Corporate users will be more likely to pocket U.S. Robotics Corp.'s PalmPilot now that the popular PDA includes E-mail support and several other improvements.
The $399 PalmPilot Professional personal digital assistant, which PC Week Labs tested before it began shipping this week, also has added an expense report application, a number of smaller improvements to its PIM (personal information manager) software and a better backlit screen.
The integration of E-mail makes the updated Pilot compare favorably to the new crop of Windows CE-based handheld PCs. The Pilot continues to be easier to carry because of its small size, though this advantage is offset by its lack of a keyboard.
In PC Week Labs' tests, the Pilot's new E-mail support worked well, with features that made it easier to compose and respond to messages than with Palmeta Software Co.'s Palmeta Mail.
The Pilot's E-mail is an application residing on the Pilot, as well as a conduit between the Pilot and E-mail systems that comply with Messaging API, Vendor Independent Messaging and Post Office Protocol 3. These include Microsoft Corp.'s Mail and Exchange and Lotus Development Corp.'s cc:Mail.
Taking some shortcuts
Pilot's mail program takes advantage of shortcuts that have been added to the Pilot's other applications. Looking up recipient addresses in the Pilot's address book application generally took only a few pen strokes using Pilot's Graffiti character set.
As was the case with Palmeta Mail, our biggest complaint with Pilot's mail package is that composing a long message or responding to one at length can be tedious using Graffiti. We found Pilot's mail program works best as a means to read E-mail while out of the office instead of taking it along as printouts. Users concerned about large E-mail messages eating up the Pilot's memory can truncate longer messages before transferring them to the PDA.
U.S. Robotics has made connectivity improvements to the Pilot to accommodate users who want to check their mail while out of the office or get mail by dialing in to their Internet service provider. The Pilot supports dial-up connections to a Windows 95 or Windows NT system using either a $129 add-on modem that attaches to the base of the Pilot or a standard external serial modem using a $19.95 cable.
The list of supported modems on the Pilot's desktop HotSync software and the Pilot is limited, meaning users may need to experiment a couple of times to get a good connection. U.S. Robotics also plans to offer TCP/IP connectivity from any HotSync cradle attached to a network PC, but that $69 option won't be available until May.
The addition of an expense report application is a nice touch; expense data is exported in Excel templates that come with the Pilot, and users also can create their own custom templates.
Those already using the Pilot 1000 and 5000 can upgrade their Pilots through a $99 kit. The kit includes the new Pilot applications and a 1MB memory upgrade that installs in the back of the Pilot.
U.S. Robotics also offers a version of the 1MB PalmPilot Professional, called the PalmPilot Personal, which lacks E-mail and has half the memory of the PalmPilot Professional. The $299 Personal PDA includes the expense report software.
The Pilot also has improved its HotSync conduits so it can share information with popular PIM applications. Those who use Starfish Software Inc.'s Sidekick PIM will find this a plus, because the just-released Sidekick 97 has added a HotSync conduit. (For a review of Sidekick 97, see "Sidekick 97 puts scheduling on the Net.")