SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - Palm Inc. personal digital assistants already cram a date book, an address book, a calculator, an expense report generator, and an e-mail reader into a device not much bigger than a deck of cards. What else could these popular PDAs remove from your pockets? Try the color photos in your wallet.
The latest, greatest addition to the 3Com Corp. Palm family, the Palm IIIc sports a 256-color active-matrix screen that's much brighter and more readable than displays on previous monochrome units. But at $449 list, the Palm IIIc costs more than any of its siblings, and is also slightly larger and noticeably heavier.
You'll no longer be able to buy replacement batteries at any corner drugstore:
The IIIc, like the svelte Palm V and Palm Vx, uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery instead of the AAAs that power other Palm IIIs and older Palms. And 3Com estimates that the IIIc can go only two weeks between charges, compared with four weeks for the Palm V. (Other Palm IIIs run about six weeks before the AAAs must be replaced.)But users who frequently sync their Palms with desktop PIMs may not mind the battery-life hit: Like the Palm Vs, the IIIc recharges during synchronization, with power coming from an AC adapter that's hooked up to the HotSync cradle's serial port plug.
The IIIc's software bundle includes a backgammon game and a calculator with color-coded keys. A photo album app has a desktop component for converting images to Palm's proprietary compressed file format before you transfer them to the Palm IIIc. Images on the 160-by-160-pixel display are bright and pleasant to look at. The size is right too: The sample images that were included in my shipping unit occupy less than 50KB each. Of course, multiple images can soak up memory quickly. Fortunately, however, the IIIc packs 8MB of memory--twice as much as the Palm IIIx and four times more than most other models.
You'll soon be able to use the IIIc to take pictures, too: Kodak's $149 PalmPix digital camera, due to ship in April, , will snap onto the Palm IIIc's HotSync port to let you take pictures on the fly--a feature insurance adjusters and realtors might like. And for getting around, Rand McNally's upcoming $179 StreetFinder GPS will allow Palm IIIc users to download color maps and driving directions for use with the bundled GPS attachment.
New Palm Tricks
Color is the central innovation of the IIIc, but it's not the only one. The device also boasts Palm OS 3.5, an incremental upgrade that delivers several useful tweaks. A new Agenda view for the Datebook lists your appointments and to-do items for the day. You can quickly duplicate address entries (useful if you want to add contact info for several people from the same company). You can access drop-down menus within Palm apps by tapping the top of the screen (before, you had to tap an icon at the bottom to see the menu bar).
You now have the ability to password-protect individual entries such as memos or appointments, access context-sensitive command strokes by tapping new icons at the bottom of the screen, and set up snooze alarms. The upgrade supports fast HotSync speeds and hot-syncing via the infrared port. You can get the OS upgrade without color in another new model, the $249 Palm IIIxe--essentially a IIIx with 8MB of memory.
These new Palms--and price cuts in older devices-- address the competition.
Windows CE palmtops began sporting color screens a year ago, but they're heavier than the IIIc. And Handspring's Palm OS-based Visor made a splash last fall by undercutting the Palm's prices while incorporating some of the improvements Palm just added, such as extra memory, the sharp-looking off-black case, and the Agenda view.
The IIIc and IIIxe should satisfy Palm aficionados who had been eyeing competitors' innovations with envy--and who have deep enough pockets to satisfy their every gadget urge. But for owners of other recent Palms, unless they work with photos in the field, need extra memory, or want a more readable screen, neither the IIIc nor the IIIxe is a must-have (especially since a free OS upgrade to version 3.5 is coming for most Palm IIIs and both Palm Vs). Still, it's comforting to know that even with a PDA market share in excess of 75 percent, the folks at Palm aren't taking their loyal following for granted.
Palm IIIc, IIIxe Handheld Computer
List price: Palm IIIc $449, IIIxe $249
PRODUCT INFO NO. 700.