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Palm recently released new handheld organizers that are mostly fashion statements. Or, as it was expressed to me, they have broad consumer appeal. Yawn. Let’s just take a look at exactly what Palm is offering this time around. The m100 (street price: $149) is a visual departure from the boxier Palms of yesteryear. It’s lighter and curvier, and it fits your hand nicely — everything you’d want in an entry-level Palm, right? Wrong. It has some great features, such as a flip cover with a see-through window that reveals a pop-up alarm clock. And it has five fashionable color faceplates for $20 a pop. Palm even ditched the rarely used Expense program and added a graphical Notepad. You can now take notes without knowing Graffiti, Palm’s machine-readable handwriting. (However, several freeware and shareware products do the same thing: notably Dinky Pad, at www.daggerware.com, and HandWrite, at www2.wbs.ne.jp). So why am I still yawning? Along with the Palm IIIe it replaces, the m100 only has two megabytes of memory, and you can’t add more. That’s fine for the built-in applets and a few extras, but m100 owners may find it to be claustrophobic. Two other key omissions mar the m100 — no flash memory and no e-mail program. The absence of the first means that you must sacrifice precious regular memory to update the operating system. You’ll also need to reinstall the patches whenever your unit crashes and requires what is called a hard reset. The second forces m100 owners to find their own e-mail program. Forget about synching your messages right out of the box. The m100 ships with a serial HotSync cable only. If you want the desktop sphere-shaped cradle, prepare to part with another $30. The m100′s new shape also means that none of the Palm III or V series add-ons, such as clip-on modems, will fit. Other than the few m100 peripherals from Palm, be prepared to wait. It typically takes nine to 12 months for peripheral manufacturers to catch up. Another annoyance: The m100′s screen and writing area are substantially smaller than those of its predecessors. Palm owners have often complained how difficult it can be to read an e-book on the standard monochrome displays, so it will be interesting to see how their customers respond to the shrunken display, even with its higher resolution. Overall, the new appearance is quite engaging, but the m100 is mostly window dressing. Its chief rival, Handspring, still has the low-end market to itself. The Palm m100 just doesn’t offer anything compelling over the $149 Visor, unless you really like curves over substance. The low price and good looks might attract first-time Palm customers, but it could turn off more educated buyers. The new Palm Vx releases are also a fashion statement and not much else. The news is that there are two new colors, Millennium Blue and Champagne, and even — gasp — an aqua Claudia Schiffer limited edition, via her Web site at www.ClaudiaSchiffer.com. (Perhaps we should wait for the Calista Flockhart model — it gets thinner every time you see it.) When Palm introduced the V line, it set new standards of style and elegance. Competitors have yet to duplicate the brushed metal finish and sleek lines. If this is the best Palm can do to extend the line, I’m worried. At $399, the Vx ought to be delivering more than snappy colors and sex appeal. Palm probably did the smartest thing yet by releasing the VIIx. It’s a wireless Palm VII with eight megabytes of memory, compared with two megabytes in the original. Even so, it’s teaching an old trick to a new dog. But at least the model makes the VII series viable for power users. More than anything else, these latest entries emphasize how clueless Palm has been since it lost Jeff Hawkins and a good chunk of its development team to Handspring. To be fair, Handspring certainly had its share of problems with order fulfillment, manufacturing and operating system upgrades. But Handspring is delivering what people want — more functions, lower price and greater expansion capabilities. Palm has been promising new models with a new expansion slot and some form of wireless communications. These latest models smack loudly of buying time until the company can deliver the next generation. With Sony now a partner, perhaps Palm should step back from the hardware and simply license the software to those who can take it out of dry dock — before I have to run from the Love Boat edition. The palm Web site is located at www.palm.com. But if you want a low-cost handheld, consider the Handspring Visor, too. Visit www.handspring.com. Jeffrey Beard ([email protected]) is a legal technologist at Milwaukee’s Quarles & Brady.

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