PCs in your pocket

Dimensions: 80x15x128mm

Weight: 185g

Memory: 8MB

Processor: DragonBall 20MHz

Screen: 160x160 TFT colour

Power: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion

Price: $839

Phone: 1300 360 558

URL: www.palm.com.au

Most products would never survive the labelling fiasco that has dogged the Palm product family through its short history. First it was the US Robotics Pilot - then, after litigation from the Pilot pen company, a PalmPilot. Now it's just plain "Palm". Model numbering is just as obtuse - so while the IIIe sits at the bottom of the range, and the V occupies the executive mid-range, it's back to IIIc for the top-of-the-line colour system.

For long-time Palm users like me, there's something quite uncanny about the IIIc colour screen. Spine tingling almost. That crisp mono we've grown to know and love hasn't been just superseded - it's been totally outclassed. In short, 3Com has done its homework, and done it well. The Palm IIIc is slightly longer than the entry-level IIIe, and a tad heavier. The extra 15g make a surprisingly noticeable difference as the unit sits in a trouser pocket, which at first made me less than enthusiastic about day-to-day usability. Trust me - minor ergonomic issues like these can make all the difference to whether your PDA is a friend or a foe.

But, I've been seduced. In use, the colour-enabled IIIc is a delight. So far, changes in the address book, memo and calendar apps have been insignificant - colour-coded appointments and contacts should be a priority in future updates. But as soon as you see your favourite family photo in full colour in an Album-to-Go slideshow, you'll be hooked. Emotional blackmail, maybe, but the active matrix TFT display is crisp, clear and precise, with surprisingly good detail on a 160x160 pixel screen. Still not convinced? Download Zap!2000, a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up that outclasses anything a handheld game machine can offer. Three-level parallax scrolling, a deep-black space background, smooth sprite animation - you'll hardly believe it's happening on a simple Palm PDA. Sorry. Forgot. This is a serious business tool. But, hey, if you have a few spare minutes while you're waiting for that meeting . . .

Like the Vx, the IIIc boasts 8MB of memory, and a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery pack. A few minutes each day in the hot-sync cradle is enough to keep the battery fully charged. While driving the TFT screen halves between-charge battery life from four weeks to around two, under normal hot-sync and recharging conditions, most users won't notice the difference.

Aesthetically, the IIIc is appealing - the jet-black flip-front case replaces the older charcoal model. It lacks the obvious chic of the brushed aluminium V series, but you'll still feel quite at home in the executive suite or the Qantas Club lounge.

Sadly, the whole Palm series remains weak in the audio department. Alarms are still too soft to be heard in a noisy environment, and there's no answer to the upcoming promise of CD quality MP3 audio in the new version of Windows CE.

One final subjective note - somehow, there seems to be just a little added friction on the Palm's graffiti-text input area. Entering text with the well-balanced gunmetal stylus is just a little more pleasant as a result.

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Phil Campbell

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