Palm Reading

Everyone has a mobile phone, but the new must-have is a PDA, or a palm pilot, as they are more commonly known.

The PDA - personal digital (or data) assistant – is a de rigueur accessory for today’s executive, and is becoming almost as necessary as the mobile phone. Just as with phones, PDA upgrades are becoming more fashionably frequent, and as Christmas is as good a time as any for a new toy, we thought we’d look at some of the options you have for entries on your wish list.

For many the decision will be made on style alone, or perhaps based on what everyone else is using. For some though, there is a need to at least sound like you know what makes these devices tick. This can also help you make a decision if you’re considering switching camps between the three major operating systems (OS) in use today.

Both Handspring and Sony have licensed the Palm operating system and built PDAs around it. Motorola has also licensed the OS for some upcoming phones and with Palm having dominated the handheld market for the past five years. Most Palm applications work on any of these PDAs, but there have been some cases of applications not working properly on Handspring ones.

Those companies preferring the Microsoft connection include Compaq, Casio and Hewlett Packard. The latest version of Windows CE, referred to as PocketPC, has improved greatly in ease-of-use and stability, but there still aren’t many applications available for it outside the pocket versions of standard Microsoft Office products. These do, however, come with the installation CDs. All the PocketPCs also come with multimedia applications such as picture and movie viewers as well as mp3 players. These can be fun for showing off to friends but aren’t really useful for everyone. Frequent use of these applications also effects battery life. Whether a PocketPC application works also depends on the processor type being used in the PDA. The iPAQ, for example, uses a new, very fast, 206Mhz Strongarm processor and not many applications have been developed to work with it yet.

The Symbian EPOC operating system has been popularized in Europe by Psion, who are sticking determinedly to handhelds with keyboards. But with new PDA phones coming out from Nokia and Ericsson using EPOC, the system looks like becoming more widespread. In terms of applications currently available, the EPOC system is second only to Palm in numbers and quality.

casiopalmCasio e-115
Specs: Pocket PC; 32MB RAM; 16MB ROM; 83(W) x 19(D) x 132(H) mm; 256 g; backlit colour LCD touch screen
Price: US$599
The Casio has the best colour screen of all the PocketPCs with strong adjustable backlighting, but in terms of style, this boxy unit won’t turn too many heads. Part of the reason for its bulk is that it accepts Type II Compact Flash (CF), meaning you can add a wireless modem, digital camera or CF cards that range in storage capacity from 8MB to 256MB.

sonypalmSony Clie
Specs: Palm OS; 8MB RAM; 2MB ROM; 73.2(W) x 16(D) x 117.6(H) mm; 121 g; Backlit monochrome LCD touch screen
Price: US$350
Sony’s entry to the PDA world has everything you’d expect from Japan’s top electronics firm. It has enough style to stand alongside the Palm Vx, and some extras to appeal to the gadget freaks. And it’s marginally cheaper too, if you can find one in stores. It also comes with a 8MB Memory Stick in the box for backing up and storing extra data, and these proprietary Sticks are also available in 32MB and 64MB variety. There’s a jog dial on the side of the unit for easy navigation, providing you’re right-handed. With the Japanese propensity for gadgets you can also expect many more add-ons for this unit, but whether they make it out of Japan or not is a different matter.

palmvxPalm Vx
Specs: Palm OS; 8MB RAM; 2MB ROM; 81(W) x 10(D) x 119(H) m; 114g; backlit monochrome LCD touch screen
Price: US$399
The most popular PDA in the world by far and also, it seems, a mandatory fashion accessory for high-powered bankers in Asia. Small and light, the Vx definitely has the goods when it comes to looks. While it doesn’t have any of the multimedia bells and whistles that come with other handhelds, it has all the basics right. It’s easy to synchronize with either a PC or Mac, it’s solidly constructed, and 8MB on a Palm OS is more than enough to store all your regular organizer data, plus much more. Its lack of expansion options might be a turn-off for real gadget freaks.

visorpalmHandspring Visor Deluxe
Specs: Palm OS; 8MB RAM; 76(W) x 18(D) x 122(H) mm; 153g; backlit monochrome LCD touch screen
Price: US$249
The Visor Deluxe, with its plastic casing, looks more like a Gameboy than a serious work device, but it can run all the Palm applications you need. In addition, it also has it’s own proprietary expansion system called Springboard. These cartridge-like devices range from a digital camera and extra storage through to the latest GSM phone module, which turns the whole device into a PDA/cell phone. One downside with the Visor Deluxe is that its operating system can’t be upgraded like most other Palm devices.

compaqpalmCompaq iPAQ 3650
Specs: Pocket PC; 32MB RAM; 16MB ROM; 83(W) x 16(D) x 130(H) mm; 256g; backlit colour LCD touch screen
Price: US$499
The iPAQ has quite a stylish design, but unlike other PocketPCs it needs a special sleeve before it can take any CF cards. This makes it more bulky - too big for most pockets in fact. It feels more fragile than either the HP or Casio, but the screen quality is quite good. It has the fastest processor of any PDA, and even with several of the multimedia applications running, it still works almost as quickly as the Palm.

hppalmHP Jornada 548
Specs: Pocket PC; 32MB RAM; 16MB ROM; 78(W) x 16(D) x 130(H) mm; 260g; backlit colour LCD touch screen
Price: US$539
The 548 is a very sturdy unit with a good screen cover. It has an in-built CF adaptor, but it accepts Type I cards only, which limits the expansion choices. The screen quality is also not as good as other PocketPCs, with less colour depth and weak backlighting making it difficult to view outdoors. It has better battery life than the iPAQ though, and the sound quality is good too, for those who want their mp3s.

revopalmPsion Revo Plus
Specs: Symbian EPOC; 16MB RAM; 8MB ROM; 157(W) x 17(D)  x 79(H) mm; 200g; non-backlit monochrome LCD touch screen
Price: US$399
For those who need to email or write on the go, the keyboard definitely speeds things up, unless you have really fat fingers. The Revo Plus also comes packaged with a WAP browser and, even better, the Java-enabled Opera internet browser. Why anyone would want to use WAP when they can surf the real internet, I don’t know. 16MB of ROM on the efficient EPOC operating system is quite ample storage, and there are plenty of great applications and synchronization tools available. Using a data-enabled phone with infrared port, this is a great way to access the internet anywhere. Don’t expect great speed this way, though, until 2.5G phones data phones come on the market.

motorolapalmMotorola Accompli A6188
Specs: GSM 900/1800; WAP enabled; 58.7(W) x 28.5(D) x 98.4(H) mm; 155g; 320 x 240 pixel monochrome backlit LCD touch screen
Price: US$805
The first of an imminent wave of phones with inbuilt PDA functions, the A6188 runs on it’s own operating system. It synchronizes with Outlook tasks and contacts and can store over 1,000 contact entries. Its character recognition is slow, but more forgiving than Palm’s Graffiti. It’s by no means a fully-fledged PDA, but combining as it does the most common organizer functions with your standard GSM phone, it’s quite useful. Upcoming models from Motorola look like being a huge improvement though.

rexpalmXircom Rex-6000
Specs: Type II PC Card; 2MB Flash memory; 85.7(W) x 5(D)  x 54(H) mm;  40g; non-backlit monochrome LCD touch screen
Price: US$149
One word – small. This PDA is the size of four credit cards stacked on top of each other, and for the laptop-wielding road warrior, it can be synched without a cradle – just insert it into the PC card slot. For desktop users,  serial and USB cradles are also available. It has contact, calendar, task list, memo, calculator and clock functions that synchronize with Outlook and other popular applications and a small stylus for text input via the pop-up keypad on the touch screen. There is also a limited web-clipping function via Xircom’s web site. If you just want the basics, the Rex’s small size might be attractive, but would also make it easier to lose if you’re not careful.

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