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The handheld computers of today pack considerable power relative to their size. The Handspring Visor Edge and the Palm m500 are two of the smallest handhelds available, and they're similar in many respects, though the Edge offers better connectivity and the m500 has a more compact, ergonomic design.

A Stylish Pair

Both PDAs are decked out in silver brushed aluminum; the Edge is also available in red and blue tints. And both are quite svelte, measuring only a half inch thick. However, at about five inches tall, the Edge is a good half inch taller than the m500. The Edge weighs almost five ounces, while the m500 weighs an even four ounces.

The m500 has a leather cover that folds back, and you can attach it to either side of the PDA; the stylus slips into a groove on whichever side is free, making the m500 friendly to lefties. In contrast, the Edge's stylus fits only on the right side, and it clips onto the outside of the handheld, adding bulk. Further increasing the Edge's girth are a hinge that sticks out and a lid that doesn't fold back.

Both handhelds have illuminated power buttons, which can be set to blink when you need a silent alarm, and the m500 can be set to vibrate. Both have screens that are easy to read indoors or in sunlight, and both offer reverse backlighting.

On the inside, these PDAs are almost identical. Each ships with 8MB of RAM, a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor, an infrared port, a rechargeable battery, and a USB cradle.

Reaching Out

Via the USB-cradle port, both handhelds can connect with modems, keyboards, and other peripherals, and both offer additional expansion possibilities. The Edge can connect to SpringBoard modules--including GPS receivers, MP3 players, storage media, and even cell phones--via an included snap-on adapter.

In contrast, the m500 has a slot for SD (Secure Digital) cards for adding storage or content. SD cards don't require an adapter and are about the size of a postage stamp. No hardware peripherals are available yet for the SD slot, but a few are in development.

The Software Factor

The m500 ships with Palm OS 4.0, which lets you password-protect your handheld, encrypt records, and connect your handheld to a cell phone for wireless e-mail and Web access. The Edge ships with Palm OS 3.5.2H2, and although users can't upgrade to Palm OS 4.0, version 3.5.2H2 offers all the basic features of its successor.

Palm Desktop, the Mac software that ships with both handhelds, runs in Mac OS X's Classic mode, but an upcoming OS X­native version will be available as a free download.

Macworld's Buying Advice

These two handhelds are light, powerful, slim, and Mac friendly. If you like the options that a SpringBoard slot affords and don't mind a little extra bulk, go for the less expensive Handspring Visor Edge. Otherwise, go with the Palm m500--it's smaller and has an ambidextrous design.m

The Handspring Visor Edge (left) and the Palm m500 Photo by SCOTT PETERSON
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