A Rainbow in Your Hand

Handspring's visor prism sports a lush, color screen

Handspring has done what Microsoft hasnt been able to do: push Palm to innovate its hardware. Handspring, which licenses the Palm Operating System for its handhelds, was ahead of Palm again with the release last fall of the Handspring Visor Prism, featuring a brilliant, high-color screen.

Weighing in at about 7 ounces, the Prism drags down a shirt pocket more than its siblings — the Visor Platinum, which is faster than Prism but has a monochrome screen, and the recently released Visor Edge, a thin model that weighs just 4.8 ounces. The Prisms color screen requires a power boost greater than the AAA batteries that power most handhelds, so it includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. A full charge, which takes about an hour, lasts close to two weeks with typical use.

Adding colors galore — 65,536 to be exact — on the Prisms 160-pixel-by-160-pixel screen introduces wonderful new options. Tired of whipping out your wallet to show pictures of the kids? Whip out your Prism instead. Color also means its more fun to play games: You can play solitaire on airplanes just like your seatmates, but without the bulky laptop.

Eight megabytes of memory also make the Prism much larger inside than outside. Unless you eat up too much memory with third-party programs, the Prism will hold 12,000 addresses, 10 years of appointments, 6,000 memos, 6,000 to-do items and 400 e-mails, according to Handspring. Theres always room for one more to-do item in this handheld.

Synchronizing the Prism to your PC couldnt be much easier: As with other Palm OS-based devices, you just plug the Prism into the HotSync cradle and push a button. It also synchronizes more quickly since the cradle now connects via a Universal Serial Bus port at 1.5 megabits per second, rather than the much slower serial port connection of previous models.

The one-upmanship between Handspring and Palm — which operate in a delicate "coopetition" relationship — continues apace. In answer to the Prism, Palm next month plans to ship the m505, a high-color handheld that mirrors many of features of the Prism and carries the same price tag of $449. At 4.9 ounces, though, Palms m505 is slimmer than the Prism.