Color Handheld Bright But Flawed

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Palm IIIc

After Microsoft added support for color screens to its handheld operating system, Windows CE, we expected Palm Computing Inc.'s to follow up quickly with a color device. Nearly a year after Microsoft's hardware licensees announced color handhelds, Palm has released the Palm IIIc, the first Palm device with an active-matrix color screen. But despite the impressive engineering of its screen and battery, the IIIc's performance flaws mar an otherwise promising device.

One reason the company has taken so long to introduce a color device is the extra energy a color screen requires. We found the Palm IIIc's battery life quite acceptable (Palm says the battery will yield approximately two weeks of normal use without a recharge). Like the Palm VX, the Palm IIIc is equipped with 8MB of memory and powered by a built-in LiIon battery that charges while the unit is in its HotSync cradle. Frequent travelers will probably want to invest in the optional $40 recharger and leave the cradle at home.

The IIIc's centerpiece is its color screen, an active-matrix thin-film-transistor display that supports 256 bright, crisp colors. The luminescent white background makes it easier to read text and differentiate colors; an on-screen slider lets you adjust brightness for better visibility under varied lighting conditions and conserve battery life. Unfortunately, the reflective screen is difficult to read under fluorescent light and washes out in direct sunlight.

The biggest problem, however, is the built-in Palm OS applications' inability to support color as well as they could. Color can be an effective organizational tool; users should be able to color code categories for easy identification in the Address Book, Memo Pad, and To Do List. Displaying past-due tasks in red, for example, would make their status immediately apparent. All the Palm IIIc offers is a red bar indicating overlapping events.

Less problematic, but still annoying, is the Palm IIIc CD-ROM's omission of the Macintosh Palm Desktop software; you must either download the 6.8MB application from Palm's Web site or pay extra for a Macintosh CD-ROM. As a result, Mac users can't install the color-enabled applications included on the CD without using a Windows-emulation program, such as Connectix's Virtual PC. You can't even copy the program files from the CD's directory, because they're embedded in the Windows installer.

Palm has also announced the $249 Palm IIIxe, a very capable device whose only changes from earlier Palm III models are additional memory and the dark-slate case color (like the IIIc's). The IIIxe lacks an internal open connector slot like the one found in the Palm IIIx, so you can't upgrade the IIIxe with additional memory or internal peripherals, such as pager cards, and its flimsy plastic stylus doesn't measure up to the metal-barreled one included with every other Palm III derivation.

Macworld's Buying Advice

If you need a color Palm device to view pictures, play games, or boast the latest technology on the block, you'll love the Palm IIIc. Its smartly designed hardware points to a brighter future for all Palm devices. But the software's lack of color support will disappoint those looking to get organized, and $449 is a bit pricey considering that, at the moment, the color screen only adds eye candy.

RATING: 3.5 mice

PROS: Bright, crisp color screen; acceptable battery life; rechargeable battery.

CONS: Poor color implementation in software; continued Mac neglect.

COMPANY: Palm Computing (800/881-7256, http://www.palm.com).

LIST PRICE: $449.

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