New features make a handier Palm

If you're a Palm handheld veteran, get ready for a surprise with the latest offerings from Palm Inc. And if you've never used a Palm personal digital assistant before, you may want to consider it now.

Palm recently introduced the m500 series, which includes two offerings: the Palm m500, with a monochrome display, and the Palm m505, which features a 65,000-color reflective TFT display. We evaluated only the m505, but both models feature the sleek, silver industrial design of the Palm V and Vx.

The big news about the m500 series revolves around two new expansion capabilities that make the device more versatile and convenient. The first is the expansion slot that accepts MultiMedia- Card and Secure Digital (SD) media. The second is the Universal Connector for snap-on hardware modules.

MultiMediaCards are about the size of postage stamps and weigh next to nothing. They can be used for storage, restoration and backup and can handle prepackaged content such as travel information and dictionaries. In addition, applications on the cards can be beamed to other handheld devices, as long as the software is not copy-protected.

Palm currently offers five PalmPak content cards and two utility cards, and the company expects third-party companies to announce SD and MultiMedia.Cards for the m500 series in the near future.

Palm's content card offerings include three travel cards (U.S. Cities, Asia Pacific Cities and European Cities), a games card and a reference dictionary/thesaurus card. The travel cards include Lonely Planet Publications' CitySync travel guides, time-zone management software and currency conversion calculators. The European Cities card also includes a language translator.

The travel cards cost $40 each, the games card costs $30 and contains 10 games, and the reference dictionary/thesaurus card costs $40. (All prices are estimated street prices.)

The utility cards include an 8M data backup card and a 16M expansion card for holding extra software applications, music, databases and more. Note that the user-accessible area of this card is 14.6M because 1.4M is reserved for security. The 8M card costs $40, and the 16M card costs $50.

For more information on SD cards and companies that make them, visit the SD Card Association's Web site at www.sdcard.org. Some retailers sell 32M and 64M SD cards made by third-party companies, but prices can vary greatly so it pays to comparison shop.

The Universal Connector is located at the bottom of the Palm and connects the unit to the HotSync cradle. It supports both serial and USB connections. The Universal Connector will be common across all future Palm handheld devices and will enable developers to create hardware add-ons such as wireless modems, Global Positioning System receivers and MP3 players.

Owners of current accessories need replacements if they buy an m500-series Palm, however, because those accessories are not compatible with the Universal Connector.

Other new features include a lithium-ion polymer battery that is smaller than previous batteries used in Palm handheld devices and lasts about three to four weeks with normal use, according to Palm.

Palm's latest operating system, Palm OS 4.0, comes loaded on the m500 series and includes several new features and enhancements, including built-in time-zone support, a Systems Management Server (SMS) engine and application support, and Web clipping across devices.

New security features include password protection and masking for individual records, as well as an automatic lockout feature that is user-configurable. You can set the handheld device to lock when the power is turned off at a specified time or after a specified period of inactivity. In addition, Palm OS 4.0 closes a security hole that existed in Version 3.5 in which an experienced hacker could gain access to a password-protected Palm through a "back door."

The Palm m505's high- contrast reflective color screen lives up to the company's claims that it's easier to view in bright sunlight. In fact, the screen was easier to read in direct sunlight than under fluorescent lights. But the m505 also features a backlight for extra brightness.

The Palm m500 series represents a major leap for handheld computing with the expansion card slot and the Universal Connector. The potential uses for SD cards and MultiMediaCards will greatly increase the capability of Palm handheld devices, and the Universal Connector will make accessory purchases easy and convenient.

REPORT CARD

Palm m505

Score: A

Palm Inc.
(800) 881-7256
www.palm.com

The Palm m505 is available on the General Services Administration schedule through CompUSA, GTSI Corp. and CDW-G Inc. Reseller prices may vary slightly. The estimated retail price is $449.

The Palm m505 introduces a new era for Palm with its expansion card slot and Universal Connector. These features, along with Palm's new operating system and other improvements, greatly increase the device's capabilities and convenience.


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