Palm IIIx packs more of a punch

I'll make this clear from the get-go: I haven't yet seen a handheld computer I would want to take on the road with me. If it doesn't have a keyboard, it won't get my allegiance.

That said, 3Com Corp.'s Palm IIIx comes as close to converting me as any unit the FCW Test Center has tested. And, thanks to the Palm IIIx's expanded capacity and the ability to update its operating system, the unit will appeal to some departments and agencies that couldn't really consider a handheld before.

One of the improvements in the Palm IIIx is immediately obvious: The LCD screen is decidedly sharper than in earlier versions. That's not to say it's as clear as a CRT, of course. In very bright or very dim light, the display can be tough to make out. Fortunately, in bright light you can use the flip-up shade to block glare. And in very dim light you can click on the Palm IIIx's backlight feature.

For example, when you wake up in the middle of the night and need to take a note without turning on the lights, the backlight feature may come in handy. But it's only in near-complete darkness that you'll find the display easier to see with backlighting on than with it off. However, even though the Palm IIIx's display isn't as clear as a traditional computer monitor, it is first rate for a handheld computer.

The other major enhancement in the Palm IIIx is its expanded storage capacity. The 4M of RAM in the Palm IIIx—double the memory of the previous version—enables the unit to store the amount of data demanded by many agencies. According to 3Com, the unit can store a five-year calendar, 12,000 addresses, 3,000 "to do" items, 3,000 memos and 400 e-mail messages. And the additional resources mean you can run additional add-on applications. The Palm IIIx also has a flash upgradable operating system so that your unit can be updated when a new version of the Palm software is released.

Data entry is, of course, the Achilles' heel of the Palm IIIx, as it is with other handheld devices. The Palm IIIx enables you to choose between popping up a simulated keyboard and using the stylus to write characters that will then be recognized by built-in OCR software. Both methods work well, although you wouldn't want to write a long memo using either method.

It is far easier to enter contact and schedule data on the Palm Desktop software, then use HotSync to transfer it from your desktop to the Palm IIIx. The process is simple. Just pop the Palm unit into the cradle that is linked to the desktop via a serial port. Press the HotSync button, and the device takes care of the rest, downloading the information to the handheld unit. You also can use the unit's serial port for other devices, such as modems, keyboards and Global Positioning System devices.

If you prefer to use your own personal information manager software instead of Palm Desktop, you can install optional "conduit" software that enables you to synchronize information with the Palm IIIx. In fact, the Palm IIIx comes bundled with a conduit for Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook.

In short, this new expandable version of the Palm III line offers the traditional strengths of the Palm handheld along with greater storage capacity that will better suit it to enterprise-level use.

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Palm IIIx

3Com Corp.

(408) 326-5000

www.palm.com

Price and Availability

Retail price for the basic configuration is $369, according to 3Com.

Remarks

The Palm IIIx improves on the Palm III line by adding memory and a flash upgrade capability for the operating system. The unit is compact and relatively easy to use, and it offers particularly smooth synchronization with the desktop.

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