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Handspring Visor Pro Review
By Ed Hardy
The Visor Pro is Handspring's new mid-range model with 16 MB of memory. It has a monochrome screen and runs off rechargeable batteries.
The biggest new feature in the Pro is the amount of RAM: 16 MB. This is the largest amount ever to ship on a Palm OS device, double the amount on even high-end handhelds. This is a welcome feature and one that users have been asking for for a long time. In fact, there is a whole cottage industry devoted to upgrading 8 MB handhelds to 16 MB.
While many handhelds have expansion slots to increase their memory capacity, it is tough to beat the speed and convenience of RAM. Look for future models from other manufacturers to follow in Handspring's footsteps.
The size and weight are decent, just barely small enough to carry in a pants pocket. It isn't really a candidate for the shirt pocket. It fits well in the hand, though it is a bit larger than I like.
It looks professional, if a bit dated. This is what handhelds from a few years ago looked like.
Handspring needs to make another try at creating a smaller handheld with a more up-to-date look but this time not let the people who designed the Edge have anything to do with it.
I still have the Sony S320 I wrote a review about a while back and I compared the two screens. The Pro's is noticeably brighter with better contrast. That's not a slap against the S320, but the better screen on the Pro helps justify its higher price.
I was disappointed to see that Handspring is still using the reversing backlight. This means that when the backlight is on, what was black becomes white and vice versa. While this works fine in very dark conditions, in dim light the screen is almost unreadable. Fortunately, there are hacks available that stop the reversing and I recommend them highly if you get a Pro.
The Springboard was the first expansion slot to appear on a Palm OS device, though no longer the only one. Other handheld makers have now taken a page from Handspring's book, though they still lag far behind.
The great strength of Springboards is that they are plug and play. This means that if you pop in, say, the VisorPhone, the application you need to use it will be immediately available without you having to mess around with drivers. You have to give Handspring credit for this, it just works.
The drawback to Springboards is most of the interesting or useful ones are a bit pricey. For example, the Thinmodem-plus 56K modem is $150. The HandyGPS Pro costs $230. A simple 8 MB Flash memory module is $55. Just a couple of Springboards can quickly add up to the cost of the Visor.
As is fairly standard, the Pro is charged by putting it in the cradle.
The major new features in OS 4 are support for new hardware, including expansion cards, USB, and 16-bit color. Handspring has had its own expansion card system for years. The USB support that is in OS 4 was actually written by Handspring and is included in their version of OS 3.5. Handspring also wrote the 16-bit color support that is in OS 4 but the point is moot because the Pro doesn't have a color screen.
There are some minor features that OS 3.5 lacks but I don't think they are reason enough to pass on this model.
Like all Handspring models, the Pro lacks Flash ROM, which means the OS can't be upgraded, though patches can be applied. This is another reason why I think Handspring may have passed on OS 4. It is still fairly new and all the wrinkles haven't been ironed out yet. If the Pro had it, fixing the bugs would be much more complicated.
The next major operating system change is going to be the switch to OS 5, and that's really about support for ARM-based processors. At this point, I haven't seen anything about OS 5 for Dragonball-based handhelds.
When this is enabled, names can be looked up by using the hard keys to specify if each letter in the name is in the first or second half of the alphabet. For example, to look up the name "Don", you would press the up arrow key to invoke the look-up function, then press the To-Do key to say that the first letter is in the first half of the alphabet, then press the Memo key to say the second letter was in the second half, then press the Memo key again to say the third letter was in the second half of the alphabet. Theoretically, this should give you a list of all the people whose name is "Don". It will also give you everyone whose name is "Ann" because that name also fits those criteria.
The process works the same for looking up last names except that you use the Date Book and Address Book buttons. You can combine looking up first and last names, too, so you can specify the first three letters of the last name and the first two letters of the first.
In practice, this works surprisingly well. I have a hundred or so names in my address book and, after a bit of practice, I can find a specific one quickly. It's really handy when you're standing with your handheld in one hand and your mobile phone in the other to not have to pull out the stylus to get the number you want to call.
This is nice but it is a bit limited. You can't have both an audible alarm go off and have the LED blink and the maximum amount of time it will blink is 15 minutes. I think it would be better to give us the option to have it continue to blink until we manually turn it off.
What makes sense to me is to have the LED work as permanent notification that an alarm went off. Say you go off to a meeting and don't bring your Visor. While you are gone, an alarm goes off. After a few minutes, the Visor shuts itself off but the LED should continue to blink. When you get back, you can see that you should turn your Visor on and see what you missed. Blinking for 15 minutes just isn't long enough.
I have to admit that I've never been a fan of the Visor's cover. It can clip on either the front or back and gives the serial port a bit of protection, both of which I like, but having to manually unclip it and then clip it back on is a bit of a hassle. I prefer a flip cover of one kind or another.
On the left side is the infrared port. It's there because just about the whole top is taken up with the Springboard slot.
In addition to the standard Date Book, the Pro has Date Book+, an enhanced version that includes some extra features, like an improved weekly view, a yearly view, and a list view.
However, someone wanting to upgrade their low-end handheld who doesn't want to spend the extra $100 on a color model and who likes the hardware expansion capabilities of the Springboard slot will be satisfied with the Pro.
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