One of the reasons that Palm devices have become so popular with everyone from students to corporate executives is that Palm Computing made its operating system available to other manufacturers. The result was a huge variety of different models, not only from Palm Inc. but from Handspring (with its translucent candy-colored Visors), as well as more established firms such as Sony. Sony's initial effort at producing a Palm unit, the Clié, was competent but lacked the snazzy design the Japanese company is usually so good at. Now comes the Clié N710C, the best, smartest, brightest Palm device.
With a high-resolution color screen (320 x 320 pixels) that is by far the sharpest yet, the Clié is elegant in look and feel. The matte silver case frames the ruby red, sapphire blue, and emerald green on the screen like a piece of jewelry in a fine setting, while front lights make it easy to read whether you are indoors or under bright sun. Its soft leatherette lid, which is available in several colors, suggests a luxury address book. Along with the stylus offered by all Palms, the Sony offers an easier to use thumbwheel-and-button system that allows you to navigate handily through the programs. In addition to the familiar scheduler, address book, and memo pad, the Clié stores and plays MP3 and ATRAC3 music and displays digital images and even short video clips. Also supplied is a set of Sony's best new headphones, with an elegant remote control and light earpieces. Because the Clié employs Memory Stick storage, you can use it to swap files with the Sony VAIO laptop, MP3 Walkman, and digital still and video cameras or any device equipped with Memory Stick.
Coming soon are what Sony calls Memory Stick expansion modules, add-ons that fit into the Memory Stick slot, from a GPS navigation unit to a digital camera—perfect for the traveler following software maps or guides, or snapping street scenes. While the bright screen burns power faster and the Clié runs only on its own rechargeable batteries—not the convenient disposables that come in handy on the road—it more than makes up for this in its versatility. Slip the Clié into a safari jacket pocket and you will find yourself using it in wholly different ways than you do a basic Palm device.
Price: $500, plus another $150 or so for a larger Memory Stick. 800-222-7669; www.sony.com.
Is the Clié the Perfect Palm Device for You?
The market for personal digital assistants has exploded. Here are some other PDAs to consider. Most, like the Clié, allow you to plug in a digital camera, modem, keyboard, or GPS.
PALM PILOTS The M500 ($399) and M505 ($449) are the latest models from the company that originated the device. Both have a storage format to rival Sony's Memory Stick. The M500 is lightweight (four ounces), but the M505 has better color capacity. www.palm.com
HANDSPRING VISORS Handspring was started by several key Palm founders, and their Visors have thin bodies and lovely bright metallic colors, offering a more casual look than the Clié. For a vivid display, the Visor Prism ($399) comes with a sharp 16-bit color screen. But if you're after sheer speed, try the Visor Platinum ($249). www.handspring.com
POCKET PCs Made by Compaq, Casio, Hewlett-Packard and others, Windows-compatible Pocket PCs are generally a bit larger and more expensive than Visors or Palms. Their wireless communications abilities are impressive, such as the mobile messaging service of Casio's Cassiopeia E-125 ($499), which is equipped with a wireless modem. The Compaq iPAQ H3600 ($599) has a useful navigation button and 12-bit color display. www.pocketpc.com