Palm Gets Wireless Right (Almost)

i705 wireless handheld's always-on capability mitigates slow network and limited browsing.

For handhelds to develop into a key enterprise asset, wireless access must be both speedy and well-implemented. Palm Inc.s new i705 wireless handheld provides one of the two, but that may not be enough to crack corporate billfolds.

The i705, released this week, is a dramatically overhauled descendant of Palms nearly 3-year-old Palm VII wireless device. However, the new handheld is still subject to the limitations of the pokey Cingular Mobitex wireless network on which both units operate, and it has the same browsing limitations: Web content arranged into handheld-friendly Palm Query Applications or URLs accessed through Palms proxy servers.

Handspring Inc.s new Treo smart phone, in contrast, delivers Internet connectivity via equally slow GSM networks, but boasts an upgrade path to the 2.5G speeds of GPRS and more flexible Web browsing capabilities.

The i705 costs $449 plus a subscription to the Palm.Net wireless service. Palm offers a $40-per-month unlimited service plan, or a $20-per-month plan with a limit of 100KB (20 cents per kilobyte beyond that).

Its in the mail

Where the i705 really shines is e-mail access. Taking a cue from the always-on wireless e-mail capability of Research in Motions Blackberry devices, the i705s integrated radio can be configured to remain on. Users are alerted to newly arrived messages by vibration or a blinking red light that sits atop the unit. (For the Treo, always-on operation will have to wait for network and software upgrades.)

We were able to retrieve messages from our corporate server with a desktop message redirection application called MultiMail Deluxe Desktop Link. This application, which is available for free download from Palms Web site (, performed well and was simple to use.

The i705 sports the standard Palm graffiti input area for scratching out notes and e-mails, but if users wish to go for an all-out Blackberry experience, they can buy a thumb-keyboard add-on from Palm for $60.

Palms new device packs wireless functionality and a Secure Digital expansion slot into a svelte form factor: The unit measures 3.06 inches wide by 0.61 inches high by 4.65 inches long, with a weight of 5.9 ounces.

The i705 is equipped with a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball processor, 8MB of RAM and 4MB of flash ROM on which Palm OS 4.1 comes loaded. We expected Palm to match the 16MB of RAM that Handsprings Visor Pro and Treo devices carry--a disappointment mitigated somewhat by the i705s SD expansion slot.

The lithium-polymer battery-powered i705--the first Palm device to feature such a cell--is rated at a week between charges. We got only three days worth in our tests before the battery ran too low to continue using the wireless features. To reach the full week, users should switch the radio off at night.

The i705 also comes bundled with DataViz Inc.s Documents To Go v4.0, which let us easily work with Microsoft Word and Excel files.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]

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