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Handspring's Visor Edge

The Palm OS gets slim—and sexy

ModelVisor Edge

SINCE ITS INCEPTION, Handspring has pushed the Palm platform's hardware into new territory. Handspring’s first models included USB syncing interfaces and Springboard expansion modules, which were followed up with later models integrating high-color-depth screens and beefier hardware. Two years after the first Visor’s release, however, the market looks a little different. Palm has since split its hardware and software business; Sony is charging into the market with numerous Clie models; and HandEra is lurking in niche markets. Handspring now faces much stiffer competition on the innovation front.

One of Handspring’s answers to this newly competitive PDA market is the Visor Edge, a slick, thin, Palm-based PDA that wouldn’t look out of place in an industrial art museum. It takes more than just a pretty face to win me over, though. Can the Edge pull off the same kind of innovative coup that the original Visor did at its release? Read on to find out.

Physical characteristics
Without a doubt, the best way to describe the Visor Edge is sexy. Decked out with a slim body, metal flip cover, and three available colors, the Edge is perhaps the most fashion-conscious handheld available. Handspring had numerous color options with its original Visor Deluxe, so for them, color is nothing new. Fortunately, the Visor Edge looks more like a Titanium Powerbook than it does an iMac.

Contradicting the old stereotype that good looks preclude brains, the hardware under the Edge’s hood matches the fastest available Palms to date: a 33MHz Dragonball processor coupled with 8MB of RAM. In a world with 2.2GHz Pentium 4 processors, that sounds pretty weak, but the Palm OS is lean and mean, so that's plenty of power to guarantee responsive performance.

Like other Handspring handhelds, the Edge lacks a flashable ROM for the OS. Ahough this limitation keeps it from taking advantage of flash OS updates like Palm's PDAs, Handspring has managed to release its patches in formats that run in RAM, instead. This arrangement basically makes the lack of flash RAM a non-issue.

The Edge is thin—supermodel thin

While its internal hardware is great, that’s not what sets the Edge apart from its competition. The Edge's real selling point is how Handspring has packaged that internal hardware. Measuring a scant 4.7x3.1x0.44 inches, the Edge disappears into all but the tiniest pockets. At only 4.8 oz, it's a lightweight, too.

While an all-metal body would have been nice, the Edge does have a few plastic elements. Still, the unit feels solid—oddly, more so than my bigger, heavier Visor Deluxe.

The new cradle interface creates compatibility problems with accessories

Unlike Palm, Handspring has yet to settle on a connection standard for all of its PDAs, and that's really a shame. Though Springboards will work across the entire Handspring organizer line, things like portable keyboards and hotsync cradles can be device-specific. This fact hurts less if you're not upgrading to the Edge from a previous handheld, but not being able to use my Visor Deluxe's Stowaway keyboard was a major inconvenience. Sacrifices do have to be made when moving to a radically different form factor, though.

The Edge without its included Springboard sled

Handspring's inclusion of an external LED in the Edge lets you set silent alarms rather than having incessant beeping remind you of upcoming tasks. There's not a whole lot the silent alarms can do to wake you up, and the device doesn't vibrate, but they're still a nice touch. The flashing alarms certainly do come in handy in meetings or classrooms when you don't want beeping to cause a disruption.

Like all currently available Handspring models, the Edge sports a Springboard expansion slot. The Springboard is a proprietary expansion format, but that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of Springboard modules available. You can get everything from GPS units to digital cameras to MP3 players that slide into the Springboard slot, making Handspring PDAs quite versatile.

A possible concern, however, is that while there are many Springboard modules available now, Handspring's recent announcement that they're going to focus on communication products (which presumably won't have a Springboard slot) rather than their Visor line of organizers makes the future of the expansion format uncertain. Normally, Handspring sticks the Springboard slot right onto the handheld. The slot takes up valuable space whether or not it's being used. With the Edge, however, the Springboard slot is found on a small sled that you can attach and remove as needed. I'm a big fan of expansion capabilities, so long as they don't hinder a device's usefulness too much when unused. When not in use, the Springboard slot usually adds unnecessary bulk, but the Edge takes care of all of that in quite an elegant manner.