A Better Platform on Your Palm

Last autumn, Gearhead wrote enthusiastically about the wireless Palm VII. I still like the Palm, but fickle geek that Gearhead is, a better device has been found, and the Palm has been cast aside.

Now before we discuss this digital delight, let us take a moment to discuss what we now think of the Palm. First, the Palm's display technology: While better than its forebears, the Palm only has a monochromatic display. The greenish glow of the backlighting is OK, but use it in a dim room and the reflected light makes you look like an extra from "Night of the Living Dead."

Second, there's the issue of the Palm's operating system, PalmOS. Gearhead will probably be taken to task over this and certainly the outraged cries of "Sacrilege!" and "Off with his trousers!" will be heard from a few readers, but let's be honest - PalmOS isn't that great. The integration between applications is OK but nothing to get excited about, and the range of services and operating system features is limited. Gearhead will be pleased to rescind this criticism if you can show us a Palm playing a movie.

Yeah, yeah, we know PalmOS was designed for a very "skinny" platform, but when it comes down to it Gearhead and, we suspect, every true geek, wants a gigahertz processor with at least a gig of RAM in a size that can fit in a pocket protector. There's no such thing as too much power.

Anyway, what is the device that has captured the attention of Gearhead? It is the Casio Cassiopeia 105.

We have been toting this little gem around for the past few weeks, and it is much easier to use than the Palm, more flexible, has more applications, has a better featured operating system, a color display, better sound and, yes, can even play videos.

The Cassiopeia runs Microsoft Windows CE on a 13 MHz StrongArm processor, comes with 32M bytes of RAM, an infrared port, a stereo audio jack, a microphone, a serial port, a CompactFlash port and a 65,536 color, 240 by 320 pixel back-lit display.

The Cassiopeia also comes with a number of bundled applications and utilities, including Microsoft's ActiveSync 3.0 software that provides excellent integration with Outlook and other Windows applications, a Palm conversion data utility and multimedia tools.

Curiously, over the past few weeks the amount of commentary about the palmtop market has increased significantly, and a number of articles in the more consumer-oriented press have tolled the death knell of Windows CE with headlines that make it sound as if the Windows CE development team should simply shoot themselves and get it over with.

Now we hope that this column's faithful readers will have noticed that Gearhead is not that enamored with Microsoft operating systems. Indeed, the disdain that Gearhead has for the stability - or rather lack thereof - of Windows in all its wretched forms, is closer to disgust and loathing than simple criticism.

That said, Windows CE is, Gearhead thinks, one of the better choices for handhelds and palmtops. Of course, if we had our druthers, we'd much rather have a real operating system such as BeOS on the Cassiopeia but, alas, Casio forgot to include us in the development team. Darn.

Anyway, the Cassiopeia is a great tool. Weighing in at 9 ounces, it is highly portable, has a good pen interface, reasonable battery life and a speaker you can actually hear (it has become Gearhead's alarm clock much to the irritation of Mrs. Gearhead, who was roused yesterday by the loud caroling of a sound sample of the bells of Big Ben being played by a really neat alarm program for Windows CE called AlarMe).

This is definitely a cool tool, and once Gearhead gets a wireless connection for it, our happiness will be complete.

Verbal sparring to gearhead @gibbs.com.

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