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Gadgets on Visor's Horizon

November 02, 2000|MARK A. KELLNER |

The Handspring Visor was the second consumer gadget to use the Palm Computing operating system. Little wonder: Handspring's founders, Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, created Palm Computing before selling it and establishing their new venture.

When the Visor debuted last year, a key element of its promise was on the back of the hand-held unit. While the front looked very much like a Palm Pilot, the flip side contained a "Springboard" expansion slot into which attachments for all sorts of devices could fit: a monitor to track your heart rate during exercise, a Global Positioning System for navigation, even a pager. At last year's launch, however, the only module to ship was a pre-production version of "Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf."

Duffers might appreciate the combination golf game and score tracker, but it was nowhere near as useful as, say, a pager would have been. A year later, the dam has finally broken and devices are starting to arrive. A bunch of communications devices will hit stores soon, most notably a cell phone plug-in, a land-line modem and some wireless options.

Other gadgets are available now, including Good Technologies' $269 SoundsGood audio player and the $149.95 Eyemodule digital camera from Blocks Products.

Of the two, the SoundsGood might be the better buy. It's competitively priced with other digital audio players and offers 64mb of storage space for music or audio files. The sound, which comes through a set of tiny earphones, is astoundingly good. Having the music on a memory chip means no skips or shakes when moving around.

The player draws power from the Handspring Visor's batteries but does not require the Visor to be on when playing music, saving some juice. Good Technologies said it plans to release this month a separate, $40 energy clip that attaches to the device and allows it to work apart from the Visor. Another promised accessory will pipe the sound from the player to a cassette deck for playback through a car stereo.

Software supplied with the SoundsGood player will find music and audio files on your desktop PC and let you designate the ones you want to transfer to the player, as well as those you want to remove from the device. A version of the MusicMatch media player is also included for desktop use.

The SoundsGood player offers a tantalizing vision of portable audio. Along with music, services such as at promise downloadable feeds of customized news and talk programming. For example, stories from the BBC and other providers can be gathered daily and loaded on a portable player. For rail and bus commuters, this could be a blessing. Drivers will want the car adapter, unless they want to risk a ticket for wearing headphones while driving.

The Eyemodule camera is another interesting, but ultimately less useful, device. It takes pictures in black and white or color, up to a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels per inch. Roughly the size of a James Bond-style spy camera, Eyemodule turns the Visor's display screen into a viewfinder. A press of the camera button captures an image.

When the Visor is loaded in its desktop synchronization cradle, photos are sent to a file folder on a computer's desktop, where they can be managed with software on a CD-ROM supplied with the camera. From the desktop, the pictures can be inserted into e-mail, used on Web pages and so forth.

Picture quality is barely acceptable in both monochrome and color; users seeking a tiny means of getting photos for their next gallery exhibition will be disappointed. Test photos were grainy and good for little more than rough approximations of a given item. You'd be better off with a stand-alone digital camera for high-quality images.

One downside to both products: The software supports only Microsoft Windows users. Kodak says it will offer Mac software for the snap-on digital camera it sells for the Palm III and similar devices. Those making gadgets for the Handspring Visor would do well to follow Kodak's lead.


Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News.


The Skinny

SoundsGood audio player

* What it does: Turns a Handspring Visor into a portable jukebox

* Price: $269

* Manufacturer: Good Technologies

* Niche: Technophiles who don't want to buy an MP3 player

* The good: Great sound with no skipping

* The bad: Triple the price of a portable CD player

* Bottom line: A neat gadget but hardly essential


Eyemodule digital camera

* What it does: Turns a Handspring Visor into a digital camera, sort of

* Price: $149.95

* Manufacturer: Blocks Products

* Niche: Folks who want Game Boy Camera on their hand-held device

* The good: Not really sure

* The bad: Terrible image reproduction

* Bottom line: Buy a real digital camera instead

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