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Visor Whittles a Sharper Edge

March 29, 2001|MARK A. KELLNER | mark@kellner2000.com

Handspring's new Visor Edge is a thin, light and oh-so-stylish hand-held device that will indeed give users (and its maker) an edge in the marketplace.

The Edge is aimed at corporate users as well as those who don't want to haul the original inch-thick Visor around.

Palm Inc. also has its thin-and-light lineup, recently augmented with the announcement of two new models, but the Visor Edge presents several advantages that outdistance even the latest Palm offerings.

For one, there is no personal digital assistant platform better suited for expansion than the Visor. During the last year or so, many modules have come out offering incredibly useful options. Users needing a dial-up modem can find one from Thousand Oaks-based Xircom Inc. If music is your bag, the SoundsGood player (reviewed here Oct. 26) is a solid choice. The Eyemodule2 digital camera (reviewed March 8) is a handy way to take pictures. And Handspring's own VisorPhone, despite some sound issues, is the ne plus ultra of digital phones, offering 50 dialing presets and access to one's entire contact list.

Where does one install these accessories on the new, slimmed-down Visor Edge? Why, on the external "sled," supplied with the unit, of course.

Handspring has taken a page from Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq H3650 and gone the Texas company one better. The Visor sled is smaller than Compaq's, and it's free with the Visor Edge.

Compaq sells its sleds, and you'll probably find Citizen Kane's "Rosebud" sled at your local store before you find one from Compaq.

Another advantage, to which Palm is a late convert: Visor's docking cradle is based on the Universal Serial Bus technology, which makes the unit instantly compatible with Macs as well as PCs. The newest Palms use this standard, but today's Palm V, Vx and VIIx each rely on a serial port connection, which restricts its Mac-ability (unless extra hardware and software are added) and its speed to one-fourth of a USB hookup.

The Visor Edge USB cradle acts as a charging station for the Edge's lithium-ion battery, which the firm says will last four weeks on a full charge.

In performance, the Visor Edge is fast. The company says its 33-megahertz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor is the fastest in a Palm-compatible model. Palm itself has announced it will use the same chip for its new PDAs.

Along with a speedy processor, the Visor Edge has a nice software modification that enables you to look up names in the address book using one hand. Although not recommended for frequent use while zipping along the 101, the feature does work--and remarkably well.

The Edge's monochrome display is a bit brighter and has more contrast than earlier models. I'm told a color version of the Edge might arrive in the future.

There is one color advantage to the Edge: Models are available in silver, blue and red, the latter only via online ordering. Palm's newest models are available only in silver. Also, the Edge features a flip-down metal case that should protect the screen better than the Leatherette flap supplied with the Palm m500 series.

There is one other feature of the Edge and of other Visor models that is worth noting. Each has a built-in microphone, primarily for use with a device such as the VisorPhone module. Palms lack this feature, making the Visor line the only one that can be "built up" into a cell phone.

Palm has started incorporating a postage-stamp-size flash memory card in its new models that will beat Visor in one key area: adding acres and acres of memory storage.

You can add extra memory to a Visor now, but it requires using up the device's expansion slot. Handspring is considering adding a dedicated memory slot, though it hasn't committed to the idea yet.

But the 8 megabytes of RAM in a Visor Edge should be enough for most users, storing 12,000 addresses, 6,000 appointments and an equal number of to-do items and memos. With the fast look-up feature, a better case and the Springboard expansion system, the $399 Edge is a great buy.

*

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

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

Visor Edge

Price: $399

Manufacturer: Handspring

The good: Thin, light and stylish

The bad: Not much

Bottom line: A great buy

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