Should Palm and CE users switch to Visor?
September 14, 1999
By D. Ian Hopper
After playing with the Handspring Visor Deluxe for a while, it's easy to see the similarities between the Visor and the Palm series. Both use the same Palm OS, sync similarly, weigh about the same as the III series and have most of the same applications. But there are several important differences.
The first, and most obvious, is price. While the cheapest Palm, the Palm IIIe, retails for $229, the comparable Visor is only $179. The beefier Visor Deluxe, with 6 MB of additional RAM, retails for only $20 more than the IIIe. The Deluxe is also available in five different colors: graphite, green, orange, blue and ice. The other models only come in a solid graphite color.
The Visor series uses the Motorola 68K Dragonball EZ 16 MHz processor, the same as in the Palm IIIx and V. It's about 10 to 20 percent faster than comparable Palms. It uses a couple of standard AAA batteries for power, and the Visor and Visor Deluxe come with an attractive and useful leather case.
The cradle is such a logical innovation, it's somewhat surprising that it hasn't already been incorporated by Palm. Instead of a serial port connection, which transfers data at only 115 kilobits per second, the Visor's cradle connects via a USB port, delivering a transfer speed of up to 1.5 megabits per second. This, along with native Macintosh software support, should satisfy Mac users who were treated as an afterthought by Palm by being made to purchase the MacPac in order to synchronize with their computer.
The software side of the Visor includes everything Palm users are used to, as well as an enhanced datebook, scientific calculator and world clock. The Visor screen is comparable to the Palm IIIe and V, clearer and easier to read in low light than those used in the Palm III and earlier machines.
Then, there's the Springboard, the Visor's technological jewel. The Springboard offers almost limitless expandability for both hardware and software innovation.
On the downside, the Visor seemed more prone to crashes than a Palm III, though that could be due to its review unit status. Nevertheless, buyers would be well-advised to invest in one of in Handspring's backup modules. Also, the Visor stylus is made of a light plastic that feels cheap, especially placed against a Palm III series metal stylus. And it doesn't have the hidden pin to slide into the recessed reset button during the several crashes, which can leave you hunting for a paper clip.
Beyond system specs, one question should linger in the minds of consumers: Is this thing worth buying? Well, the decision might be dependent on if you already own a PDA, and what type it is.
If you've been waiting to buy a PDA, what are you waiting for? Despite style pronouncements from digerati mags, it's still pretty cool to own a PDA. They're even useful, especially for people in "idea jobs" who have new breakthroughs throughout the day. Just jot it down on the PDA, and it's with you always. The Visor is an affordable choice, and with the voice recorder, cell modem and MP3 player, it's ready for work and play.
Windows CE users who are finally tired of all the problems of the bloated Windows 95 with less functionality will likely flock to the Visor. Windows CE machines are traditionally much more expensive than their Palm OS counterparts. The only glaring deficiency the Visor has compared to many CE machines is the black-and-white display.
Then, there are the Palm owners. On one hand, it's just another machine with the Palm OS. On the other, Palm users are familiar with it, have Palm software, and will love the Springboard slot. If you've got a Palm III series or earlier, you might want to switch. You'll get all the benefits of the Visor with a low price, and you might be able to sell off your Palm for the same price of a Visor purchase. (Just watch the Electronics area of eBay get swamped with Palm owners dumping their units.)
But if you've got a V or VII, hold on. In the V, you've got a sleek form factor and rechargeable batteries, one particular innovation that the Visor doesn't copy. In the VII, there's wireless communication, which is only available in the Visor with a Springboard module. Further, Palm V and VII owners have invested a lot of money, usually at least $500, in their PDAs. Unless you've truly fallen in love with the Visor, wait until more modules are available before making the switch.
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