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.
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.
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 4.7×3.1×0.44 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 solidoddly, more so than my bigger, heavier Visor Deluxe.
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.
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.
Battery life is another strong point for the Palm platform, and the Edge doesn’t disappoint. Like other high-end Palms, the Edge sports a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that gives you enough juice to run the device for days on end. When you’re not draining the battery, you can charge it through the hotsync cradle. The benefit of an internal rechargeable battery really depends on how much you plan on using your handheld. If you get a lot of use out of it, the money you save by not having to purchase AAA batteries more than makes up for the higher cost of a PDA with a rechargeable battery.
Internal rechargeable batteries aren’t perfect, though. When they run low on juice, you have to charge them. There’s no popping in a pair of fresh AAAs and instantly getting full powerif you don’t have access to a wall outlet or one of those fancy new fuel cell chargers, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, the Edge’s phenomenal battery life makes this a non-issue for most users.
What it doesn’t have
Handspring isn’t the only innovative company churning out Palm-based handhelds, and the competition has raised the bar since Handspring’s debut. Unlike some competitors, the Edge lacks a jog dial or any kind of specific scroll wheel. The fact this functionality isn’t included in every new handheld computer astounds me. Given that the screens on these devices are so small and capable of showing so little information, something to facilitate easy scrolling would seem to be a no-brainer.
The screen on the Edge is also a little small at 160×160, and it doesn’t have a collapsible graffiti pad. Although HandEra is currently the only company offering a graffiti pad that disappears to yield additional screen real estate, high resolution grayscale screens are offered by both HandEra and Sony. Complaining that the Edge isn’t available with a color display would be missing the point; a color screen would make the unit thicker and bulkier, when the whole idea of the Edge is its small size. Handspring does offer a color model in its Visor Prism, but I’m not convinced color is all that useful for the Palm platform in the first place. Even Palm had to dramatically scale back the quality of the color display on its m505 to achieve reasonable battery life. Personally, I’d rather have a battery that lasts than a screen that looks pretty.
One final little gripe concerns the Edge’s buttons. While embossed, and quite easy to use with a finger, they’re not concave like other Visor handhelds. The concave buttons on the Visor Deluxe are much easier to tap with the stylus than those found on the Edge.
The operating system
The Edge runs the Palm OS, version 3.5.2H2, which is functionally quite similar to what the vast majority of Palm-based PDAs are running. Handspring does have a few software tricks up its sleeve with the Datebook application, though. These enhancements aren’t anything earth-shattering, but they make looking up contacts a little faster and a little easier.
Realistically, we’re not going to see a big leap forward in the OS or software for Palm-based handhelds until the second half of 2002. By then, Palm should be ready to introduce a radically different OS based on technology it acquired with its purchase of the Be operating system.
Really, a handheld’s worth comes down to its success in the real world. A good idea on paper, or an attractive feature at first glance, might not pan out that well with actual use. I had three weeks to beat on the Edge review sample, and it impressed me. Keep in mind, though, that I’m used to lugging around a much larger Visor Deluxe.
The Edge’s size is really its best feature; it’s just so incredibly thin. I didn’t entirely appreciate the Edge’s diminutive size until I went back to my Visor Deluxe, which just seems portly now. The Edge is small and light enough that you can fit it in your pocket, but strong enough that it didn’t seem to mind my 180 lbs sitting on it. Check out how my girlfriend’s bum bulges out with the Visor Deluxe (right) as compared with the Edge (left).
Yeah, that was a gratuitous bum shot.
Unfortunately, though the metal flip cover certainly looks trick, I felt like I was carrying around a prop from the original Star Trek series every time I whipped the Edge out. That’s great for trekkies, I guess, but it seems unnecessarily clumsy to me since you can’t flip the cover all the way over and to the back of the Edge and out of the way.
First, I’d just like to thank Handspring for completely ruining my Visor Deluxe for me. The Deluxe feels like a brick in my pocket after carrying around the Edge, and I honestly haven’t been using it nearly as much since my standards were raised by the Edge. The Visor Deluxe, and full-sized PDAs in general, just feel far too bulky now.
Handspring has capitalized on all of the strengths of the Palm platform with the Visor Edge; it’s light, small, simple, and has great battery life. The Edge also gets Springboard expansion capabilities without all the baggage of an internal Springboard slot. That’s not too shabby for a PDA, in my book.
Competition-wise, the Edge faces off against Palm’s m500, and Sony’s PEG-T415. I’ve only had limited exposure to these devices, but I’m trying to get a couple of samples in house to look at so I can give them a full review.
Handspring’s Visor edge is a slim, sexy take on the Palm platform that works as well in the field as it looks in the showroom. It’s not cheap, but the price is quite reasonable considering the features and form factor you get with the Edge. If you look at the Edge as a replacement for an existing organizer, be prepared to buy; playing with the Edge may induce feelings of intense dissatisfaction with your current PDA.