Powerful Palm VII's capabilities deal mobile users winning hand

Powerful Palm VII's capabilities deal mobile users winning hand

By Thomas R. Temin
GCN Staff

If you're into whipping out technological trump cards, a Palm VII is the gadget to have.

The $499 handheld computer offers wireless e-mail and Web download capability, in addition to the usual Palm OS personal organizer and record-keeping functions. It comes preloaded with links to various Web sites that supply text-only downloads, such as ABC News, ESPN, Mapquest, Travelocity and the Weather Channel.

Dozens of other Web sites have downloads formatted for the Palm VII.

But software quirks make the device a definite Version 1.0. More important, few information technology shops have a strategy for supporting handheld devices as part of their enterprise networks. Just as data processing shops didn't know how to handle early PCs, today's network administrators don't quite know how to deal with computers such as Palms.

Lots of users carry agency data on handhelds. Add e-mail, and you end up with real implications for the LAN or WAN back at the office. Plus, managers who agree to pay Palm users' $9.99 to $39.99 monthly Internet access fees face potentially open-ended costs.

I used a Palm VII intensively for several weeks. I loaded a contact database, sent and received e-mail, and downloaded data from the Web. I sent grandma and grandpa my son's cross-country run times from atop a hill in Western Maryland, and I checked sports scores at www.espn.com while commuting by subway. I also sent e-mail to GCN reporters during presentations at conferences.

Power in hand

This is one cool device. At 3 inches wide by 5.25 inches tall by five-eighths of an inch thick, it's a half-inch longer and slightly thicker than the company's flagship Palm III, and bulkier than the ultraminiature Palm V. The size accommodates a built-in, two-way radio modem and a nicad battery, which gets its recharge from two AAA cells that also power the computer itself.

To surf the Web or send e-mail, you activate the device by flipping up a flexible and easily replaceable plastic antenna tucked into the side. You tap on the application or Web site you want using a built-in pointer.

The speed of Palm e-mail and Web access belies the complex underlying technology. I could send e-mail from places where my digital mobile phone with AT&T Corp. PCS service wouldn't work.

BellSouth Corp. transfers messages to Palm-operated servers in California, which connect to the Internet and direct traffic to and from Palm VIIs. Once you tap the send button, an e-mail is on its way within 15 seconds. From clicking on the icon to receiving ABC News headlines also takes 15 seconds.

Another feature I liked was deflecting return mail to my office e-mail account.

A slight problem

Box Score ''''''''''

Palm VII

Handheld computer

Palm Computing Inc.;

Santa Clara, Calif.;

tel. 408-328-9000


Price: $499

+ Fast wireless e-mail

+ Power in a tiny package

' No cache-clearing function

' No e-mail address book

Real-life requirements:

For synchronization with included PC version of Palm software: Windows 9x or NT 4.0, 16M of RAM, 36M of free storage, CD-ROM drive

My major quibble with the Palm's iMessenger software is that it lacks an address book. You can only copy and paste addresses from your contacts database one at a time. The Palm is a poor platform for composing voluminous messages. You must input using a stylus and Palm's Graffiti alphabet, laborious for anything longer than a few sentences.

The 2M of memory provides more effective storage than a device running Microsoft Windows CE because the Palm OS is so small, and most data is text. Still, the Palm VII has no way to delete cached items clipped from the Web. I confirmed this serious shortcoming with Palm's technical support staff.

Eventually the cache gets full, and new downloads push out the old, but it seems inefficient to clutter things up with stale Web clips. Tech support pointed me to a Palm utility supplier, one of an army of third-party app developers, but I received no answer to my query about whether a utility suite could delete saved downloads.

An optional $250 Ethernet cradle, separate from Palm Computing's HotSync desktop synchronizer, will keep the Palm VII and earlier Palm devices in touch with 10/100-Mbps Ethernet hubs and switches within campus settings.

Overall, I found the Palm VII a useful, fun and envy-provoking companion'though not a replacement for mainstream devices.

But it is a big step toward the Holy Grail of Internet, communications and computing convergence.

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