Product Review: New Palm still lacks corporate appeal

Palm Inc. has made a big deal recently about how it truly cares about the enterprise market, so I was excited when Palm sent me its new wireless device, the i705. I expected a bunch of features that enterprise IT executives would like, but once I opened the box I felt that Palm was still catering to its consumer core.

Maybe Palm doesn’t care about corporations as much as it cares about enterprise workers who it hopes will bring the devices into their workplaces.

To be fair, there’s a lot to like about the i705, the successor to the Palm VII. If you ignore all the other devices that have launched since Palm VII back in 1999, the i705 seems like a step forward. The i705 has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (as opposed to two AAA batteries); includes a SecureDigital slot for expansion; the flip-up antenna, which was susceptible to getting broken off, is gone.

But the device still clings to Web clipping to surf the Internet, as opposed to browsers such as Handspring Inc.’s Blazer, which try to present Web sites as they actually are. While a future version of Palm OS will support full Web browsing, the i705 does not.

Also, the i705 runs on Cingular Wireless LLC’s Mobitex packet network, but there is no immediate plan for it to run on the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) network (Handspring’s Treo and Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry will in the future). GPRS will give faster data speeds and the benefit of being “always on.”

Speaking of BlackBerry, Palm is practically screaming that it has a device just like it. The e-mail features of the i705 promise to push e-mail to users as it comes into their mailboxes, just like BlackBerries do.

For the most part, that’s true. But the MultiMail application bundled with the i705 can only configure Post Office Protocol or Internet Message Access Protocol e-mail, which means accounts such as EarthLink Mail, Yahoo Mail or other Internet-service mail accounts. For corporate e-mail such as Exchange, you have to download the special MultiMail Desktop Link application. The application works like BlackBerry’s redirector software, in that it works on an always-running desktop, forwarding e-mail to a user’s i705 device. The heavy-duty Wireless Messaging Server software that will do this for large installations won’t be out until the summer.

I had some problems installing the MultiMail Desktop Link software. I made several attempts before figuring out that it doesn’t play well with BlackBerry’s own redirector software, which was on the testing computer. I uninstalled the BlackBerry software, and the MultiMail application behaved.

Once that was solved, I could receive Exchange e-mail, much like with a BlackBerry. It was cool to be able to put several e-mail accounts onto the device, and switching between accounts was relatively easy. There are only two options for notification of new e-mails – an annoying beep every time an e-mail comes in or a blinking red light. I prefer the vibration feature on my BlackBerry.

The battery life is somewhat of an issue, too. I got about two-and-a-half days of battery life before putting the i705 back in the cradle. This could limit professionals who travel for longer periods and don’t want to bring along a charging cradle. Conversely, you can go a week (or more) on a BlackBerry before you get nervous about a recharge. The bundled applications, including AOL Instant Messenger, MGI PhotoSuite and Palm’s eReader e-book application, are definitely consumer-focused.

The i705 has Palm OS on it, so you can run a bunch of other applications that you can’t on a BlackBerry or other devices. If your company already has rolled out some Palm applications, the i705 is worth a look.

But end users and early adopters who have played with or switched their gadgets since the Palm VII will likely be unimpressed by the i705.