Current Cover (3068 bytes)
Current Cover

Navigation Bar (3057 bytes)
Homepage (723 bytes)

Pen Computing Magazine Masthead (5407 bytes)

Palm Column

Which Palm shall YOU carry?

by Shawn Barnett
June 2003, issue 49

The not so funny fact of being a mobile technology journalist is that you really don't get to enjoy the true blessing of mobile technology, that of carrying only one device around. When reviewing a bunch, I have a heavy pack full of literature, manuals, cameras, and usually only one notebook computer. It's a curse with a benefit, because when one device can't perform the function I need, another usually can. But I know most of you don't have the same luxury. You're going to buy a device that you'll move into and have for as long as two years; some even longer. So you want to know: which is for you?

With so many choices, and so many different kinds of users, I prefer to take this question on a case by case basis. Readers who write usually get a thoughtful response that asks, "How are you going to use it?" Since my reviews generally cover what the individual units do, and give a flavor of the intended user, I'll go ahead and start with the user and work from the other angle, suggesting current models as I go.

The Individual

A relatively broad category of people, whose interests could lean them to many different devices. But this group will mostly just want a device to keep their schedules and phone numbers. Any Palm will do that, and the purchaser of just about any new device will find that their Palm can do more than they ever imagined. In the past I'd have recommended something like the Palm IIIx or, today, the Palm m130. But with the advent of the Zire 71, I'd lean them toward that model, if their budget allowed, because it has all they need to organize their lives, plus carry all kinds of fun things with them. Photos, songs, games. And it has the benefit of a built in camera for snapshots of friends. The Zire 71 is a great purchase for its versatility alone. Its main contender is the Sony SJ33, also reviewed in this issue. They're a close match, with really the only thing lacking being the camera, something that can be added to the Sony for US$149. Both have a great screen. The Zire's is brighter and more contrasty, but both will make their users very happy. As far as looks, I think the Sony SJ is the more handsome unit, with its dark smoke translucent flip cover and shiny smooth edges. The Zire has an advantage of thicker, more solid fonts, compared to Sony's razor thin fonts. Other than that, I think a wide range of users would do well with either of these two fine units. For those with leaner budgets, either the Palm m125 or m130 can be had for a far lower price, and they can do most of the above (except MP3 playback) out of the box. Individual users unfamiliar with Palms should probably steer clear of wireless data or cell phone units like the Treo or Tungsten W. These are great units, but have a lot of things that the inexperienced person is unlikely to even discover, let alone use. As such, they're not worth the extra cost.

The Student

College and High School students should look seriously at a Palm device and folding keyboard before breaking mom and dad's bank on a state-of-the-art notebook. Even with notebooks going for US$1,000, they could get a decent Palm device and a fast, more expandable desktop for about the same money and save quite a bit of weight in their backpacks. Again, in the current market, the Zire 71 is an attractive choice. There are so many peripherals for the Universal connector it's exciting. The m130 also. It's rugged, colorful, and cheaper, with a longer battery life. The only disadvantage is a slightly smaller screen. Naturally the SJ33 is also good. Any of the older higher-end Sonys, available now on ebay would be good, because they were so advanced when they came out. They are very popular in medical schools. This is perhaps where Palms are most heavily used, laden with huge books and copious notes in a format that slips into a pocket. The student should also give a good look at the AlphaSmart Dana with its wide screen, fantastic keyboard, light weight, and long battery life. At an estimated 25 hours with the backlight on, it'll beat most notebooks, and many color Palms as well.

The Entrepreneur

This category includes independent businesspeople or those who would buy a Palm to make their jobs easier; the enterprising choice they made was choosing the Palm as a business tool. Depending on their needs, they could do with anything from the Palm III to the latest Tungsten C. Even a Palm V still carries the cache of elegance and power. The HandEra 330 and TRGpro, while discontinued, are practical choices that can carry a lot of data with their expansion slots, and the 330 has that great 240 x 320 screen for better displaying spreadsheets. Ongoing support would be the problem there. The high res screens on the latest Palms lend themselves to use as on-the-road notebook replacements, as do the Sonys. Choices do really vary depending on the type of job and the role of the individual. But those who just need their data along would do well with a Sony SJ33, NX70V, or Palm Zire 71. Pictures of the kids or ongoing projects could be captured with the latter two.

Those who need to stay in constant communication with colleagues and email need a Tungsten T and a Bluetooth phone. This is my first choice. It gives a better balance between communication, versatility, and power, with that additional touch of Palm V-style class. My next choice is the the Treo 270. Their screens are not the most vibrant, but they are fantastic communicators, via either voice, SMS, or email. The Tungsten W would be my third choice in this category. Not because it's not a great communicator, but because of the earbud required for phone use. Its screen is better than the 270, but a communicator must do one thing perfectly above all others, and that's allow ready communication of all kinds.

The entrepreneur whose communication needs fall primarily in the data category and whose budget can afford two wireless plans would have his best combo with the W and a reliable cell phone, one with a bigger antenna than the Sony Ericsson T68i (my main beef with this phone). Data communication is very fast with the W, and the cell phone is independent of data, the only downfall of a combined phone like the Treo 270. Finally, the frequent traveler, if he knows he's bathed in 802.11b, might be happy with the zippy Tungsten C. But that's still a big "if," and good coverage might require more than one US$30-plus subscription fee. At this point I'm still more confident with the broader reach of GSM (though I wouldn't have said that a year ago).

The Corporation

I'm having trouble with this one. Not because there are so many choices, but because there are so few logical ones now that the Tungsten C has arrived. Do I think it's the perfect corporate device? I wouldn't say perfect, but it's the most complete on-campus device at this point. It offers the storage, expansion, and performance of the Pocket PC without that kludge of an interface. It has a thumb-board for RIM fans, plus Graffiti and the Palm OS for the rest. But it's mostly useful for the WiFi-committed campus, one that's willing to set up VPNs and pay for WiFi subscriptions for its employees to stay connected while they're out and about. Until 802.11b phones start arriving, the Tungsten T might be a better choice. Use Bluetooth hubs around the office, then switch to the phone when out. This is what makes me wonder why Bluetooth wasn't included on the C; space and battery life is likely the answer, but the omission does make it harder for companies to choose. The T has a better chance of working its way into the non-wireless system one user at a time, and the C is better if corporate is already on board with 802.11b.

I can't leave out the W, or Treo 270, since their usefulness also applies here as it did with the individual business user. Companies already content to pay for a wireless bill might want to just add the data charges to the existing bill and adjust budgets accordingly. This would empower their workforce with an everywhere voice and data solution that takes advantage of existing cell phone infrastructure rather than having to build their own and then pay for outside WiFi subscription services. Neither solution is perfect. WiFi isn't everywhere, but neither is cellular, and it can't always penetrate big buildings. So assess your situation and choose your solution.

The Doctor

I get a lot of email from doctors asking the "Which device?" question. Each of them has been very adamant about what they want, and each of them was absolutely right. But they each picked different devices. One wanted a Visor Prism with Visor Phone. Another a Sony CLIE something-or-other, still another swore by his m515. More than any others, however, I've seen medical doctors carrying CLIEs as their personal devices. I met one man at a HanDBase training session who'd put oodles of patient data into his CLIE, and boasted of being able to surprise his patients with his vast knowledge of their condition, down to the drugs and last visit, when they called him late into the night for an emergency. At the time, the CLIEs were the only devices with 320 x 320 screens, plus they looked slick and professional like a BMW or Lexus.

In all honesty, I think medical treatment could benefit from a device like the NX70V, NZ90, or even Zire 71 in the hands of every doctor (of the three, the CLIEs have better cameras). A photographic record could be kept and filed along with the patient's other data, becoming just another vital that could be tracked. I'm not sure of the legal implications, but once it was widely accepted, it would be difficult to roll back.

I'm not sure what the status of WiFi in a hospital setting would be, but if telemetry systems could handle it, the Tungsten C might help with the proverbial but truly terrible doctor's handwriting with its built-in keyboard.

The Enthusiast

Well, if they're like me, the enthusiast will indeed carry more devices than they need and use them all in different ways. Most enthusiasts know exactly what they want, so they won't really be looking here for advice; they're enthusiastic about what they're enthusiastic about and I won't do much to change their mind. But rendering an opinion is my job, so I'll make a few choices. First the practical. The Tungsten T. It has the most versatility and lovability all in one package. If expansion is your inclination--even just the idea that you can expand--you'll love the T. It has looks and power all in one. There are all kinds of programs and peripherals you can add to the T to make it just about whatever you want, via Universal connector, SDIO, and Bluetooth, and more are on the way.

If you don't just want to expand, but want more built into the device and included in the box, you have to save up for the NZ90. It's pricey, and a bit thick, but it's worth every penny and ounce with its futuristic design, half-VGA screen, Bluetooth, and 2 megapixel digital camera. Almost everything is gorgeous about this device. Some of the finest industrial design, and you'll enjoy exploring it every time you pick it up.

Another cutting edge and cool product from Sony is the TG50. This baby has also has a sci-fi feel, but without the thickness necessary in the digital photography-enabled NZ90. Though it has the appeal of a keyboard for basic users, I'd almost say this is a computer only for the tinkerer and Star Trek fan. It looks more like a remote control for your space ship than a PDA. If someone told me it was, I just might believe them. It can be used as a remote video controller with Bluetooth-enabled Sony camcorders, an example of how its feature set is crafted ideally for Sony devotees. Memory Stick works on most modern Sony products, including notebooks, cameras, and even televisions. If you're an all-Sony guy, look nowhere else.

Finally, for those who must have the fastest and the mostest, there's the Tungsten C. It's a device that was purpose-built for corporate environments, not the best for most users, but that won't matter. The true speed freak will yearn to feel that PXA255 buzzing in their hands at 400MHz as the 2.4GHz microwaves pierce their skin on the way to the nearest access point. Ahh, now that's power. Put it in the roast beef sandwich to warm it up. Yeah. The programs that will really make the C shine haven't even been written yet, though, so there'll be some waiting to do. Though the C is just as expandable as the T, it's not really as much of a multimedia device as it is a corporate tool, so the tinker might end up carrying both.

The keyboard and Graffiti 2 might bug some (it does me), so here's hoping Palm comes out with a higher-power T (OMAP or XScale, I don't care), with 128MB RAM and the fine transflective screen of the C and Zire 71. I also want someone to either hack a Graffiti Classic replacement or license the dang technology from those litigious clowns at Xerox and gimme back my input method.

All this great stuff, and I'm still building my dream Palm in my mind.

More Questions

I anticipate more questions begged by my answers. The truth is, as I look at the products currently in the market, it's more true now than ever that there is no one device for everyone. For individuals, currently the Zire 71 comes closest, giving the greatest power for the lowest price. For those wanting their email and Web browsing, the list of good products gets wider. But Palm, the current market leader, offers only one device that can meet the needs of the broadest range of users, and that's the Tungsten T. If you ever think you might need wireless, this is the solution. If you think you might want to add a camera, this is the solution. If you want a base computer that is powerful, compact, and can be transformed into a number of things, the T is still the one for experienced users. The Zire 71 offers a better screen and more bundled software and beginning users can feel safe and smart making this choice.

As of this writing, I have to say that the Tungsten T and Zire 71 offer the most value and utility for a broader base of users than any others. Right behind are the SJ33 and NX70V, if they still sell it. Buy one of these four and you can be sure you'll have something that will serve you for some time.

-Shawn Barnett,

[Features] [Showcase] [Developer] [Members] [Subscribe] [Resources] [Contacts] [Guidelines]

All contents ©1995-2000 Pen Computing Magazine, Inc. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited.
Contact the Pen Computing Publishing Office for reprint information