My mom has always been something of a gadget hound. The microwave. The cordless phone. The CD boom box. The Clapper. She was a consumer-electronics maven before it was fashionable. Radio Shack should have put her on its board of directors. So when she came to visit and started eyeing my handheld computer, I knew what was coming. "I've been thinking about getting one of those," she said pointedly. Perhaps it was a coincidence that her birthday was on the horizon.
Now, I am not particularly cheap. And I could think of lots of useful chores that my mother could put a Palm to. An add-on that turns the thing into a universal remote, for instance, could marshal her army of appliances. But the $399 Palm Vx that I have, with its 8 megs of memory and corporate-sleek design, seemed like more firepower than she needed.
Luckily for both of us, Palm last week announced a machine aimed squarely at the home consumer that will be perfect for her: the m100, for $149. I immediately bought one on Amazon (although the product isn't expected to start shipping until later this week).
I wasn't exactly going into this purchase cold. I've been playing with a pre-production model for the past month and think it's a great tool not only for my mom but also for most people looking for an entry-level handheld. The best thing about it is that it runs Palm's operating system. That means you can load virtually any of the thousands of free applications available on the Net for Palm compatibles.
But beyond that, some thought has gone into the kinds of things home users (as opposed to business types) might want in a personal digital assistant. It has the usual calendar, address book, to-do list and notepad, but also a readable digital clock available at the push of a button. And while most people will want to learn Graffiti (the scribbling technique for inputting text with a plastic stylus), the notepad also accepts jottings in your own handwriting. Say you meet a friend in a parking lot who gives you a phone number: you simply write it on the screen as you would on paper. Your message is saved in your own handwriting rather than converted to type, which is a great, fast way to capture small bits of info.
While the m100 is roughly twice as thick as my Vx and slightly longer, it has some decent cosmetic touches. Snap-on face plates, for instance, so you can color-coordinate it with your cell phone or shoes or whatever. And the flip-down plastic lid that protects the screen has a little porthole cut out so you can see the clock. This is not exactly revolutionary, but it's smart.
Some of the stuff on the m100 doesn't appeal to me. While you can "beam" programs and other data to any other Palm user within sight, the hardware for synching the device with your computer is more downscale. Instead of a handy "cradle" that attaches to your PC or Macintosh--so you can just drop the thing in--the m100 comes with a serial cable. It does the job, of course, allowing you to back up your m100 to your computer, download programs and Web pages and all the rest. But it's not as elegant. Also, while the m100's black-and-white screen is crisp and readable, it is somewhat smaller than the one on my Vx. Still, it ought to keep my gadget-hound mom happy. For a while, anyway.