Color PDAs for All Pocketbooks

New Palm-based models display sharp, bright text and images

By Anne B. McDonald

If the new crop of handhelds using the Palm operating system is any bellwether, monochrome is out and color is in--for roughly the same prices monochrome-screen units commanded in the past. And the current PDAs' screens lure you with more than just snazzy color: Their sharpness and brightness really make them worth a look.

I reviewed two shipping color Palms: the M130 and the M515, which look exactly like their predecessors, the rounded-plastic M125 (with a monochrome screen) and the metal-bodied M505 (with a color display). Like the older models, these new Palms offer 8MB and 16MB of RAM, respectively, as well as Secure Digital card expansion slots. I also looked at a shipping Sony Clié PEG-T615C armed with a high-resolution active-matrix display, an ultraslim aluminum case, 16MB of RAM, and a slot to accommodate Sony's Memory Stick media.

WELL PRICED. At $279, the palm M130 is the least expensive color PDA with an expansion slot on the market. Its backlit, 2-by-2-inch display is bright--in fact, it seemed brighter when viewed indoors than the 2.25-by-2.25-inch screen of the M515, which costs $120 more. When viewed in direct sunlight, however, the passive-matrix screen of the lower-priced Palm M130 appeared washed out and virtually unreadable. While its backlight is adjustable, it stays on until you power down the unit. Although that means shorter battery life, in ordinary use that shouldn't be an issue, since the M130's included rechargeable lithium ion battery is topped off each time you put the device in its included USB syncing cradle.

UPGRADE IN A FLASH. Modeled on the wildly popular Palm V, the M515's vastly improved, user-controllable backlighting and sharp screen make it appealing both aesthetically and functionally. The active-matrix color screen can show up to 65,000 colors. Alas, though the unit's screen is brighter, its colors don't appear to be. But text on the $399 M515 is exceptionally legible both indoors and in direct sunlight. Both of the new Palm models offer vibrating, sound, and LED alarms, but only the M515 has Flash memory, which makes OS software upgrades easy. If the built-in 16MB of RAM is not enough for your extra programs and data, the Secure Digital card slot can handle memory cards and third-party applications, as well as peripherals such as modems.

In addition, both Palm units include MGI PhotoSuite Mobile Edition for storing, viewing, and sharing video clips and still images, as well as DataViz's Documents to Go for viewing, creating, and editing Word- and Excel-compatible files and for viewing PowerPoint files.

LOOK MA, ONE HAND. Sony's beautifully designed Clié PEG-T615C matches the higher-end Palm's 2.25-by-2.25-inch screen and $399 price tag, and one-ups it with its exclusive Jog Dial and Back Button. These two features make one-handed scrolling through menus and selecting items incredibly easy.

This Sony's screen is the sharpest and crispest display I've seen on a Palm-powered PDA. Text legibility in any lighting condition is superb. Colors seemed more pastel than primary; otherwise, the display is the best in the field.

The PEG-T615C's generous software bundle comes with DataViz's Documents to Go and Rand McNally's StreetFinder Express, among other titles. An embedded speaker supports PC-converted .wav and MIDI audio files.

The lower-priced M130 is fine if you're on a budget. The Palm M515 and Sony Clié PEG-T615C are comparable on price and quality, but the Sony's extras make it the ultimate winner--unless you prefer a device that handles the more widely available SD cards. If so, choose the M515.

From the May 2002 issue of PC World magazine

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