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Life With Palm VII

3 minute read
Josh Quittner

I figured that if I spent a lot of time with the new PalmVII, the first wireless organizer to evolve from the blockbuster PalmPilot, my hard-nosed journalist’s cynicism would quickly nuzzle aside my techno-infatuation. But after squiring the VII around for a few weeks, I’m more in love than ever. For years the notion of an easy-to-use device that connects man to Net–from anywhere–has been the stuff of geek dreams. Now, at long last, vaporware has been made silicon. On my VII, I’ve received e-mail from my wife while riding under Manhattan (“Stop showing that thing in the subway!” she wrote. “You’ll lose it…”) and whined at editors while on the railroad whizzing to work. I’ve read real-time Long Island Expressway traffic updates while sitting in my office 23 floors above the ground–and, after ignoring them, bailed myself out with custom-made driving directions while stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I’ve looked up local movie listings, browsed synopses of techtrends on Slashdot.org (a website whose motto is “News for Nerds”) and snagged up-to-the-minute Yankees scores. The Palm fits comfortably in my shirt pocket, runs for a month on a pair of AAA batteries, has an invitingly readable screen and a cute, clip-up antenna, just like a Star Trek communicator. It is perfect and adorable in every respect save one: it costs way, way too much.

That’s a little like saying the portions are too small at a four-star restaurant. But in this case, the criticism could be fatal. The unit itself retails for $599, which is supportable, I guess. But Palm’s basic wireless service is $9.99 a month, which buys you 50 kilobytes, or 150 Palm-screen pages of text. I ran through that in a day. And at the end of two weeks, after consciously limiting consumption, I had used 138 kilobytes–$35.20 more than the basic charge. Even the $24.99-for-150-kilobyte, big-user plan would be inadequate for me. How can any self-respecting info junkie–who’s presumably already paying for a cell phone and a separate Net connection–afford that? Is the Palm VII only meant for rich guys who own websites that just went public? Or maybe 3Com is intentionally trying to roll out the device slowly, perhaps as a way of ensuring that Palm.Net can handle what would otherwise be crushing demand? Since the gizmo is being sold only in the New York City area until it’s distributed nationally in the fall, I’m backing the crushing-demand theory. Later, an all-you-can-eat service could keep at bay all those folks thinking of buying devices that use Microsoft’s Windows CE, an operating system that competes with Palm’s.

Anyway, setup was a snap, done wirelessly in minutes. The Palm’s built-in 8,000-bits-per-second modem is way slower than today’s 56-kbps standard, but 3Com made up for it by creating a low-bandwidth, mostly graphics-free way to search the Web. Indeed, on the VII you don’t browse the Web, you “clip” it. Palm users can visit only participating websites (so far, a few hundred have signed up) rather than the entire Web. While I was at first offended at this idea–the Internet is meant to be open and free!–I quickly appreciated the faster downloads and utilitarian data. If the Palm takes off (did I mention the service is too expensive?), I can even imagine people doing the unthinkable: paying for selected Web content. But not at these prices.

For more on such gizmos, visit our website at timedigital.com Questions for Quittner? E-mail him at jquit@well.com

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