The Power of Mac

I Shall Call It Mini Mac!

Eric Schwarz - 2002.02.19

A few months ago I recently purchased a Palm Vx without knowing much about the PalmOS computing platform, other than the various reports in Macworld, MacAddict, and the Web. What I learned from my own experiences was entirely different (and alike) from what I had read.

Staples had a deal where you bought a Palm Vx for $199 and you also got a bunch of extra accessories for free. These included a Magellan GPS module, a Targus case and mini-keyboard, a Palm hard case, and a CD full of little add-on goodies. Let's just say that the value of all of this was much more than $199 - at least in my opinion.

First Impressions

At first glance, the Palm Vx is tiny. It's barely thicker than what the screen, battery, and stylus. The Palm hard case (which is brushed aluminum and colored blue) is barely bigger than the Vx, which makes a sleek, small, handheld organizer. The one peeve is that to use any of the add-on accessories, I have to remove it from the case. This is also true when trying to put it in the sync cradle (I worked around this - see below).

No MacPac? No Problem.

What I did first was sync it to the computer I knew it would work with (sort of). At the time, there was no MacPac cable available to buy, so I was going to get it later. For the time being, I decided to use my Vx with our Windows PC (yuk).

Setup was rather easy. The entire process was quick and very Mac OS Setup Assistant-esque. The overall look of the PalmOS reminds me of the days when I used a Mac SE and a PowerBook 180.

Then I got an idea - since the MacPac was just a DB-9 connector to 8-pin Mac serial connector adapter (or so I think), what if I could make my own adapter? After all, Palm did include a DB-9 connector to DB-25 connector for those with older Windoze PCs, so couldn't I connect that to the cradle and a Mac serial to DB-25 modem cable together using this? I pieced these three together, downloaded the Palm Desktop software, and tried to sync with my Power Mac 7200/90. To my surprised it actually worked!

Goodies

A Palm is just like a Mac - you can customize it all you want. There aren't really any limits. Looking on the Web, I found many resources. First of all, I downloaded AvantGo. This free service downloads Web content off the Internet and into the Palm's RAM. There are all kinds of Web sites, including Yahoo!, Reuters News, AccuWeather, CNN, LEM Mobile, and various other categories that have many, many items.

Also, I downloaded SilverScreen from Pocket Sensei. This program makes the PalmOS even more Mac-like. Things are instantly turned into shades of gray, you can drag things, there's a trash can, as well as customizable icon packs, themes, and better scroll bars. It's worth every penny.

There are tons of free programs that will run on this platform. DataViz's Documents To Go may be added to my list of things to buy, since it allows you to take MS Office, AppleWorks, etc. word processing and spreadsheet documents with you and edit them.

Games, Too!

Well, I'm not much of a computer games player myself, but I figured I'd load a few games on my Palm Vx. After all, there are boring periods when I need to waste time. I loaded PacMan, Tetris, SimCity, and chess on there. There are many classic 1980s games available, and lots of old Mac games have ports.

The Truth

Upon reading, I noticed the Palm family of handhelds use a Motorola DragonBall EZ processor. This is in the 68k class, so I guess it could be considered a Mac relative. The 16-shade grayscale screen and 8 MB RAM really reminds me of my PowerBook 180.

Of course, Palm is in the process of developing (and releasing) a replacement for their 68k handhelds. The new ones, based on RISC processors, will be able to emulate the current models to run older applications. Doesn't this sound like a 1994 Macworld article (68k to RISC, OS licensing, a new OS waiting in the wings)?

To Wrap Things Up

Overall, I found the Palm Vx to be a very satisfying accessory for my Mac.

Would I spend over $300 for something like this? No. Something like this is an accessory, not a computer replacement. Anything higher almost rivals the prices of a good used PowerBook.

I know the Palm Vx is now considered kind of obsolete, since it doesn't have any expansion slots, color, or the new universal connector that Palm's been touting, but this isn't a technology that changes every two years. Sure, new things are added, but the Vx is a lot like the old USRobotics Pilot from 1997.

Would I suggest one? If you're a gadget freak (like me), need to be organized, or don't want to have to haul around your laptop, you might consider a handheld from Palm (or maybe a Palm clone: Handspring, Sony, Handera).

There is almost no learning curve, especially for a Mac user.

Coming up last week: Why my ISP (like mine) went down. :-P

Coming up next week: A really "low-end" Mac? LEM

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