for the Wizards that open up like little laptop computers. They may be the newer Wizards or the older ones, but make sure to pay no more than a few dollars and you'll be safe. I paid $20 for the one here, but only because it's brand new and has all the stuff it originally came with. Notice that like some other models of Wizards, the OZ-570 pops into its own little "docking station" so that it can connect to the computer. Since these docking stations are small and easily lost, you're likely to see these Wizards without their docking stations, which will obviously affect their value. No matter though, grab them with or without their stations when you can get them up for a few dollars. Bring along a few batteries with you to test them before you buy them, or just take your chances and test them later.

Photo of Sharp Wizard OZ-570 personal information assistant PDA