Add a wireless modem to the wildly popular Palm IIIx (see Reviews , June 1999), and you've got the Palm VII. When you lift this 2MB, 6-ounce gadget's flexible antenna, the device instantly turns on; you're ready to go online wirelessly from wherever you happen to be. This kind of convenience can be heaven-sent when you're mobilebut it comes at a price.
Sending and receiving standard Internet e-mail (minus attachments) is easy and convenient, even when you're trapped in a taxi. Unfortunately, although you can cc outgoing messages to your Mac's e-mail account, incoming messages are forever confined to the Palm VII, which has its own @palm.net address.
Because of bandwidth and HTML issues, you can't freely surf the Web with the Palm VII; instead, you load miniature search engines onto the device from your Mac. Each of these Palm query applications, or PQAs, can grab data from a particular Web site in about 10 seconds. The 22 starter PQAs include those for Etrade (for stock prices), USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Moviefone, and Weather.com; you'll find dozens more at http://www.palm.net. Such instantaneous Web data can be a lifesaver on the road: the People Search PQA is a national phone book, MapQuest gives you turn-by-turn driving directions, and the Go PQA translates five languages. And with Palm Computing's free PQABuilder program for the Mac, you can even write your own PQAs using standard HTML.
Overshadowing all the good news, however, is the service price: $10 per month for 50K of data sent and received (about one e-mail and two Web searches a day), or $25 for three times as much. (Above your limit, you pay about 10 cents per screenful.) Worrying about your K count greatly curbs the exhilarating sense of freedom you'd otherwise get. Spending safeguards are everywherefor example, the e-mail program retrieves only the first 500 characters of each message, and you download the remainder at your optionbut they also serve as reminders that Big Byte Brother is always watching.
On one hand, the Palm VII is a version 1.0 device. The e-mail program needs more features, each pair of AAA batteries lasts only about three weeks, the BellSouth coverage could stand widening (it now covers the 260 most populous U.S. cities), and the whole affair cries out for an unlimited pricing plan. On the other hand, anyone who travels will find the device a life-changer. (When a recent flight was canceled, I used the Travelocity PQA to find a replacement flight on a rival airlineone that the desk agent had overlooked.) The bottom line: the Palm VII is the first one-piece, wireless palmtop, and it works.
RATING: PROS: Valuable to mobile types; elegant software. CONS: Can't transfer e-mail off the device; no coverage in rural areas; pay-per-K system is a downer. COMPANY: 3Com/Palm Computing (800/881-7256, http://www.palm.com ). LIST PRICE: $599 plus monthly fee.
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