Internet on the go with the Palm VII

If you thought previous versions of 3Com Corp.'s Palm organizers were useful and fun, just wait until you get your hands on the Palm VII, the latest offering in this popular series. For the first time, you can access the Internet --including e-mail—from the Palm device.

Wireless Internet capability adds an entirely different dimension to the Palm device, with many possibilities for government use, from accessing data on spare parts while in the field to downloading forms and accessing Oracle Corp. databases. Be aware, however, the World Wide Web will look different on the Palm VII than on your desktop PC. A process 3Com calls "Web clipping" enables Palm VII users to send queries to the Web and retrieve specific information; the program strips out animation and graphics that would bog down the transaction.

The programs used to retrieve information from the Web are called "query applications." You can set up your Palm VII to access information such as news, traffic, stocks, weather, travel and even maps and driving directions. A two-way wireless radio inside the device transmits the signal.

We found the Web clipping functionality to work extremely well. It consistently took about 10 seconds to retrieve information—a time frame we think is reasonable considering the convenience of portable, wireless Web access and the newness of the technology. The one exception happened when we tried to connect in a rural area. The connection took at least a minute to go through, but we were impressed by the device's ability to connect to the Internet while in a moving vehicle in a fairly isolated location.

The Palm VII has the same connectivity limitations as a cell phone. Specifically, the unit often won't work in garages or basements. The Palm VII could not connect from the lowest level of my office's parking garage, but once I moved to ground level and stood near the edge I could make a connection. Also, remember that you might experience the same problems you'd have when connecting to the Internet from a desktop PC, such as slower connections during peak times.

The Palm VII's e-mail application, called iMessenger, is simple to use. Short messages are easy to type using either the on-screen keyboard or the Graffiti software application, which allows you to "write" the letters in a special area on the screen. You would not want to write lengthy e-mails, though, as the process takes significantly longer than regular typing.

Internet access is provided by the Palm.Net wireless communication service, which is designed around the BellSouth wireless data network. It covers over 260 metropolitan areas across the continental United States.

3Com offers three monthly service plans. Users are charged by the amount of information accessed (in kilobytes) rather than connection time, because 3Com recognizes that connection times may vary. The Basic Plan costs $9.99 and includes 50K, which 3Com estimates at about 80 Web transactions. The Expanded Plan costs $24.99 at 150K and gets about 240 transactions; and the $39.99 Volume Plan, at 300K, gets about 480 transactions. If you exceed your plan's quota, you get charged 20 cents per kilobyte. There is also a one-time setup fee of $9.99 for each plan.

We liked the Palm.Net Web site a lot. You can use it to look up information about the Palm.Net service and to check the status of your account. The site lists the dates of your billing cycles and even shows a list of all transactions, displaying the date, cost, kilobytes used and kilobytes remaining.

Of course, all the familiar Palm functions are included on the Palm VII, such as the date book, memo pad and expense tracking applications.

The Palm VII is an impressive enhancement to the Palm line, especially for those looking for a simple path to remote Internet access. When you send your first e-mail from the Palm VII, it should say, "Welcome to the future."

REPORT CARD

Palm VII

Grade: B+

Palm Computing Inc.

(408) 326-9000

www.palm.com

Price and Availability: The Palm VII's suggested retail price is $499. It is available on the General Services Administration schedule from CompUSA, GE Captial IT Solutions, CDW-G Inc., GTSI and Inacom Corp. (reseller prices may vary slightly). The unit also is available on NASA's SEWP II contract.

Remarks: The Palm VII offers an attractive introduction to the future of anytime, anywhere Internet connectivity. Connections are problem-free most of the time, but beware of basements and garages. You also may experience slow connections in rural areas or during peak Internet usage times.

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