When the original PalmPilot was released in 1996, nay-sayers predicted the pocket-size organizer would fail without two-way wireless capabilities like e-mail and fax. Why? Because allowing users to access the Web and send or receive messages anywhere, any time, is what users really want. This week, three years after the original PalmPilot's debut (and 3 million units sold), the Palm VII promises just that.
Does it deliver? The answer is a resounding yes. But the Palm VII (www.palm.com) doesn't come cheap. The base price is $599, plus $9.99 or $24.99 per month for the Palm.net service (for 50 or 150 kilobytes of transmitted data, plus 30 cents per additional kilobyte).
Still, if you take the plunge, you'll find that Palm's well-deserved reputation for simplicity and dependability remains intact. There's no paperwork to activate the service. You do it from the handheld in a process that takes less than five minutes. When you raise the Palm VII's thin, flat antenna, the gadget automatically turns on and displays a list of wireless applications.
E-mail works just as it would on a desktop; you can easily select addresses from your Palm's address book and compose your message using the pen recognition or the onscreen keyboard. The company's design savvy shows in its approach to Web access. Palm correctly assumes you need only short bursts of information while on the go, so it's devised a scheme called Web Clipping. When you click on a link or fill out a search form, the online service retrieves specific text-only information from a participating Web site.
In plain English, it means you can get sports and news updates, stock quotes and market info, door-to-door directions, weather forecasts, flight information and traffic reports. You can even order movie or concert tickets or purchase books, CDs and videos. More applications, like stock trading and home banking, are under development.
Is the Palm VII essential? If you spend most of your time at the office or at home, with access to the Net, the answer is no. But if you travel a lot, the ability to send messages while you're sitting at the airport or stuck in traffic is compelling. And there's that certain thrill of getting the score of the Knicks game while sitting in a restaurant or barreling down the highway. Geeks of all ages know exactly what we mean.