Whoever said size doesn't matter wasn't talking about personal digital assistants. But with the release of the skinny Visor Edge Monday, Handspring is trying to squeeze expandability into a small size.
With a metallic case less than a half-inch thick, the newest Visor is Handspring's answer to the Palm V. It comes in a choice of red, silver, and blue, and unlike Palm, the £329 (inc VAT) Visor Edge supports the Springboard expansion slot – with a twist. To get Springboard into such a thin device, Handspring makes the slot an add-on connector, rather than a built-in component of the device.
"Visor Edge still supports all Springboard modules," says Jeff Hawkins, Handspring chair and chief product officer. "You can add the Springboard slot as an option." He calls it the best of both the thin and expandable worlds.
With the release of the first Visor 18 months ago, Handspring's Springboard slot has bundled the capability to add functionality with a device run on the simple yet reliable Palm OS.
The Visor Edge weighs less than five ounces. It has 8MB of memory, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor. With its form-fitting flip cover, the colourful metallic Edge almost resembles a fancy 1940s cigarette case. Handspring also announced a new graphite colour edition of its Visor Platinum.
Other design enhancements include a smaller, sleeker USB cradle (serial is an option), a HotSync/recharging cradle,
and a new stylus placed at the side of Visor Edge "so we can show it off," Hawkins says. "It's a solid attachment
though, it won't fall off."
Handspring also put the power switch on the bottom right so it's protected when the flip lid is closed, Hawkins adds.
Handspring has also updated the Palm OS software that Visor Edge runs, as well as the display technology.
While the screen is essentially the same size, Handspring uses the newest TFT technology to make the greenish background whiter than previous Visors, says Michelle White, a Handspring product manager. "The result is better contrast and clarity," she says.
Visor Edge ships with Palm OS 3.5 2H, Handspring's version of the Palm OS, which Hawkins describes as "essentially Palm OS 4.0, which Palm hasn't released yet. We already have USB support and other things they're adding to OS 4.0."
For example, the OS includes Handspring-only applications like Datebook Plus, and a new Fast Lookup feature, which lets you use the device's major application buttons to spell out a name in your address book, Hawkins says. The left side buttons let you key in A-L or M-Z for last names, the right side buttons search first names. Although it sounds complex, you really only need to key in a few letters before Fast Lookup narrows down your search to a few names.
With VisorPhone connected, you can even dial with one button once you've found your contact, White suggests.
Also new is a silent alarm feature; turn it on and a light under the power button blinks to alert you, without the alarm disturbing anyone else.
Design has Drawbacks
Designed by Hawkins, Handspring's Visor Edge rounds out the Visor family with a solid Palm V competitor. But to keep the Springboard expansion, the device does have to carry some bulk.
Although Hawkins stresses Handspring's long-term support for the Springboard platform, he did mention Tellus Technology – maker of the WIPClip module – is developing a CDPD wireless modem module that plugs directly into Visor Edge. Other developers may follow suit.
Another drawback to Visor Edge is its lack of colour Hawkins implies that is still coming. Today, colour displays are a minority among handhelds. But Hawkins says he anticipates both monochrome and colour products will be in use.
As for current Visor users who may want to check out the new Palm OS, none of Handspring's products support Flash ROM upgrades, White says. "Many of the new features we've added are hardware-specific," she notes.
Besides colour, the Visor Edge lacks wireless capabilities.
"When we can do a low-cost product that integrates wireless voice and data, we will," White says. "To date, most have been high-priced, clunky products."
Meanwhile Palm, which already offers an integrated wireless device with the Palm VII, recently bundled wireless software with its new M105 product.
As for the future, Hawkins suggests Handspring may experiment with more than just hardware design, but with operating systems as well.
"We will have a wide line of products and with each release, we'll look at the best software suite available," he says. In some cases, that may not always be the Palm OS, he adds.