By Stephen H. Wildstrom In the world of Palm handhelds, spiffy wireless models like the Palm i705 or the Palm operating system-based Handspring Treo 130 get most of the attention. But the bread-and-butter of the business remains models that connect with the outside world only when they're put into a cradle to sync with a computer.
On Mar. 4, Palm Computer beefed up its line of nonwireless handhelds with the introduction of two new color models. One, the $279 m130, is the cheapest color Palm ever. The other, the $399 Palm m515, corrects the most obvious flaw in the model m505 it replaces -- a dim and somewhat murky display.
In their basic functions and specifications, the two models are fairly similar. Both come with the same software suite, which, in addition to the standard Palm address book, calendar, to-do list, and memo pad, includes DataViz's Documents-to-Go to read an edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents on a Palm.
AN INCH THICK. The m130 comes with 8 megabytes of user memory, the m5125 with 16 MB, and each has a slot that can take an SD or MMC memory card for additional storage, applications, or preprogrammed content, such as city guides. Both use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. While battery life is difficult to predict in handhelds because of widely varying usage patterns, the m515 should go about a week of normal use on a charge, the m130 somewhat less.
The big difference between the two models is in their dimensions and their displays. The m130 is part of Palm's m100 low-price line. Although it's the first to add color and a rechargeable battery, it shares a general design with the monochrome m105 and m125, most notably a thickness of nearly an inch.
It has the same 160x160-pixel display as all Palm products, but the physical screen size is relatively small, about 1 7/8-inches square. It also uses a relatively inexpensive reflective dual-scan color technology, rather than the brighter, and more expensive, backlit TFT technology of the m515. Even so, the m130 display is actually brighter than the original m505.
LIGHTER WEIGHT. The tough choice is between the m130 and the $299 Handspring Visor Prism. The two are identical in their basic functions. The Prism offers a bigger, brighter display, a larger battery for longer life, and ability to add a broad range of accessories through its Springboard slot. It main drawback: The Prism weighs 6.9 ounces, vs. 5.4 for the Palm m130.
The m515 shares its basic design with other products in the m500 series, including a case just a half-inch thick and a weight of just 4.9 ounces. Its color display is the brightest and most vibrant that I have seen in a Palm.
The big challenge to the m515 is Sony's Clie T615C, also priced at $399. They both have almost identical specifications except for the Sony's 320x320-pixel display. Though the higher resolution on works in certain applications -- the Clie automatically drops back to the 160x160-pixel format when it has to -- its ability to get four times as much information on-screen makes applications such as the address list and calendar much more attractive.
Neither of these new Palm products is particularly revolutionary. They seem more intended to allow the company to keep place with partner-competitors like Handspring and Sony that license Palm's software, an assignment at which they generally succeed. Wildstrom is Technology & You columnist for BusinessWeek. Follow his Flash Product Reviews, only on BusinessWeek Online