FIRST LOOK: Palm organizers take practice

The Palm IIIx and other handheld computers are supposed to make your life easier.

And while they do have the ability to make your crucial data more portable and accessible, I found that they take a lot of practice to use properly.

3 Com Corp.’s Palm IIIx connected organizer was designed specifically for corporate users who require extra storage capacity for data applications, and offers twice the memory of the Palm III.

Those familiar with Palm organizers know that a lot of the data entry is built around the company’s Graffiti hand-printing recognition feature. In fact, the owners manual states that this is what you will be using most with the Palm. I disagree.

The Graffiti characters have to be duplicated exactly or they will not work. Consequently there are a lot of opportunities for error. I realize, to be fair, that I didn’t have the unit for very long, and it takes time and practice to render the characters quickly and accurately. Punctuation is particularly tricky – it took me at least 20 tries to make a question mark.

I know there are people who love the challenge of perfecting this kind of skill, but I am not one of them. And it makes me wonder how many busy executives, who are the target market for these devices, have the time for this sort of thing.

What I liked a lot more than the Graffiti feature was the on-screen keyboard that you can type on with the stylus. I found this to be worlds quicker as well as rating much lower on the frustration scale. (Although the stylus is wedged into its holder pretty tightly, probably so that it is not easily lost.)

Maybe it’s just me – I have always been a paper-and-pen kind of person. Before trying out this device, I preferred to write down information like phone numbers and schedules into a day-timer, or on little bits of paper. And I still do for the most part.

That said though, there were some aspects I really liked about the Palm. The best was its ability to sync up with a PC, since a lot of my information is stored there, and has already been typed in via a full-size keyboard. Setting up the desktop software that comes with it was easy, and the HotSync capability can synchronize up to 4MB of transmitting through an available COM port. (The trick is finding one on your computer.) This saves having to duplicate information that you already have stored on your PC, and can easily be then updated as needed.

The Palm can also be used as more than an organizer, if you are so inclined. It offers built-in e-mail compatibility with Microsoft’s Exchange and Outlook, Lotus cc:Mail and QUALCOMM’s Eudora Pro. New networking capabilities allow users to remotely access and update files via the corporate network, and can be set up to automatically import data from a file located on a remote server each time the device is synchronized with the desktop computer.

All that stuff is great if you are a remote user with a lot of mission-critical data, as many people these days seem to be. But personally, I don’t need to be that connected.