Visor review: 'Embracing and extending' the Palm

This brand-new PDA attempts to "embrace and extend" the Palm device by adding a special slot for plug-and-play hardware and software upgrades.

And now for something completely the same. Well, not quite.

Brought to you by the same people who thought up the 3Com PalmPilot, the Handspring Visor, introduced today, is a new PDA that looks similar to the Palm organisers and runs the same operating system and applications. But the Visor differs from Palm devices in several important respects -- most notably in its innovative expansion options and lower price tag.

For this story, we tested the Handspring Visor Deluxe ($250, or about £155, on the street), which includes 8MB of system memory. A 2MB model is also available for $180 street. Later this year, Handspring plans to release a third model, the 2MB Visor Solo ($150 street), which has no docking cradle.

The guts of the Visor Deluxe model bear a striking resemblance to Palm organisers. The Visor Deluxe is based on the same 16MHz Motorola Dragonball EZ processor running Palm OS 3.1. Like Palm devices, the Visor unit includes an infrared port for beaming with other Palm OS organisers; the same, improved reverse-backlit LCD touch screen used on the latest Palm models; and a docking cradle (the Visor has a USB connector; Palm devices have serial cables). The Visor also includes a microphone but has no speakers or headphone jack.

The most obvious difference is the expansion slot on the back of the Visor. Called the Springboard, this plug-and-play slot lets you quickly add extras such as pagers, modems, MP3 players, Internet access programs, and all types of applications and utilities. To vault Springboard into the mainstream market, Handspring plans to license Springboard technology to other computer manufacturers and encourage third-party development of expansion modules.

Throw in the unit's built-in applications, five colour choices, and compatibility with the wide array of Palm applications already out there, and you have a PDA that is poised to give Palm organisers a run for their money and perhaps broaden the use of hand-held devices at work and at home.

For an in-depth review, see PC Magazine's Visor special.