Basic PDAs are right on schedule

GCN Photos by Henrik G. DeGyor

Basic PDAs look pretty similar. From top to bottom: Research in Motion Blackberry 957, Palm i705, Handspring Visor Pro, Palm m515 and Palm m130.

Five handhelds have few bells and whistles, but handle the job of organizing your routine

In the May 20 issue, the GCN Lab looked at high-end color personal digital assistants priced up to $600. In this issue we look at less-costly handhelds that serve more as digital organizers than as notebook PC substitutes.

The Research in Motion BlackBerry 957 was among the best of the monochrome PDAs in this review: easy to navigate and set up, with good backlighting. Its embedded antenna connected wirelessly in real time to the lab's e-mail server.

The BlackBerry 957 had the standard programs: calendar, memo pad, calculator, alarm and address book. Its vibration feature could be set to activate whenever new e-mail arrived.

Because the BlackBerry OS was written in Java, the 957's 5M of memory was plenty for average use. Typing on the built-in keyboard with fingertips, somewhat difficult at first, soon became a pleasure.

The BlackBerry 957 lacked the expandability of the Compaq iPaq, HP Jornada or Sony Clie, but 98 percent of its battery charge remained after three hours of continuous use. That's great for travel.

The embedded antenna connected automatically within about five minutes to the GCN Lab's mail server running Microsoft Exchange. We gave the BlackBerry a Reviewer's Choice designation.

At $500 plus $40 per month for wireless service, the BlackBerry would be worthwhile for users who need to keep in close touch with office e-mail.
Caution: Your network administrator should set up your PDA to establish the proper connection and avoid any conflicts with your agency firewall.

Complex setup

Unlike the BlackBerry, the Palm i705 could not connect by default to an existing mail server.
Having to set up a separate account defeats the purpose of synchronizing with office e-mail. To get the i705 to work with Microsoft Exchange 5.5 or higher versions, you have to download and set up Palm Inc.'s MultiMail Deluxe Desktop Link.

The lightweight and compact i705 had excellent battery life, retaining 95 percent of its charge after three hours. It had a 33-MHz Motorola DragonBall VZ processor, 8M of memory and a MultiMediaCard/Secure Digital Card slot. The display was less pleasing than the BlackBerry 957's.

The Handspring Visor Pro was a good PDA at a great price. For $230 you'd be hard-pressed to find another handheld with 16M of RAM, a 33-MHz DragonBall processor and 95 percent of a battery charge remaining after three hours of operation.

We gave it a Bank for the Buck designation.

The monochrome display, however, had only 160 by 160 pixels, which partly accounts for the low price, and the operating system was the old Palm OS 3.5.2.

We found the Visor Pro very user-friendly. Installation took only about two minutes. The Springboard slot in back could accept expansion cards for up to 16M of RAM or Bluetooth or other wireless connectivity.

The sleek-looking Palm m515, like the Sony Clie, had 16M of RAM and Palm OS 4.1, but it lacked the Clie's expandability. It was limited to a maximum 32M of extra storage. Although 64M cards are in development, they weren't available for this review.

The m515 had a 33-MHz DragonBall VZ processor, 4M of ROM and a standard 160-by-160 screen. It was simple to set up and sync and easy to carry on trips. But we had to remember to take along the charger, because the m515's battery drained fast'only 15 percent of a charge remained after three hours.

Although it had fewer bells and whistles than the top-rated PDAs in our May 20 review, for $400 it's not a bad alternative.

The inexpensive Palm m130 had a color display and cost $280 with the same 33-MHz Dragonball VZ processor and card slot as the Palm m515, and a 160-by-160 screen. Though a little bulkier, it had longer battery life and was just as easy to set up and sync. Its 8M of RAM was plenty to run the standard Palm 4.1 applications such as address book, date book, notepad, calculator and to-do list.

As a good travel tool at a great price, it earned our Bang for the Buck designation. The m130 did, however, drain to a below-average 50 percent after three hours' use.

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