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Palm M125

Palm M125 Brings Affordability to Expandability

by Jim Bray

Palm's newest handheld is an interesting bit of portable technology.

When the $250 M125 was offered to me for review I got excited; I hadn't played with a PIM (Personal Information Manager) for a couple of years, so was curious to see what was new.

Its promise excited me, so I set it up, dumped my address book and calendar into it, and got ready to rock.

I had the perfect test: Comdex. This annual trade show in Las Vegas is full of appointments and contacts, and what better way to keep everything together than with a Palm?

The M125 weighs only 5.1 ounces and is only about 5x3 inches big, and less than an inch thick. Despite that, it contains all your important data and you can enter more on the fly via its onscreen virtual keyboard or Graffiti handwriting recognition language.

It isn't that easy to use on the fly, though. I found it a lot easier to punch stuff in on my main computer's keyboard, then download it to the Palm via its USB-connected cradle, than to poke around the Palm with the plastic stylus. But that doesn't help you in the field.

You can get little keyboards, and newer interfaces are on the way that will probably help to a certain extent, but for me -today- the interface is unsatisfying. It isn't the Palm; it's the state of the technological art, and it'll will undoubtedly get better over time.

Still, there's a lot to like, and a lot you can do. Besides contacts and dates, you get a calculator, clock, notepad, memo pad and much more. And with the new expansion slot you can add little card-based modules that expand its capabilities. I tried two such PalmPak modules: a games one and Travel Card, the latter of which was really handy on my trip to Vegas.

The Travel Card let me find all sorts of nifty information about the city, including a couple of after hours entertainment options I'd been meaning to try for a couple of years, but had never been able to find. The Palm made that part easy.

The games would probably be okay if I were desperate for entertainment, but their basic simplicity combined with the Palm's tiny, monochrome (and non-lighted) LCD screen made me reach quickly for a good book.

And that really sums up my overall experience with the Palm M125. Maybe it's just me, because I'm not a corporate warrior and my life isn't complicated enough to need one of these tools, but I ended up leaving the M125 in my hotel room.

Here's what happened. The first day at the trade show I discovered the post-September 11th reality that we were all being forced to empty our pockets and go through metal detectors before being allowed onto the show floor. So I had to dump the Palm, my cell phone, keys, pens, coins, whatever, into a bin before going in, just like at the airport.

And while the M125 is very small, it still takes up the better part of a pocket (you can keep it in your attaché case, but I wasn't about to drag that around the trade show floor), which crowds out my reporter's notebook, phone, business cards, etc. etc.

Once on the floor, I'd fire up the Palm to find my next appointment, which also meant finding a well lit place, putting on my reading glasses, and poking around the Palm with its plastic stylus. It wasn't really difficult, but having to stop, put on my glasses, fire the thing up, and so, on slowed me down considerably.

So that night back at the hotel I took a piece of paper and a pen and transcribed all data I had in the Palm (including the location of the NASCAR simulator!) onto a big sheet of paper, in large letters I could read without my glasses.

A couple of folds later I had a pocket sized, though old tech, Personal Information Manager I could read on the floor while I walked, that took up even less space than the Palm, and that would pass through metal detectors as easily as, well, Anthrax.

So while I suppose the Palm is a wonderful device (my best friend loves his), and it definitely has marvelous capabilities, it obviously isn't for everyone.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006