Handspring VisorPhone

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Adds wireless communications capability to any Handspring device
  • powerful phone functionality
  • high-quality construction
  • easy to install.

Cons

  • Expensive
  • no fax support
  • GSM data speed only
  • bulky.

Handspring's VisorPhone, which was designed and built with the help of Belgian firm Option International, is a dual-band GSM 900/1900 add-on for the Visor range of Palm OS handhelds. Recently launched in the UK, it provides invaluable wireless communications functionality for Handspring devices, but it's both bulky and expensive at £280 (ex. VAT).

When clipped into a Visor's Springboard expansion slot, the VisorPhone adds significant extra weight, and little attempt has been made to integrate it visually with the handheld device. However, it's well made, with two dedicated buttons -- one to launch the phone dialler, another for the SMS application -- plus the on-off switch and a two-setting volume toggle. There's a connection status LED, but it's puzzling that this sits on the top edge of the VisorPhone, where it's hard to see when you're using the screen normally.

Installing the VisorPhone could hardly be easier: remove the chunky battery, insert your SIM card (the module is not compatible with the Orange or One2One networks), replace the battery, slide the module into the expansion slot and within moments you're ready to make and receive calls. Unfortunately, the user experience goes downhill from here. For a start, the unit does not hang on to the cellphone signal very well, and the ringers are much too quiet.

The sound quality in the earpiece is of poor quality compared even to budget mobiles, and again is not loud enough. The whole package is uncomfortable to hold and, frankly, feels silly when held to the side of your head. Embarrassment aside, the edge of the Visor rests uncomfortably against the ear and a brush of the cheek on the screen can easily terminate a call as well as leave greasy marks. Fortunately, you can turn off the handheld to conserve battery life and prevent accidental activation of the touch-screen.

Usefully, a silent vibrate alert is incorporated into the VisorPhone module. However, you are unlikely to benefit from it given that the combination of handheld and GSM module is heavy and bulky in anything but an overcoat pocket. It is also such a gentle vibration that most users would fail to notice it.

The phone application integrates neatly with contacts held on the Visor itself. Clicking on addresses as normal brings up a contact's details, but now a click of the phone number brings up the option to dial that contact. You can easily access and set up 50 quick-dial numbers while on-screen information about the progress of calls is impressively detailed. Do not expect to be able to send faxes, though: although the VisorPhone is Class 1 compatible, there is currently no Palm software that supports this standard.

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The VisorPhone makes light work of sending SMS messages. However, you need to go into the separate SMS application -- this is done by selecting the hard button on the module or an icon on the Visor's main screen. Entering text is much easier than using a phone's numeric pad, although Palm OS's Graffiti character recognition seems fiddly compared to Pocket PC's character recogniser or the new two-box solution in the Motorola Accompli 008. SMS messages are stored on the Visor rather than the SIM card, allowing you to organise them in folders.

A separate CD-ROM is included in the VisorPhone packaging and contains the neat Blazer browser, the One-Touch Mail package from JP Mobile and the BugMe! Messenger package. Only the Blazer browser is worthy of mention because it allows you to view Web sites while connected through a WAP gateway. When you first launch it, Blazer connects to Handspring's portal, which you can view in colour on the Handspring Prism. However, given that most users will only have 9.6Kbit/s of bandwidth, you are advised to stick to WAP sites (which Blazer is able to distinguish from HTML-coded sites). Entering URLs is made easier by the ability to paste in common phrases such as '.com', and you can organise bookmarks into folders called categories. Since Handspring uses Palm OS, you can choose from a range of alternative browsers available on the Internet.

The VisorPhone does a great job of extending the capabilities of Handspring handhelds, but it's difficult to pin down this product's target market. The price is excessive, even if you can find a company to sell it with a mobile phone connection, while the module itself is cumbersome. Mobile phones are increasingly including sophisticated PIM functions and 'convergence' devices like Sagem's WA3050 are now appearing, all of which makes the VisorPhone look like too little, too late. However, existing Handspring owners who really want an all-in-one solution may find it a useful way to fill the Springboard slot.

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