Palm m50

Reviewed by: David Cantrell

Because of a fault with my Palm Vx, I recently upgraded to a m500. The fault was probably corrupted serial software which no doubt would have been fixed by a hard reset, but that would lose all my data, and due to the nature of the problem, I couldn't rely on my backups. Yes, my data is worth more than my hardware. A lot more.

I bought the m500 because it has approximately the same dimensions as my old Vx, and almost all the same features. It isn't exactly the same size, weight and shape, but when holding it in my hand I can't really tell the difference. This is a Good Thing. I would have preferred the m505 because the colour screen has higher contrast, but couldn't negotiate a good enough price.

The hardware has, obviously, changed somewhat. I don't know whether the CPU has changed, but several operations feel slower. I suppose this could be an OS 'feature'. The screen is apparently new as well. In good light it is somewhat higher contrast, and in very bad light the backlight is improved. But in only mediocre light things are slightly worse than the Vx, and the backlight makes everything invisible! The polarisation of the screen has changed by about 40 degrees. I used to get excellent contrast in just about any conditions whilst wearing my shades, but no more. Syncing is much faster, thanks to USB, although for me this benefit is only marginal, as the vast majority of my syncing is Avantgo, and thus limited by the speed of the Inertnet. Moving on to the case design, it is pretty similar to the Vx. Having seperate buttons for up and down is better than the old rocker button, but the power button/LED feels cheaper and more plasticky. The Vx had a groove down each side for storing a stylus and for attaching a cover. They were the same size, allowing for easy left- or right-handed use. The m500 has them different sizes, thus penalising sinister customers. And on the subject of covers, the Vx had a hard protective case available. The m500 does not. I bought a protective leather case, but it is substantially inferior - it is much bulkier and can not be opened as quickly.

New features are a result of having an updated OS - v 4.0 - which adds a flashing LED and vibrating alert for alarms, more networking facilities, improved informational screens in the launcher, and support for memory cards. Of these, the improved alarm features are wasted on me, as I rarely use the alarm; the networking is also pointless, as I already have Avantgo (the new "web clippinqs" seeming like a second-rate alternative), and I have no desire to run up an enormous mobile bill; the launcher improvements are great; and I don't have any memory cards - nor do I see myself buying any soon - so can't test that. There may be other additions I haven't found yet. So far, all my software seems to still work, including hacks and apps like Memo Plus which replace built-in apps but use the same database. So overall, the OS meets my requirements with minor improvements.

'Graffiti', Palm's sort-of hand-writing recognition, seems to be significantly degraded. In particular it has difficulty distinguishing between i and l and between c and f. The single-tap shift is frequently interpreted as a space. Not impressive, but I'll persevere in case this is due to bad habits I got in to with my Vx, which had a rather worn Graffiti area from heavy use.

Moving on to the apps, there are few major changes. Built-in apps seem to still do all they did before (note that I never use the mail app so can't comment on that). There is an extra app, the Notepad, which allows the user to scribble directly on the screen. This is an exceptionally pointless idea. Normal hand-writing is damned near impossible on the screen; and it does not seem possible to attach scribbles to Memopad textual notes - something which the payware app Memoplus does very well. So Palm get no points for this new app. The Expense app has disappeared, which is a Very Bad Thing indeed. I gather from various online sources (this is not mentioned in the manual, not even in the 'upgrading from an older Palm' section) that I am meant to use the DocumentsToGo application from the CD. But this is useless to me, as it requires me to have MS Excel installed on my Mac. And, being an add-on app, it takes precious RAM. Rather a lot of RAM too. So I use the shareware app Expenseplus, which, while still taking a honking great wad of RAM has a free trial which fits my current needs, and if I need the full version, it's cheaper than Excel.

I was hoping that some shortcomings of the built-in software would be fixed. But no, there's still no way of linking to address book entries from the Diary or To-do list. And diary entries still can't span multiple days without setting up a repeating event.

So overall - I'd say that you're marginally better off sticking with a Vx. If you can find a new, unused Vx, buy it. But failing that, the m500 is adequate.