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Vindigo Makes the Palm an Essential Leisure Tool

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch review? This software can fill your digital assistant with up-to-date listings for places to eat, shop and play in several major cities.

October 19, 2000|KAREN KAPLAN | karen.kaplan@latimes.com

I used to think it would be a hardship to live without my Palm IIIe hand-held organizer. Now I know it would be impossible.

What transformed my trusty personal digital assistant from merely a handy gadget into an essential piece of hardware? In a word, it's Vindigo--a completely portable, constantly updating and absolutely free dining, shopping and entertainment guide that tailors its information to the neighborhoods you care about.

Looking for a nearby Indian restaurant? Ask Vindigo. Need an emergency pair of pantyhose? Turn to Vindigo. In the mood for jazz? You guessed it--Vindigo.

In the words of one financial analyst and Vindigo devotee: "If you have a Palm Pilot and don't have Vindigo, you don't really have a Palm Pilot, just an overpriced address book."

After a few weeks using the recently released Los Angeles version, I realized how true the sentiment is.

Vindigo's main menu is divided into three categories: eat, shop and play. It's best to start by telling Vindigo where you are so it can provide relevant listings. The Los Angeles version covers an area from Redondo Beach north to Brentwood, east to downtown and north to Pasadena. Vindigo Inc., the New York firm that makes Vindigo, has no specific plans to expand its coverage area to other parts of Los Angeles or to Orange County.

Vindigo's Los Angeles restaurant reviews are powered by Zagat, the popular dining guide. The 700 listings are divided into dozens of categories such as Italian, seafood and "in" places. Vindigo users can generate listings of burger joints in their neighborhood and rank them according to Zagat's ratings for food, decor, service and cost.

Tap on the name of any restaurant to get its location and phone number. Tap "Review" to get a concise description of the place. Then tap "Go" to get directions from the intersection nearest you. After eating, if you'd like to submit your own review, just write it up in the "Notes" section and it will automatically be sent to Zagat the next time you HotSync your PDA.

Vindigo's shopping section works in much the same way. Store listings, provided by Inshop.com, are under 17 categories. As with restaurants, Vindigo lists stores closest to the user's neighborhood. Tap on a store name to get location and phone number, and tap "Go" to get directions.

Eating and shopping are nice, but let's face it: What we really want to do is play. Vindigo's "Play" category is split between "Movies" and "Nightlife." The night-life section follows the familiar pattern, with listings of about two dozen kinds of venues--ranging from bars to ballroom dancing--provided by Clubplanet.com. Select a category, tap on a name to get the address and phone number, read a review, and tap "Go" to get directions, though sometimes they aren't available.

But by far, Vindigo's most impressive feature is its movie listings. Let's say you're in the mood for an action flick. Tap the "Action" category and get a listing of the current action movies. Tap any title and Vindigo gives you the movie's Motion Picture Assn. of America rating, its run time and a list of stars. Tap "Synopsis" to get a thorough plot summary courtesy of Hollywood.com, then tap "Theaters" to find out where and when it's playing. If you find a convenient show time, tap the name of the theater to get its address and phone number, then tap "Go" to get directions.

If your priority is to catch a movie nearby, begin your search by tapping "Theaters." You'll get a listing of the theaters closest to you. Tap the name of any theater to get its address and phone number, then tap "Movies" to see what's playing. If you find something you like, tap "Go" for directions to the theater.

Like most Palm programs, Vindigo is easy to use without reading any instructions. The Web site at http://www.vindigo.com walked me through the download process, and it took 13 minutes to install it on my Palm--significantly longer than a typical HotSync session. During subsequent HotSyncs, Vindigo automatically dials into the Web and heads for the Vindigo site to get current listings.

How can Vindigo offer all this information free? Some screens leave three lines at the bottom for unobtrusive, text-only advertisements, and Vindigo expects to make money by selling ads.

Vindigo has attracted nearly 200,000 users since it hit the market seven months ago. In addition to Los Angeles, the program is available in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Fort Worth and Philadelphia. Vindigo suggests you set aside 642K for the Los Angeles program, but mine takes up only 545K. Most of the other cities require less memory. Vindigo is available only for hand-helds that run on the Palm OS, and so far there are no plans to release a version for PDAs running on Microsoft's Pocket PC software.

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Times staff writer Karen Kaplan covers Southern California technology companies.

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The Skinny

Vindigo

* Price: Free

* Niche: Entertainment guide

* Developer: Vindigo

* Availability: Downloadable at http://www.vindigo.com

* System Requirements: Palm OS 2.0.5 with Windows 95 or Mac OS 8.0 and an Internet connection

* Bottom Line: Essential

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