HANDHELD COMPUTER GETS A THUMB'S UP

HANDHELD COMPUTER GETS A THUMB'S UP

When I was offered the chance to take a look at Palm Computing's new color handheld computer, I jumped at the chance. And, now that I've been using the Palm IIIc ($449) for a while, I don't know how I've existed this long without owning one.

Although its color capabilities are a bit overmatched when comparing them to the color output of the new Handheld PCs from Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and others that have jumped on the Microsoft CE bandwagon, it really didn't seem to matter.Those of you who have been following my diatribes for a while know that I see the function of handheld computers as an adjunct to full-size PCs or notebooks, not replacements. No one is really going to use them to write 50-page treatises in Microsoft Word or to access the Worldwide Web (very s-l-o-w-l-y). Nope, they're going to use them as personal organizers and to scan e-mail and documents that they've downloaded from other devices.

To this end, the Palm IIIc is more than adequate. And how many colors do you need to read an address from a database?

The addition of color has made the display much easier to read, at least for four-eyed geeks like myself, and you can customize the colors to add emphasis to certain items.

Also, because of its predecessors, there's tons of software available for it, ranging from Intuit's Pocket Quicken (which links to Quicken on your PC) to Documents to Go from Dataviz, which allows you to download documents written in almost any format to your Palm.

But what really sold me is the ease with which it synchronizes with my PC. I'm able to download new programs and new data at the touch of a button. No hassles, as I've experienced using devices that are dependent upon Microsoft CE. In fact, I can continue using whatever PIM (personal information manager) I'm comfortable with, and it will synchronize with the Palm's address book, although some PIMs may require a software enhancement available from Palm Computing (www.palm.com).

I use Micorsoft Outlook linked to a CardScan 500 calling card scanner, so I don't even have to enter new contacts into my computer. I just scan in the card, Outlook is updated and the new information is downloaded to the Palm device.

The IIIc comes with eight megabytes of memory; all the basic applications you need to get started, including a date book, address book and an application that will track your expenses while you're on the road; and a cradle used to synchronize your Palm device with your laptop or PC and to recharge its built-in battery.

Now, obviously there are going to be a few drawbacks to using a color Palm, the biggest being the reduction in battery life. But, I found that I get at least 10 hours from each charge and, since its lithium-ion batteries are recharged every time I put it in its cradle to download data from my PC, I have yet to be faced with a lifeless hunk of metal when I need to use it.

Also, since it's so new, many of the applications available for it are still in drab, dull monochrome (playing solitaire in black and white isn't any fun when you don't have colors to help you tell a heart from a spade), but the folks at Palm Computing promise that they will be developing new color applications for it every day and will be making them available on their website.

There also are several hardware add-ons that will make it even more useful, including a global positioning device from Rand McNally, various keyboards and a modem.

A great place to check for these items and anything Palmish is www.palmgearhq.com, which is also a great source for shareware and freeware.