PalmPilot crams a lot of memory into a small, affordable package

The PalmPilot from U.S. Robotics offers potent organizer punch in a featherweight
package.


It weighs only about a third of a pound and costs from $299 to $399, depending on
memory and configuration. I tested a fully loaded PalmPilot Professional with 1M of
memory, a backlit screen and pocket e-mail.


This is a good alternative to current personal digital assistants. It escapes the
schizophrenia of the Apple Newton MessagePad and the tiny keyboards of Microsoft Windows
CE handheld units. Not to mention that the PalmPilot costs a lot less and is much
smaller-at about 434 by 314 inches and three-quarters of an inch thick, it actually does
fit in your palm.


You can pop up a keyboard on the touchscreen if you wish, but the PalmPilot does
handwriting recognition well. However, you must learn the correct strokes for each letter,
number and symbol in its Graffiti writing application.


Sound complicated? It isn't. I was jotting down information quickly within 30 minutes.
U.S. Robotics claims a user can enter up to 20 words per minute.


Because Graffiti has a well-defined set of strokes, the handheld rarely misunderstood
my entries. It has a specific screen area for entering letters and another area for
entering numbers. You touch the primary LCD area only to click on-screen buttons or place
your cursor.


The primary screen is 160 by 160 pixels with a wide-range contrast control dial on the
left side. The greenish backlight wasn't very powerful and did not illuminate the writing
input areas or buttons-a minus for users who work in poorly lit areas.


U.S. Robotics claims eight to 12 weeks of life on two AAA batteries. That could be
possible, because the battery life indicator barely moved during a week of intense use.


With just 1M of memory, a PalmPilot supposedly can hold 4,000 addresses, 2,400
appointments over four years, 750 to-do items, 750 memos and 100 e-mails.


The desktop interface program lacks a lot as compared with handhelds running Windows
CE, such as Compaq Computer Corp.'s PC Companion, which interfaces directly with Microsoft
Office applications [GCN, Jan. 13, Page 29].


You can import and synchronize a desktop contact database. Although DBase file formats
are not supported, the PalmPilot handles text and comma-delimited files easily enough.
Forget about importing appointments from your PC. It accepts only its own proprietary
format.


Some other personal information managers do offer pocket versions with a direct
interface to desktop applications, including Symantec's Act 3.0, Lotus Notes and Franklin
Quest's Ascend 97.


One of the PalmPilot's more powerful features is direct access to Microsoft Exchange
4.0. Setting it up was easy. Soon, I was writing e-mails from the PalmPilot and reading
all the messages in my Exchange mailbox.


Of course, messages from the PalmPilot don't actually go out until you put it in its
cradle and press the HotSync button. This automatically synchronizes all the information
with your PC as you specify.


There is one e-mail glitch. If the e-mail address is somewhat long, the PalmPilot drops
any letters not on the first line of a reply.


Another glitch: exposed pin contacts for connecting to a desktop PC's COM port.
Fingertips and other external forces have ample opportunity to cause damage. U.S. Robotics
should make a small cover for these contacts, and the PalmPilot's storage pouch also needs
a closure. The unit slipped out of the pouch almost every time I carried it in my
briefcase.


All in all, U.S. Robotics is onto something. For the first time, I'm tempted to buy a
PDA. It's not perfect, but it's getting darn close.


For example, if the address were fredsmith@gateway.agency.gov,
  the PalmPilot would lop off the "ov" that spilled over to a second line.


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