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ISSUE 596: Currentz- March 27 2001

Alan Zisman

Gear Guide

Visor modules add amazing functions

Handsprings' hand-held computer becomes even more useful

While sales of big computers stagnate, sales of handheld devices continue to soar. Models by Palm make up about 60 per cent of the market, but Palm-compatible Handspring Visors are No. 2, with about 26 per cent of sales.

Unlike standard Palms, all Visors sport a unique Springboard expansion slot. As a result, there has been an explosion of Visor add-ons. Among more than 40 available are:

Just point and click

Weighing in around one ounce, Ideo's $300 Eyemodule2 is a digital still and video camera. Like other Springboard modules, when you plug it in, its software magically pops up on the Visor's menu. Batteries are not included... or needed. It runs off the Visor's own batteries.

The Visor's screen acts as a large viewfinder: just point and click. Pictures are stored in full-colour, even on a black and white Visor, in your choice of VGA size (640x480 pixels) or smaller Palm-sized (160x160 pixels). On my 8-MB Visor, I had room to store about 35 large pictures or several hundred of the little ones. Alternatively, you can take five-second video clips.

The pictures and video clips are transferred to your main PC or Mac in standard file formats when the Visor is connected. Very slick. (www.ideo.com)

Always know where you are

GPS (geographic positioning system) uses satellites to keep track of your position. Geodiscovery's $450 Geode is one of several modules that put this capability in your pocket, on your Visor. It uses the Visor's power to locate you on the map and tie you into guidebooks. Slots on the Geode let you expand it, adding up to 64 MB of maps, applications and content (www.geodiscovery.com). Or if you don't need to rely on satellites, guidebook publisher Lonely Planet's Citysync comes preloaded with guides to New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles (www.citysync.com). $75.

And have some tunes while you're there

If you're a Visor owner who's been glancing at digital MP3 players, maybe you should pop Innogear's $390 Minijam into your Visor. Assemble up to two hours' worth of MP3 music on your computer and shoot it into your Visor.

Since the Visor's built-in memory would never hold that much music, the Minijam adds from 32 to 128 MB of extra RAM, which can also be used to view pictures, store e-books, back-up data or programs.

Make that sale, too

Don't bother toting your notebook. Your pocket-sized Visor and Presenter-to-Go ($450) by Margi Systems (www.margi.com) lets you connect to a digital projector or computer monitor and present Powerpoint presentations, Excel, Word or HTML documents. There's even a remote control. You'll still have to create the presentation or document on a full-sized computer, but now you can leave it behind when you make your pitch.

And don't forget to phone Mom

Visor maker Handspring has its own line of Springboard modules. Visorphone (about $750) weds the handheld to a GSM cell phone (the system used locally by Microcell/Fido). While the brick-shape of the Visor is a bit awkward to hold as a phone, it comes with hands-free earphone.

The phone can make use of phone numbers stored in the Visor's address book. And compared to the micro-screen on a standard cell phone, the Visor's mini-screen is positively spacious. The result is a far better platform for wireless Internet, whether e-mail or browsing the Web.

At least that's the promise. I'm still waiting for these to make it across the border.


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan