OmniSky puts Web at your fingertips

Internet service, Minstrel S modem give wireless access-if you have the latest Handspring Visor.

Omnisky Corp.'s Internet service and Minstrel S wireless modem extend access to e-mail and the Web to users of Handspring Inc.'s Visor handheld devices, and in eWeek Labs tests, the pair did so simply and effectively.

However, due to operating system incompatibilities, the Minstrel S Springboard module, which shipped last month, can be used only with Handspring's recently released Visor Platinum and Prism models.

The Minstrel S costs $300, plus $40 a month for unlimited access to the Internet service. The hardware's price drops to $99 if its purchased with a six-month or one-year Internet service contract. This price is on par with other wireless modems and services, and because the modem is a Springboard module, it provides its own special benefits.

Unlike CF (CompactFlash)- or PC Card-based modems, Minstrel S carries basic modem applications in its 2MB of flash memory, which will speed deployment and ease use for those who plan to use the modem with a Visor.

However, the Minstrel S Springboard form factor limits the device's use to the Visor handhelds for which it was designed. Wireless modems in PC Card and CF card formats, such as Sierra Wireless Inc.s AirCard 300 and NextCell Inc.'s upcoming PocketSpider, offer greater flexibility in the number and type of devices with which they work.

The Minstrel S accesses the Internet via TCP/IP over the CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) network and offers a maximum transfer rate of 19.2K bps-slow by most Web browsing standards but comfortable for reading e-mail and doing limited browsing.

The Minstrel S extends about 2 inches from the top and about half an inch from the back of the Visor in which it is installed (see photo). The module adds 4 ounces to the Visor's weight.

Hold the cookies

In addition to standard tcp/ip access to the Internet via CDPD, the OmniSky service grants access to a number of content providers with online offerings optimized for the slow connection and small screen of the Visor. Users may also access Palm query applications designed for the Palm VII.

The OmniSky client application with which we accessed the optimized Web content offers the option of visiting other Web sites as well. However, we weren't able to visit Web sites that use cookies with the OmniSky client application. The browser returned an error message.

Because almost all Web sites use cookies, this feature of the OmniSky client is nearly useless. Instead, we recommend using another Palm OS-based browser application to visit standard URLs. We've had success with AvantGo Inc.'s AvantGo application.

The Minstrel S module ships with an e-mail application called Os Mail, which let us send and receive messages using as many as six Post Office Protocol-complaint mail accounts.

The Minstrel module contains its own lithium-ion battery, with a life between charges that OmniSky claims is 12 hours. Our experience during testing seemed to bear this out.