capsule review

Color Handhelds

Once you use a color palmtop, you'll wonder how you ever got by without one. Sure, most Palm OS productivity applications don't require color, and many don't even use color. But when you work with an application that does, you'll be dazzled by how much more enjoyable the handheld experience can be.

The state of the art in color handhelds is embodied by two products: Palm's m505 and Handspring's Visor Prism. Both offer 16-bit color on a 160-by-160-pixel display, but they take very different approaches to adding color to the small screen.

Screen Gems

The Prism's true active matrix, backlit color display is by far the most readable of any handheld's, color or gray-scale. It is bright and crisp, has great color saturation, and is especially easy to read in dim light (though not in bright light).

In contrast, the m505 sports a reflective LCD color screen illuminated from the side. Its colors are noticeably dimmer than the Prism's screen, and the display is brighter along the edges when backlit--but the overall quality is fairly good. And because the screen is reflective, it works fine under strong light. In fact, you can extend battery life by turning off the backlight--something you can't do with the Prism.

Trade-offs

The m505 really shines in what it's missing. It weighs only 4.9 ounces, versus the Prism's 6.9 ounces. It's 0.5 inches thick; the Prism is 0.8 inches. And while the m505 can run for as long as three weeks on a single charge, the Prism lasts no more than two.

In addition, the m505 is just nicer-looking than the boxy blue Prism, and it has the very latest features, such as an LED and a vibrating alarm. It also comes with the latest Palm OS version, 4.0; the Prism still comes with version 3.5.2H.

The two products differ in other key areas: expansion, for example. The m505's tiny slot accepts cards compatible with the Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard specification, limiting the slot to memory expansion and content or application cards. The Prism has a much larger slot that accepts not only memory and application cards but also add-on devices, such as cell phones and digital cameras. The Prism is also less expensive than the m505.

In terms of logic boards, the two handhelds are nearly identical: each has 8MB of built-in RAM, a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor, an infrared transceiver, and a USB-based cradle. And both include Mac synchronization and Palm Desktop software on CD-ROM.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Finally, we have 16-bit color in Palm OS devices. The Handspring Visor Prism offers excellent color and more expansion options at a better price, while the Palm m505 is a smaller, lighter option with better battery life. But no matter which you choose, you'll be surprised by how much you were missing before you colorized your handheld.

Small, Shiny Objects The Visor Prism (left) meets the m505.
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