Palm's Mobile Internet Kit -- cheap wireless, with effort

Palm's Mobile Internet Kit -- cheap wireless, with effort

Summary: Palm's Mobile Internet Kit belies the company's "Simply Palm" slogan.I hit a couple of rough spots in trying to get the wireless access I was looking for with my Palm Vx, cell phone and the kit, but in the end, the wireless capabilities -- and potential savings -- were worth it.

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Palm's Mobile Internet Kit belies the company's "Simply Palm" slogan.

I hit a couple of rough spots in trying to get the wireless access I was looking for with my Palm Vx, cell phone and the kit, but in the end, the wireless capabilities -- and potential savings -- were worth it.

The $39.95 kit is supposed to allow owners of Palm V series, m100, III, IIIxe, IIIx and IIIc devices to connect to the Internet wirelessly and to use all the applications that are available for the Palm VII, which comes with an integrated wireless modem.

Following a demonstration by Palm COO Alan Kessler at last year's PC Expo, I expected the kit to be simple and straightforward to use. Kessler just pointed a Palm Vx and a cell phone at one another, and -- presto! -- the two devices were chatting like old friends over an infrared connection.

The benefits of such a connection are clear -- you get the information you want, and you don't have to shell out a couple of hundred dollars for a wireless modem or pay any additional monthly service fee. You simply pay the cost of your cellular phone's airtime.

In reality, though, I found getting connected using the Mobile Internet Kit a bit tougher than Kessler made it seem.

To connect, you can't use just any wireless phone. You need a phone on a GSM or CDMA service that also supports data communications. And you need to make sure your Palm device runs on version 3.5 of the Palm OS.

Also, if your phone doesn't have infrared capabilities, you need a cable to connect it to your Palm device. On its Web site, Palm lists phones that have infrared capabilities and the type of cable you need if your phone doesn't. I thought the Nokia 6190 I used had an infrared sensor -- at least it looks like it does -- but the Nokia customer support person told me it was "just for looks."

Not all phones have the same type of connectors either, so you have to find a cable that fits your phone. And hunting one of these down in a retail store can be a real chore. Again, Palm tries to help out by recommending a few online stores that sell the proper cables. The cable for my Nokia 6190 with Sprint wireless service ran me about $100.

Once I got all the proper tools -- a phone with data service and the right cable to connect my phone and Palm Vx -- the rest of the experience was fairly straightforward.

Installing the software was easy. I just inserted the CD-ROM that came with the kit and followed the prompts. I placed my Palm Vx in its cradle and pressed the HotSync button, per the directions. At that point, the device automatically downloaded several Web-clipping applications; these apps clip and download information from a site that the Palm owner requests. The clipped data is generally small, so the information can be transmitted quickly.

When I tapped on one of these Web-clipping applications, the Palm PDA made a connection over the phone, and the application was up and running. Making the connection took about 10 seconds, which is about how long it takes with an OmniSky modem.

Getting the parts I needed took some time and tinkering, but in the end, this makeshift solution worked and does provide wireless Web access on the cheap.

Richard Shim covers mobile computing and wireless for ZDNet News.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Telcos, Wi-Fi

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