A substantial update to the aging Palm VIIx, Palm's i705 provides always-on access to corporate e-mail. Even when the PDA is turned off and in your pocket, it will blink, beep, or vibrate when a new e-mail arrives. However, after trying this PDA and its accompanying Palm.net service, we're left with the feeling that Palm rushed this product to market. Heavy e-mail users should think carefully before investing in the i705 to be sure it will meet their expectations. A substantial update to the aging Palm VIIx, Palm's i705 provides always-on access to corporate e-mail. Even when the PDA is turned off and in your pocket, it will blink, beep, or vibrate when a new e-mail arrives. However, after trying this PDA and its accompanying Palm.net service, we're left with the feeling that Palm rushed this product to market. Heavy e-mail users should think carefully before investing in the i705 to be sure it will meet their expectations.
A Palm with a wireless modem
The i705 is much like other Palm PDAs. Its aluminum case is a bit larger than that of the Palm m500 and m505 but considerably smaller than the VII's. We found the 5.9-ounce device easy to slip into a shirt pocket. Its 3-inch-diagonal, 160x160-pixel monochrome screen is serviceable but looks decidedly low rent compared to that of Sony's CLIE handhelds. Inside, it runs a 33MHz Motorola DragonBall VZ processor with 4MB of ROM, a meager 8MB of RAM, and Palm OS 4.1. The i705 does have a Secure Digital (SD) card expansion slot for adding more memory, but it can't be used to store e-mail. This model uses Palm's universal connector, so it works with cradles, keyboards, and other accessories designed for other recent Palm devices. For those who don't like Palm's Graffiti handwriting system, the company also offers a compatible thumb keyboard ($59).
The big change with this PDA is the built-in wireless modem that works with Cingular Interactive's Mobitex network. The service will cost you $40 per month for unlimited use or $35 per month if you sign up for a year's contract. Palm also offers 100K of data for $20 each month, but that's likely to be too little for almost all users. The advantage of the Cingular network is its wide coverage area in the United States, but data moves at an achingly slow 9.6Kbps. You'll also want to consider that there's no service in Europe or Asia, you can't use the i705 as a cell phone, and this model cannot be upgraded to any of the next-generation wireless networks such as GPRS, which offer higher data speeds.
According to Palm, the i705's rechargeable lithium-polymer battery should power the device for a week between charges with the modem turned on. However, those who send and receive hundreds of e-mails each day should expect a somewhat shortened battery life.
Support for business and personal e-mail
Palm's MultiMail application offers features that will appeal to individuals considering the i705. When you sign up for Palm.net service, you get a firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address, and you can easily check up to six POP3 or IMAP4 accounts. On the Palm.net Web site, you can configure the service to regularly check your POP3 accounts and forward the messages to your i705. Competing products such as the RIM BlackBerry and Handspring Treo don't provide such comprehensive e-mail support.
To check corporate accounts, individuals must download Palm's MultiMail Desktop Link software (it's not included on the CD-ROM) and install it on their PC. This software receives incoming mail and forwards it to the i705; it also routs mail sent from the PDA via Outlook (there's no support for Lotus Notes/Domino), though you'll need to keep your PC running constantly to receive your e-mail.
E-mail app is short on professional features
But MultiMail Deluxe will be a disappointment to heavy e-mail users--ostensibly, the i705's prime market. First, you often have to wait while a new message downloads. The RIM BlackBerry downloads the message before it alerts you, so it seems as if it works more quickly. In Outlook, the i705 can sync with only the in-box, not with multiple folders. MultiMail does support attachments but only from the Palm.com e-mail account, not Outlook. We tried third-party plug-ins for various file attachments but were disappointed with Word documents, which were filled with extraneous formatting characters. Additionally, URLs in e-mails are not clickable; instead, you must copy the address and paste it into the browser. And finally, requests for meetings in Outlook cannot be automatically added to your calendar.
The wireless Web experience provided by the i705 is similar to the VIIx's. You can access all of Palm's Web-clipping applications, and the HTML browser works with some--but not all--Web pages. Unfortunately, you can't do anything with the i705 while those pages load; unlike Pocket PC, Palm's aging OS doesn't support multithreading.
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