Handheld Hunt

The old Palm IIIxe I got last Christmas has been running quite well, but there’s a small problem: its USB cradle is 9-pin serial, and the iBook has only USB and Firewire ports. It took some searching, but I eventually found the Belkin Serial-to-USB PDA adapter at Circuit City. Major shortcoming: it needs drivers to run properly, and Belkin provides none for OS X. So, for some months now, I’ve had to reboot into OS 9 to infrequently Hot Sync my Palm: an inconvenience I was willing to tolerate at the time. But now I want a change.

I had initially considered replacing both my Palm and cellphone with a Treo 180, especially after reading Dan Bricklin’s review, but it turns out that the Treo is only relatively affordable when purchased with an accompanying GPRS plan — which, though tempting, is well beyond my financial capacity to endure. (The only other alternative for “wireless internet” on the Treo is to have it dial in to your existing ISP — which is slow and costs minutes.) Considering that, plus the lack of any bundled IM software (for the moblog!), and the lack of an SD expansion slot, the Treo doesn’t seem right for me just yet.

Martin wowed me at his wedding with beautiful hi-res color photos on his Clié. That would be nice for my photography, if only the Clié had a slot for SD cards rather than just the proprietary Sony Memory Sticks. That, plus the prohibitive price, made the Clié a non-viable option.

The Treo 90 was looking good for a bit, with its small size, SD card slot, and color screen, but the $299 price tag gave me pause, even with a free DVD player thrown in. Not worth it to me.

Dell Axim X5? Uh, no.

As far as I can tell, the lower-end Palm m130 is the only decent compromise for me on price and features. It’s not tiny, and it’s not a PDA-phone, but it does have an SD expansion slot, good color screen, and long battery life. Plus, it’s relatively new and well-supported, unlike my current IIIxe, which was already antiquated when I got it.

All things considered, it looks like the m130 is gonna be it, unless some extra cash falls out of the sky. Maybe I can go for a better, cheaper PDA-phone sometime next year, after Palm buys Handspring and telcos let me keep my number.

Any other recommendations? Most important to me is either or both of these feature combinations: (1) GSM PDA-phone with instant messaging and SMS, or (2) color-screen with SD card slot. MP3 would be nice, too, but not required. Oh, and all for below $200. With free flying pigs.


  1. The Dane says:

    I never know what you’re talking about anymore.

  2. Raffy says:

    I remember seeing a third-party springboard module for Handspring for SD cards (and every other small storage medium). Plus, Handspring units are pretty cheap nowadays.

    Doesn’t Palm sell docking stands with USB connections for their IIIxe?

    I’ve gotten my hands on a Treo (a friend works at Cingular and is pushing the unit) and I’m not really impressed. For once, I actually agree with John Dvorak on his review of the Treo: It tries too hard to be both PDA and Cellphone and does neither particularly well. It suffers from identity crisis in that it can’t figure out what it’s really supposed to be. Should it be a PDA that you can call people on, or a phone that you can play Dopewars on (or some other PDA-ish use)? Blah blah blah.

    BTW, I have OS X at the office and I sync my Handspring Neo on the eMac with no problems.

  3. Paulo says:

    Raff – Nope, Palm doesn’t sell any kind of USB cradle or sync cable for older III-series models anymore. It’s really annoying.

  4. Bam says:

    Other than serving as storage for your PenCam, do you have any other compelling reason to use SD? I’ve agonized over expansion options for my gear in the past. But in practice, unless I have a compelling expansion option that I already have or will buy soon, I most likely will never take advantage of expansion slots.

    And I wouldn’t sniff at the MemoryStick because it’s “proprietary”; a better reason to reject it would be because the expansion options that are useful to you, today, are available on SD but not on MS.

    I bought a Visor Neo myself some time back, thinking that I’d take advantage of the Springboard slot but never got around to it — the need just wasn’t there. And the MS slot on my Clié isn’t seeing much use as I haven’t come close to filling up the built-in 16 MB (although I might if I used AvantGo or carried around more photos).

    If you don’t have immediate expansion needs, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the expansion slot.

  5. Paulo says:

    Bam – Largely it’s just the desire to preview my Pencam photos without having to crack open the iBook. You’re right about the Memory Stick; it might actually be useful to me in a couple of years when I have the cash to afford a Clie and a Sony Cybershot, which would be really nice, but this moment, SD expansion is the best option for me, and I don’t want to have to purchase a Springboard slot.

  6. Shirley says:

    Have you scouted around eBay for the III-series accessories you need? I also couldn’t a particular Palm III-series accessory in Fry’s, Good Guys, Best Buy and Circuit City, and in desperation I checked eBay–lo and behold, there were a lot of phased-out Palm stuff that were being sold there at great bargains.