Palm III -Review

Palm III Picture

Palm III
Company: 3COM
Estimated Price: $399.00

For the past six months I’ve been using 3Com’s Palm III Professional Edition PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). It was about seven months ago that I noticed a growing number of Mac people talking about these units, which were already popular among PC users. I became interested in learning why so many people were investing in them.

The Palm PDAs were showing up all over the place. At work, I would see busy executive-types huddling outside the smoking area busy with their Palm IIIs (or the older Palm Pilots). While at the time I couldn’t really see a need for such a unit myself, the handheld PDAs seemed to have a huge following. Perhaps I was missing out on something? Perhaps I should be reporting on this much needed device to our readers? So after talking with 3Com, I procured a Palm III for review here in My Mac. (I’d like to take this time to publicly thank the nice people at 3Com for all their help in this endeavor.)

Recently, the Mac version of the connectivity software (MacPac II–still in beta testing as of this writing) was released, allowing your Mac to communicate and synchronize with the Palm III PDA. I’m happy to report to Mac users that this version greatly improves compatibility and ease of use. When I first started to use the Palm about two months prior to the release of Mac OS 8.5, I had no problems connecting the Palm to my Mac. However, once I updated to Mac OS 8.5 the Palm would no longer communicate due to incompatibilities in its connectivity software. But the release of MacPac II has corrected that. So if you are already a Mac Palm user, point your browser over to for the latest beta version.

After my initial “Cool, a new toy to play with” attitude subsided, I got into the habit of using the Palm III everyday. As I mentioned above, I didn’t believe I needed a PDA at first, but with the popularity of the Palm III, I wanted to give it a try. Hey, David Pogue from Macworld even wrote a book on it, so something must be there…

The software preinstalled in the unit consists of an address book, memo pad, calculator, an appointment organizer, and email (to access the Internet and email you must also purchase a Palm Pilot modem–an additional $129). Most of the bundled software is easy to use and very functional, though with the ever-growing Palm freeware on the Internet available for downloading, you should never run out of useful (and not so useful!) software for your Palm Pilot.

There are two methods to input information. The first (and much easier way to input and store information such as phone numbers and appointments) is to just use your Mac and simply transfer the data to your Palm. Of course, you could also enter the information into the Palm directly by using the built-in handwriting technology called “Graffiti.” Anyone who has ever used handwriting technology in the past knows what a chore this can be, but (in my limited experience) I have found Graffiti the easiest to use and learn. Unlike Apple’s now defunct Newton which learned the way you write, the Palm Pilot requires you to learn its handwriting style. Fortunately, it’s very easy to learn, and you can do online now if you point your browser to

3Com advertises that the Palm can “Store some 4000 addresses, 4 years of appointments (approximately 2400), 750 to do items, 750 memos, and 100 email messages.” I haven’t a need for most of that capacity, but many people will. Four years of appointments? Heck, I don’t know what I am doing a week from now! And 4000 addresses? I don’t think I need to remember where twenty people live, let alone 4000! But for a business person on the go, this may be just the ticket you need.

As I said, the bundled software is handy and will fulfill most people’s needs. But if you have to lug this very lightweight unit around with you everywhere, chances are there will be times when you simply want to get away from work and have a little fun. You can download a plethora of games and mindless activities from the Internet to use on your Palm Pilot, many of which are either shareware or freeware. I have found the Palm shareware market to be full of very innovative products of such high caliber to almost rival the rich diversity of Mac shareware. (Almost, but not quite!)

Rather than just test the unit like any other hardware, I decided to let other people, both computer literate as well as the technology challenged, use the Palm Pilot for an hour or so. I wanted to see how people reacted to its supposed ease of use. Did they think they would have a use for such a unit? What would they use it for? The reason I did this was simple: as I said, I never before had any everyday PDA needs which the Palm III could fulfill for me. And after a month of constant use, I still had no real need for such a unit. I don’t travel, and I’m home every night where my Mac is. If I’m at work, I also have a computer there I can use. If, by chance, I need something on a daily basis at work which is on my home computer, I can always email my work or HotBot email address. If it’s something I need very infrequently, chances are it would not be on the Palm Pilot to start. But perhaps I’m the rare exception, and most people do need instant access to this sort of information you can store on the Palm.

Adventures of Bob
The first person I let use the Palm was Bob, a businessman who is on the road all the time. He’s never in his office, and carries a not-so-small organizer with him everywhere. This thing bulges at its leather seams to the point of papers sticking out of it. But Bob knew right where everything was in that organizer. Sure, it was done in his own filing system, but that was all that mattered to him. All the information (and then some!) was in that leather case. When I presented him the Palm III, I asked if he would use it for a week. (Most testers I let use the unit only had it for an hour or two, but Bob was a rare case, and the typical Palm user, I thought) Bob was happy to give it a try, but warned me that if he fell in love with it I had to explain to his wife why he would have to run out and buy one.

After a week, I asked Bob what he thought. (In the proceeding week during his testing, he still carried his organizer with him everywhere, which now was even wider with the Palm also crammed inside). Bob asked how much one would cost, and after going over price and features, decided he may just end up buying one himself. I did want to get some of his thoughts, the good and bad, and he was happy to oblige.

The good: very lightweight. He could fit it into his organizer fairly easily. I asked him if this let him keep less paperwork in his organizer, such as phone numbers and memos. He said no, replying “What if the battery died on me? Or if I entered the wrong number or something? I need my hardcopy handy just in case.” While I can understand his hesitancy to completely trust his important information to a PDA, I did ask why, then, he was thinking of buying one himself. “I can use it to search, rather than rummage through my organizer. Faster.” Bob also liked the calculator. Of course, the one he had been using was made in the early 1970s and weighed almost as much as a large book. And the handwriting software was very easy for him to learn.

The bad: Bob could not see the screen very well. He would turn it this way and that to make the screen sharper. Even when he used the back lighting (a feature to illuminate the screen in darker situations) and adjusted the sharpness as much as it would go, he still had trouble making out the text onscreen.

Bob is also a fairly large man, and as such had trouble using the writing stylus with his chubby fingers. (His own words, not mine!) He used a Bic pen instead, just leaving the cap on, “though it may have been messy had I forgot to put the cap back on after I used the pen.”

All in all, Bob really liked the Palm, and was thinking of buying one himself. The price was a bit high for what he was using it for, however. He also mentioned that if he could find a Da Vinci PDA from Royal (which cost only $99) he would probably buy that and save some money.

The next person I let use the Palm was a lady named Lisa. Lisa is an Occasional Computer User, or OCU. Lisa plays a little on her Mac, and uses a PC everyday at work. She is far from a power user. Lisa spent about an hour with the Palm. I offered to let her take it home, but she professed “I would have no need for anything like that.”

Lisa is, however, a fairly good cook. I told her how she could download some Palm cookbooks or software to store her recipes on. “Why? I already do that on my Mac.” She did try and learn Graffiti, and while she seemed to have at least a good three-fourths of the letters down, she said she could never get used to it. Some people, of course, just don’t like change and are a bit afraid of technology on the whole. Being an OCU to begin with, I was not really surprised by her reaction.

What she liked: Very slim design. She could take it about anywhere, and it would hold a lot of information. “But I don’t have much info to put into it, really.”

What she disliked: She also couldn’t read the screen very easily. Nor did she like how the cover came off without much effort. She also didn’t like the fact that she had to unhook a printer just to do a hot-sync, the method of allowing the Palm and Mac communicate. She did, however, love the MacPac software’s calendar feature. She said she was going to download the betas for that reason alone, even if she doesn’t own a Palm Pilot. When I asked if any PDA would be worth buying, say at a price under a $100, she answered “Not unless it could change my TV channel, remote-start my car, and wake me up in the morning.” That’s some wish list! I felt like telling her that the Palm could actually do all three things right now–which it can–though I never tested out any of those features myself.

Continued next month…

MacMice Rating: 4

Tim Robertson

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