Same look, new screen
The m505 is virtually identical to its monochrome sibling, the m500, except that it's 1mm thicker and has a few minor cosmetic differences (the application launch buttons are silver instead of black, for instance). Though they look very similar, the color m505 actually weighs 1.1 ounces more than the m500. Still, at 4.9 ounces, it's the lightest color handheld currently on the market.
Also like the m500, the m505 has a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor at its core and has the new Palm 4 OS, which supports USB connectivity (a USB docking cradle is included) and several enhancements, including vibrate and flash alerts and the ability to write Graffiti simultaneously while using the virtual keyboard. The device, which comes with 8MB of built-in memory and 4MB of flash ROM (for upgrading the OS in the future), also has a small slot on back for adding postage-stamp-sized MultiMediaCards (MMC) and Secure Digital (SD) cards. In addition to the card slot, there's a new Universal Connector on the bottom of the unit, which Palm says will allow you to connect such add-on accessories as MP3 players, modems, cameras, and GPS receivers.
Aside from that expansion slot, the big story here is the m505's 160-by-160-pixel, high-contrast reflective LCD, which supports 65,000 colors (16-bit). Its reflective qualities allow you to view the screen in a wide variety of lighting conditions, including bright sunlight. However, we found the display to be a little dim under normal indoor lighting conditions, even with the backlight turned on. This became even more apparent when we compared the m505's screen to the bright, sharp displays of the Compaq iPaq 3670 (12-bit) and the Casio Cassiopeia EM-500 (16-bit). In the m505's defense, its screen is far more energy efficient: Palm says you can get about three to four weeks of battery life with normal use (40 minutes per day).
Pictures, video, games
In addition to the signature applications, such as Address Book, Calendar, and Expense, which are already installed on the device, the m505 also comes with two CDs with extra software. You get the Palm Mobile Connectivity Software for connecting your Palm to your cell phone to access the Internet, plus Palm Desktop 4.0.1 and the conduit software to sync with Microsoft Outlook.
We also installed MGI's PhotoSuite Mobile edition (also included), which comes with some sample photos and a handful of short, decent-looking, smooth-running video clips. But since the m505 can't play sound, you'll be stuck watching silent movies. (Sony's new color CLIE PEG-N710C [$499] is the only Palm OS PDA that can currently play sound and music.) We also tried a demo version of Zap2000, an arcade-style space shooter. It, too, ran without a hitch and was impressive enough, though the high-resolution graphics we've seen from some Pocket PC games look better. You should be aware, however, that not all current Palm software is compatible with OS 4. As with previous OS updates, some programs will need to be updated by the publishers before they'll work correctly.
At $449, the m505 isn't a bargain, but if you're trying to decide between it and the monochrome m500, the color screen certainly makes it worth the extra $50. If, on the other hand, you're choosing between the m505 and Sony's color CLIE, the decision becomes harder. With its MP3 player and high-resolution screen, the CLIE, though more expensive, clearly has its advantages. But based on the m505's size, style, expandability, features, and performance, we have no problem recommending this product.
Editor's note: Since we originally posted this review, several Palm-OS PDAs--such as the m515, which replaces the m505, and the m130--have been released. These handhelds offer dramatically better LCDs, and as a result, we've lowered the m505's rating from a 7 to a 6.