ISSUE 599: Zisman- Apr 17 2001
The high-tech office
Shortcomings of Visor
Deluxe jilt a potential suitor
As the owner of a monochromatic Handspring Visor
Deluxe PDA, I was looking forward to trying out the company's new Prism
model. The updated unit sports a screen capable of 16,000 colours. (By
comparison, the Palm IIIc is only capable of 256 colours.) The
Prism uses the Palm operating system, offering full Palm software
compatibility. It includes a Springboard expansion socket, allowing
easy plug-in of any of 50 or so gizmos and gadgets. And it runs its
processor at 33 MHz, slow by PC standards but about twice the speed of
most Palm models.
My biggest beef with monochrome PDAs has been the
relatively low-contrast screen. Dark-grey text on a lighter grey
background is hard on my eyes. Colour models promise something closer
to real black on real white, making for much easier viewing.
The Prism's screen was certainly easier to read,
though the white background still appeared a bit greyish to me. For
most uses, the additional colours compared to the Palm IIIc's 256
weren't apparent. But photos were much more realistic-looking with
16,000 shades available.
Still, any Palm-style model suffers by comparison to
the Pocket Windows competition. All Palm and Visor screens are 160
pixels square and photos are noticeably grainy as a result. Pocket
Windows devices from HP, Compaq and other manufacturers
squeeze 240 x 320 pixels onto their screen, resulting in tinier pixels
and smoother-appearing images.
There are other drawbacks as well.
Working in colour takes more processor power. By
putting a faster processor in the Prism, it ends up seeming about as
fast as my 20-Mhz Visor Deluxe. It you want a noticeably faster
Palm-style PDA, check out the 33-Mhz monochrome Visor Platinum, which
isn't slowed down by the demands of a colour display.
And colour drains batteries faster as well. My
monochrome Visor, like similar Palm models, gets a month or more of use
on a couple of AAA alkaline batteries. Handspring suggests battery life
of a couple of days for the Prism. Luckily (and like competitive Palm
and Pocket Windows models), it uses built-in rechargeables that are
topped up whenever the unit sits in its cradle.
And the Prism is thicker than monochrome models,
making it harder to stuff in a pocket. Like earlier models, it has a
detachable plastic faceplate, perhaps Handspring's worst design
feature. But on my monochrome model, I can remove the faceplate and
snap it onto the back of the case. With the Prism's extra girth, this
isn't possible. Expect to lose the faceplate.
Finally, there's the price.
Local retailers are selling the Prism for about $675,
compared to less than $400 for the older Visor Deluxe and about $475
for the speedy Visor Platinum.
And frankly, I can't justify the price difference for
improved readability and nice-looking photos. Only a little more money
will get a pocket PC PDA model such as HP's Jornada, Casio's
Cassiopeia or Compaq's Ipaq.
While their Windows CE operating system is somewhat
clumsier than Palm's, and there are fewer third-party applications,
their colour screens are much nicer than either Palm's or the Prism's.
Moreover, they include Internet access (with additional modems), Microsoft
Office file compatibility and much stronger support for multimedia than
any Palm-styled model.
Palm and Visor models continue to sell better than the
Pocket Windows PDAs. To a large extent, that's because of their
simplicity and the resulting lower price. The Visor Platinum combines
its colour screen with the added heft, lowered battery life and
high-end price of the Pocket Windows models, but doesn't follow through
with those models' added capabilities.
I really wanted to fall in love with the Visor Prism.
I feel like I was jilted.