Handspring VisorPhone

A Springboard module that makes the Visor a truly mobile information appliance.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Handspring's VisorPhone, a GSM Springboard module, is currently available in the US. It is expected to ship in Europe in the second quarter of this year, at a price yet to be determined.

The phone and the pocket computer resemble a couple that can't live together and can't live apart. The rationale for the merger is obvious: The pocket computer provides the data and features, and the wireless phone provides voice and data services. But previous attempts to marry the two have met with mixed success (see Ericsson's Symbian-based R380s), primarily because they attempted to cram a pocket computer into a mobile phone. The VisorPhone takes a different tack by adding wireless voice and data to the pocket computer using Handspring's Springboard expansion slot. The result is a sensible, easy-to-use, and powerful wireless phone that will appeal to PDA-centric people.

The VisorPhone module consists of a radio and stubby antenna, buttons for the two main applications (and for powering up the phone), and a switch for alternating between two customisable rings. The 6cm by 5cm by 1.3cm module fits into the Visor's Springboard expansion slot and adds just 83g to the weight. The module also has a built-in speaker, so you can hold it to your ear like a standard phone (using the built-in microphone on the Visor) or use the included hands-free headset with the headset jack.

By far the best feature of the VisorPhone is its simplicity, which is due in large part to the Springboard platform. Like all Springboard modules, the VisorPhone has all the software it needs on-board. Plug it in, and you're ready to make a call. The included lithium-ion battery, which is rated for 3 hours talk time and 3 days standby, charges through the Visor's desktop cradle, so there's no need to worry about an extra AC adapter.

The VisorPhone has two basic applications: Phone and SMS Text Messaging. The Phone App offers three different views -- Speed Dial (default), Dial Pad, and Call History. Advanced preferences are all available through the Phone App menus. For example, you can set two different rings (choose from a dozen different tones), volume levels, and vibrate modes (on/off). You can dial directly from the Address Book (which also provides a Caller ID function).

The SMS Text Messaging application lets you send short email messages directly to other GSM phones or to any email address. And the VisorPhone doubles as a wireless modem for data, letting you access email or browse the Web at 14.4Kbit/s. You'll need to install third-party applications to use these features, though.

In our testing, all of the VisorPhone's features worked flawlessly. We also discovered that a lot of thought has been given to making the VisorPhone as easy to use as possible. When you turn on the phone, it automatically activates your Visor. You can easily answer calls (or hang up) just by pressing the Phone App button, even if your Visor is off. While you're on a call, you can perform any other task on the PDA, such as check your calendar, look up an address, or use the calculator. Finally, the Visor itself makes it significantly easier to use advanced phone features -- speed dial buttons, hold, and three-way conferencing -- than with a traditional wireless handset.

If you're the sort of person who has a mobile phone semi-permanently attached to your ear, you'll probably be better off with a separate, smaller headset. But for heavy Visor users who'd like to add voice or data communications, the VisorPhone is a must.

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