General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine
In this issue the Road Warrior looks at PalmPilot devices. The PalmPilot is a diminutive personal assistant capable of making your life much easier. Properly configured, this 4.5 x 3.5 x 0.75-inch wonder allows you to carry in your pocket a collection of vital (and not-so-vital) information, including:
1. Your complete address book.
2. Your calendar for the next five or so years.
3. Your to-do list/tickler file.
4. Miscellaneous notes.
5. Travel maps (which can be used in connection with global positioning system devices).
6. Text, including documents or papers that you may wish to review, books or magazine articles, or any other printed material.
7. Games (in case you get bored reviewing all that information).
8. A variety of other programs and utilities such as calculators, communication programs, and e-mail.
The PalmPilot is easy to use, easy to carry, and extremely flexible in application—it can be attached to a variety of peripheral devices such as modems, printers, keyboards, and global positioning systems. You can also exchange information between your computer’s data files and the PalmPilot. With compatible software, the exchange process is two-way dynamic, meaning that the computer database and the PalmPilot will each update the other, allowing you to make entries and changes to either database and keep both current. This process allows you to have an up-to-date calendar and address book that you carry with you at all times. The diminutive size of the PalmPilot compares favorably with the size and weight of paper address books and calendars.
All current versions of the PalmPilot have wired modems available and can connect with the Internet for e-mail. (AOL users: Please note that the e-mail programs I have looked at do not work with AOL at the present time.) The newest version, the Palm VII, comes with a built-in modem and the capacity for a wireless connection to the Internet (at an extra monthly fee). In addition to e-mail, the Palm VII allows limited web browsing, enabling you to obtain news, stock quotes, directions, etc. The Palm VII operates at a much lower connection speed, using a wireless modem, than the wired modems of the Palm V and the Palm III series. Then again, wireless has its own advantages, such as the ability to receive and send e-mail or obtain information from the web while on the road and without the need for a computer or hardwire telephone line.
PalmPilots come with proprietary software that can be installed on your computer to maintain and exchange basic calendar and address book information. Should you need (or want) a more sophisticated program, many personal information management (PIM) programs integrate easily with the PalmPilot, including Lotus Organizer (version 5 only), Time Matters 2.0 (a substantially enhanced version 3.0 will probably be out by the time you read this column), and Franklin’s Ascend, to name just a few. You can configure many programs to exchange information with the PalmPilot, but buying a program that is "Pilot Friendly" automatically facilitates the exchange of information. Almost all of the PIM software programs run well under $100. As an added benefit, most PIM software can also be used quite effectively to check for conflicts.
An excellent example of a Pilot-friendly PIM is Lotus Organizer Release 5 (not earlier versions), which I’ve used for about a year. It is well organized and easy to use, allowing me to keep track of my calendar, contacts, and to-do lists very easily. I also use the contact information as my conflict-checker, as I include my personal, professional, and client contacts in the database.
The PalmPilot comes with its own cradle and connects to a communications port on your computer. I leave the cradle permanently connected to the computer and update both databases daily, which takes only a few seconds. An even smaller and more portable connecting cable makes travel and use with a laptop even easier.
All of the Palm devices use special handwriting recognition technology known as "graffiti." Proprietary to the Palm devices, the graffiti alphabet takes some practice to master but ultimately is not significantly different from printing. Graffiti characters are quite similar to the standard printed alphabet, and, with a little practice, you’ll be able to enter information as quickly as writing it. The Pilot devices have a built-in software keyboard that allows hunt-and-peck but not touch typing, because of its size. You can also purchase a slightly smaller than standard-sized keyboard that connects to the PalmPilot and allows you to type information directly into it. PalmPilot data entry occurs through graffiti characters, use of the software or hardware keyboards, or transfer from another device (such as another PalmPilot or your computer).
Software for Pilot devices is available as "freeware" (no charge for its use), "shareware" (small license or use fee), or "commercial" (retail pricing). The good news is that there is a lot of software available; most of it doesn’t cost much, and even retail pricing won’t put much of a dent in your budget. You can also check supporting websites that provide software for the device, such as www.palmpilot.com, for resources and software, and www.palmnet.com for support. You can download programs to your computer and add them to your PalmPilot.
The newer versions of the Pilot (IIIx and later) have a significantly improved screen that makes reading much easier than on older versions. If you have an older version, take a look at the new screens—they justify the cost of upgrading. All of the PalmPilot screens, even the improved versions, have some problem with glare, however, and can be a bit difficult to read in certain lighting.
Various configurations of the PalmPilot are offered by 3-Com; its manufacturer’s suggested price ranges from $229 to $599. You can, however, acquire the units at substantially less from suppliers over the Internet. By way of example, as of October 4, 1999, www. shopper.com listed the following lowest prices for Palm devices: $170 for the Palm IIIe; $274 for the Palm IIIx; and $334 for the Palm V. The Palm VII is available only in metropolitan New York at the present time, and I haven’t yet found it for sale online. As 3-Com makes the device available in other areas, expect that discounters will sell it for less than the list price. When the VII comes out, expect the price on all others versions to drop.
All the Pilot devices work on batteries, primarily AAA cells. The Palm V has a built-in rechargeable battery. Battery life will vary by use and user; expect about one month of use from alkaline batteries.
This Road Warrior uses the Palm IIIx. The Palm V looks sleeker and fancier than the Palm IIIx, but it has only two megabytes of RAM and is not compatible with accessories for other Palm devices (although another line of accessories is available for the Palm V). The Palm IIIx comes with four megabytes of RAM and the capacity to expand and upgrade. If you travel and want to take electronic maps with you, if you have a large database of contacts and calendar information, or if you want to add various programs and utilities to your device, you will probably find the extra RAM quite useful. If you simply want to use the device as an electronic address book and calendar, two megabytes of RAM will take good care of your needs. To give you some perspective, my Palm IIIx now contains 29 programs in addition to those that came with it, three area maps, a fairly extensive calendar and address book database, a few news articles, and a small book. All of that information consumes less than three of the four megabytes of available RAM. Palm’s least expensive Pilot, the IIIe, a scaled-down version of the IIIx, has two megabytes of RAM, the same appearance and screen as the IIIx, but no capacity for upgrade or expansion. As far as I have been able to tell, all software works on all of the versions of the PalmPilot, subject to limitations of RAM and required accessories.
Despite problems with glare, the Pilot is a handy and cost-effective device that belongs in the briefcase of every Road Warrior. When the Palm VII comes to town, look for me near the front of the line, despite its limitation of 2 megabytes of RAM.
I am finishing this column on a plane on the way home from a meeting in Dallas. I think I’ll have a game of chess against my PalmPilot. n
Jeffrey M. Allen has a private practice in Oakland, California, oriented toward real estate and business. He is editor-in-chief of GPSolo & Small Firm Lawyer: Technology & Practice Guide , chair of the GPSSFP Section’s Technology Committee, and a former member of the Section Council. Jeff has written articles for several journals and frequently serves as a presenter at continuing education programs. He travels extensively in connection with his work, for vacations, and as a result of his participation in ABA and other community-service activities. He regularly works on the road. In fact, he drafted this column on a laptop computer while flying back from a meeting in Chicago.
Since the time that I wrote this article, but fortunately not too late for us to include this supplemental information, the Palm VII arrived in California. As represented, I already have mine. I am still disappointed that it only comes with 2 megabytes of ram, but I am very pleased with the device in virtually all other aspects. It looks like a slightly elongated Palm IIIx (about a half-inch longer).
The good news is that it has the same bottom configuration and connection, so all attachments that work with the IIIx fit the VII. The extra half-inch means that cases and holders for the IIIx will not work with the VII. The price has been reduced to $499 (substantially less than the originally estimated price). With the exception of the wireless communications features, it has all the same features and functions as the other Palm devices. The wireless communications capacity works surprisingly well, especially considering that the modem is relatively slow.
After inserting the batteries, you have to wait about an hour for the transmitter to charge up before using the wireless features. There is a monthly charge for the wireless connection. The cost ranges from $9.95 to $39.95, depending on usage. A special website has been established, and when you sign up, you get a Palm.net e-mail address. Through that address you can send and receive e-mail.
A number of Internet services are available to you for use with the Palm VII, some without cost, others for a monthly fee. Available services include (without limitation) MapQuest (turn-by-turn directions as you go), Fodor’s and Frommer’s guides, stock market quotations, access to Bank of America accounts, traffic reporting, weather information, various news services, the Wall Street Journal, and yellow and white page telephone directory information. The list of sites continues to grow.
A higher memory version will likely come out in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully, the company will have an upgrade available for those of us who choose not to wait for the next iteration. If you planned on filling up memory with maps, the MapQuest site makes that largely superfluous and you may find that you can get by with less memory. (After adding several more programs and websites and my personal calendar, address book, etc.—but no books or documents—I still had 687k of available memory left.)
A Word about the Competition
3 Com has decided to license its Palm OS. In the last two months, two companies have announced their own versions of PalmPilot-like hardware using the Palm OS. Since the systems are based on the Palm OS, we expect that they will have full compatibility with most, if not all, of the countless programs now available for Palm devices.
The competition will include the Visor offered in two iterations by Handspring. The basic differences between the Visor and the Visor DeLuxe are eight megabytes of memory in the DeLuxe (two in the standard); a list price of $249 versus $179; and five color options for the case instead of one. Both versions come with the basic organizational tools found in all Pilot and Pilot-like devices: address book, calendar, to-do list, memo pad, expense tracker, a calculator, and a clock. The Visors also come with expansion slots for modules such as pagers, modems, GPS receivers, game packs, extra memory, etc.
TRG has announced the TRGpro that will also come in two versions, one with eight megabytes of memory and the other with two megabytes. Also based on the Palm OS, the TRGpro includes an expansion slot that is supposed to accept standard CompactFlash cards. We have not yet received price information on these units.