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33.6 PalmModem Connectivity Kit
Ed Hardy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For a long time, the simplest solution for Palm III series owners who wanted a modem was the 14.4 PalmModem. Last Spring, Palm quietly pulled it and this Summer they announced there would be a faster replacement. In September, they released the 33.6 PalmModem Connectivity Kit.
Externally, the new PalmModem greatly resembles its predecessor, a 3 inch by 2 inch by 1 inch rectangle that clips over the serial port of the III series.. The only changes are that it is in a dark plastic that matches the case for the IIIc and has the new Palm logo on it.
This shape has collected quite a bit of criticism from many. It is big enough to hold 2 AAA batteries, which means you don't have to change batteries that often, but it is so big it isn't convenient to carry around with you in your pocket. I've found that a CD carrying case with the CD holders torn out is just the right size for it and my IIIx.
Internally, there is one major difference between the old 14.4 PalmModem and the new one; the 33.6 version has real connection problems. After hours of fiddling with preferences, I was never able to make a connection to the modem at my office so I could do a remote HotSync, which I do all the time on the 14.4 version. I am able to make a connection with my ISP so I know the modem works, though I have a much higher failure to connect rate than I am used to.
The instructions that came with the thing are fairly minimal. For example, in the Connection Preferences section, it explains what Flow Control and Init Strings are, but doesn't say what the correct settings for these should be.
After learning nothing useful from the documentation, I contacted Palm Support, who were flat useless. The Palm Support Web site hasn't even been updated yet to show that the 33.6 version exists; all it talks about is the 14.4 version. I sent them several e-mails and, three weeks after my first message, all I have is some promises that they are working on my problem.
My next step was to turn to my fellow users. I posted a message in a couple of Palm newsgroups and heard back that I wasn't the only one having these difficulties. I got lots of advice but none of it let me make a connection to the modem at my office.
I have no idea what connection protocols the 33.6 PalmModem supports. Neither the documentation nor Palm's site say, at least not where I could find it.
Another disappointment with the PalmModem is that while Palm advertises that it comes with MultiMail Pro they don't mention that this is an old version, not the current 3.0. It does, however, come with a cheery offer to buy it at full price.
Speaking of prices, $99 is a touch steep for a 33.6 modem. I know, it has to be compact and use a minimum of power, which raises the price, but a quick search turned up a ton of 56K PC Card modems for less than $99. Compared to the space limitations of a PC card, the PalmModem seems huge.
When I bought the faster modem, I had hopes that everything I did online would go much quicker. I was really surprised that this didn't turn out to be the case. I didn't do any scientific tests but I never seemed to notice anything going much faster. Even the largest download I regularly do, syncing AvantGo, isn't finished in noticeably less time. It may go a bit quicker but the change isn't startling.
I hope you don't get the impression that I'm against using a modem with my Palm. If you read my article on replacing a laptop with a handheld, I go on endlessly about writing e-mail and surfing the Web with my Palm and modem. But this new modem doesn't cut the mustard with me.
To play straight with you, I've heard from people who bought one of these and were perfectly happy with it. I would probably be satisfied, too, if all I needed to do was connect to my ISP. But before you buy one, keep in mind that you are running the risk that you won't be able to use it. Check your return policy before you put your money down; I'm glad I did.
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