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NorthStar Mobile
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MemorySafe Review
By Robert Zach (zachr@lucent.com)
1/19/2001


Data Backup...sounds simple right?  But, who does it regularly?  And, why not?...It's difficult, time consuming, and your never sure you did it right...well not any more for your Palm device.

Other backup products are on the market but the MemorySafe by NorthStar Mobile has got to be the easiest.  This product keeps with the "Zen of Palm" and provides a simple single purpose solution to the backup problem (read on to understand why backup is highlighted).

Load the software, tap "backup", and forget!  If you ever have a catastrophic failure - HotSync over the app, insert the module, run and tap "restore" - DONE. Simple.

Two versions on the MemorySafe for m100 are available - 2mb and 8mb sizes.  These are also compatible with the Palm III and IV series handheld due to the similar HotSync interface.  This device will also work on a Palm V with a PalmDockV (see past review) but the MemorySafe doesn't fit securely enough to make this worthwhile.  And, the 2/8 versions fit the standard m100 and Palm III/VII series nicely.

    

The MemorySafe itself comes packaged in a nice box with the application/driver software included on CD-ROM, User's Guide, and a soft carrying pouch.  The device is very tiny and light weight.  And, my usage of the device didn't appear to make a noticeable drain on the Palm's batteries.

HotSync the application, then attach the device.  The application will not run without the MemorySafe plugged in. After running the application, you are presented with the following screen. (Note the last date and time of backup is also displayed on this screen)

Simply click either large icon to "Backup All" for the whole device or select "Backup Files" to pick individual files to backup. A "Backup All" requires that the device contents be erased first - this ensures the MemorySafe always has a current snapshot of the m100 - you are prompted to confirm the erase operation.

Selecting the "Bbackup Files" option provides this listing of the Palm's contents.  Here PDBs can be selected for selective backup.  As you make your selections the total memory required is added up and the number selected displayed.  I wish that the application's highlight bar ran the entire length of the screen.  It can be difficult when there are very long names next to short ones to easily what is selected. 

As the backup progress in either mode (all of files), a progress bar with percent completion is displayed.  That's it for the Backup mode; Simple.

To restore files, simply tap "Restore" to put the application into that mode.  The screen basically looks identical to backup mode; you can either restore all the files or select individual files to copy from the MemorySafe to your Palm. During any restore procedure the application prompts for a yes/no before overwrite if an application already exists on the palm PDA. It would be nice if there was a preference that could be set to force this to "yes" or "prompt" mode.  Again, progress bars and percent complete are shown for both restore methods just as in backup mode.

One thing that I do feel is missing, is that the application does not warn you if you have selected a restore process which requires more memory than available on the Palm.  Of course presumably you'd be restoring an erased Palm or replacing applications that already exist on the Palm so this would make the feature difficult to implement.  Although I'd like this feature, remember this is a basic device rescue tool, not a feature packed storage and recovery tool.

The MemorySafe application has a few items under the pull-down menu. The standard "about screen" is there as well as "view contents".  View lists the files currently backed up on the MemorySafe, but you can't do anything with them such as delete.  "Initialize" basically formats and erases the MemorySafe. The "size info" can also be displayed which tells you how much memory is still available on the MemorySafe. 

The final "Tools" allow you to set a password for access to the files stored on the module; and enable/disable that password.  Losing your password requires that the device be reformatted before it can be used again.  This appears to be a nice way to safeguard your information should you lose your MemorySafe module.  So if you lose your backup, should you have a backup....ah redundancy ;-)

The application that shipped with MemorySafe (v1.4) exhibited few graphics problems (progress bar overruns and leftover popup windows graphics), but downloading the latest version (v1.5) from NorthStar support (here) seemed to clear things up. All but one graphical glitch remains from version 1.4.  If you look at the "Handheld Contents" or "MemorySafe Contents" screens above you can see that there is a small line above the "DONE" button left over from the restore or backup button of the main screen - looks like the "contents" listing screens are two pixels too short in height.  Actually the listings also have the top and right lines of the surrounding box missing - could also be due to the 2-pixel shift.  Just a nit-pick!

My impression of the MemorySafe is that NorthStar Mobile has succeeded in replicating the Zen of Palm in a backup solution.  It does this simply and reliably.  If you are looking for a full-featured storage application that can run apps directly or use data on the MemorySafe you had better look elsewhere and be prepared to pay much more.

The one glaring problem here is probably the fact that if you really were on the road without a PC you wouldn't be able to recover from a total loss until you got back to a PC that had the MemorySafe application on it.  The application MUST be HotSynced onto the Palm before any restore process can take place.  NorthStar promotes this device as a "Backup solution while on the go" not as a "Backup and Restore Solution" so I guess technically that is accurate, but maybe a little misleading to the casual buyer.

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App in Flash?

GregGaub @ 1/19/2001 7:19:16 PM #
Is it safe to put the application in spare Flash ROM on devices that have it? I know that some apps don't run reliably from Flash ROM, so it would be nice to know if there has been any testing on this. Being able to put the app in flash ROM (which it could do itself, since it's the same technology, really) would make it a Backup AND Restore on the Go device, since the app would remain in ROM even after a hard reset.
I'd be surprised if the manufacturer endorsed doing this, but has anyone been gutsy enough to test it?

-Greg

RE: App in Flash?
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/19/2001 8:54:12 PM #
Great idea...but on a m100 this won't work. Certainly if the app was in flash then a major failure would be easily recoverable. Unfortunately the m100 uses masked ROM - no flash! Since this device is specifically targeted at the m100 I didn't try. It could be attempted with any Palm series (III or VII). Maybe I'll give that a try.

-Rob Zach

RE: App in Flash?
GregGaub @ 1/20/2001 12:01:16 AM #
Uhh... yes, I know. that's what I said "on devices that have it." I realize that the Memory Safe is targeted at m100 users, but the fact is that it works with the III and VII series as well (and even with the V is you don't mind the loose connection), many of which DO have Flash ROM.
Thanks for pointing out the limitation, though. I don't mean to get m100 users stoked about something that won't happen for them. ;-)

RE: App in Flash?
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/22/2001 11:33:09 PM #
Yes it can work in FLASH; I have mine working just fine on my IIIc & it makes sense to put it there.

RE: App in Flash?
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/28/2001 8:07:06 PM #
yes. i run it from flash on my vx as well. And by the way northstarmobile.com has a v series model for like 4 or 5 months now..:)

Pretty Cool

Eston Bond @ 1/20/2001 10:15:43 AM #
I think the memorysafe is a great idea. I'll rate it 4 out of 5 stars. The improvements that could be made are access to it from the Palm (like an external ram) and maybe some other cool utilities like a scheduled backup feature and instant on-road backup.

speed

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/20/2001 4:53:30 PM #
I've heard that this thing is pretty slow, though, since it goes through the serial port. I use the
AxxPac add-on and a 4MB smartmedia card to backup my Palm IIIx. It works great, and after
the first backup which can take a few minutes, subsequent ones only require 30 seconds or so.

Also, I think it's pretty absurd to offer a program that doesn't automatically load into flash ram.
Why would you want a backup module that you can't access if your system crashes?


RE: speed
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/11/2001 9:39:51 AM #
Where can I get an AXXPac?

FlashPlug?

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/20/2001 8:13:31 PM #
I am a power user and I have had the FlashPlug for some time now. I think it is a better choice for palm back-ups. It gives you the option of running software from the plug, which actualy makes it 8 more megs of palm space, as well as back-ups. The prc file runs fine in flash and has given me no problems. It is a little more expensive, but for the added features I think it is well worth it. I will probably get the MemorySafe also, but that is what us palm owners do.. Buy everything for our toys...


MTBPT

RE: FlashPlug?
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/21/2001 1:02:23 AM #
How can I use FlashPlug to run palm software?

RE: FlashPlug?
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/16/2002 11:31:58 PM #
I just came across your posting...
JKS Technologie (creator of Flashplug) has come out with a version of FlashCmd (FlashCmdMS), FPBackup (MSBackup) for the Memorysafe for $9 (together). This allows copying by EITHER individual database, or all databases that are related to the application. Once you have purchased the above and downloaded the free, UPDATED version of pluglib from the developer section of http://flashplug.de , you can then run FPLnch or FPRun to launch applications. You can also read Docs directly from FlashCmdMS without using a seperate app, or doing a seperate download. FYI - MemorySafe 8 Meg is now $20 list price.
FPLnch currently doesn't work well with some greyscale apps -- the author is working on it.
I don't work for either company... just an enthusiastic customer!

FlashCmd with MemorySafe

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/20/2001 9:25:29 PM #
The developer of FlashPlug's "FlashCmd" software also developed the software for MemorySafe. You can use FlashCmd with the MemorySafe module, but the FlashCmd format is incompatible with the MemorySafe format, so choose one or the other. I have one MemorySafe module for a complete backup and a second module for individual file transfers using FlashCmd. MemorySafe only allows the application and all its associated data to be backed up/restored, whereas FlashCmd allows the actual individual .PRCs and .PDBs to be backed up/restored. However, for some reason, FlashCmd doesn't recognize, i.e. "find," my FireViewer DBs - I don't know why (no, the "hidden" attribute is not set). You cannot use FPLnch to "launch" applications from the MemorySafe module; it doesn't recognize it, even with the correct FlashPlug "pluglib" installed to your device. Also, FlashCmd allows the user to create partitions on the MemorySafe module. Both FlashCmd and MemorySafe function fine from Flash memory; hence, if you have a MemorySafe module with the MemorySafe or FlashCmd softweare in flash and your palm crashes (but the flash contents are not destroyed), you can restore(almost - see next sentence)everything. Lastly, if you do a complete restore with the MemorySafe software, everything seems to be restored EXCEPT the user's created application categories. I have now created a memo with the names I use for categories so I can quickly cut & paste to get my correct category names back after a complete restore.

RE: FlashCmd with MemorySafe
I.M. Anonymous @ 12/27/2001 4:15:59 AM #
hello anonymous,

I cant get flashcmd to work with my Northstar memory module, it simply doesn't "see" it.
Is there anything special you do to get it working?

Thanks,
Robert Winia
rwinia@yahoo.com

RE: FlashCmd with MemorySafe
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/16/2002 11:45:05 PM #
I accidentaly posted under the wrong thread -- please read my email in the below flashplug thread!

Buy Handspring

nospam@home.go @ 1/23/2001 2:13:00 AM #
The easier solution is to buy a
handheld with a backup method
which was "designed" in (visor)
RE: Buy Handspring
otho @ 3/6/2001 6:07:33 AM #
Let me think about that for a second....
No.

My IIIc and I are very happy together. I have the folding keybard, the PalmPix camera, the travel charger, an extra hotsync cable, the MemorySafe, and the Psion Travelmodem (which works great with the IIIc) and have no problems with any of these. I paid a lot less for these accessories than I would have for SpringBoard modules (and for the Visor Prism. I only spent $329 on the IIIc)

I especially like to take a load of photos with my PalmPix, throw them on the MemorySafe, and still have all that RAM free on my Palm. I'm considering getting a second memorysafe (the price is pretty insignificant for the function it provides) to use just for photos and large apps (like Knightmove)

i-heart-my-three-c

RE: Buy Handspring
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/22/2002 7:45:08 AM #
Not a very helpful comment if you've already got a Palm and peripherals.

http://flashplug.de/ has recently updated the software to allow apps to be run from the flashgplug.

DEFECTIVE MEMORYSAFES (2) & INADEQUATE RESPONSES

Truffles @ 5/6/2001 6:21:50 PM #
The nifty-sounding, gotta-have MemorySafe is being marketed by stalwarts PalmGear and Palm, Inc. but BUYERS BEWARE! Yes, folks, everything promised/referred to in the article is, on the surface, true. As described, the MemorySafe unit is handy, easy to use and very portable. (To address the final comment, if one has FlashPro or similar, put MemorySafe in ROM and you can restore immediately if needed.) How GREAT the promises and how valuable!

BUT - after two months of daily use of each of TWO units (the first was replaced in Feb. and the second just quit), they both quit working with the message "the device not found". I received my first unit last December when the unit was very new to the market and contact with Northstar Mobile was virtually impossible. However, I did finally manage after two months of seemingly useless emails, to get a replacement after sending mine back. Two months later, same sad story. Worked perfectly on a daily back up for approx. 2 months, then "device not found". I might add that deleting and reinstalling the software never helped. Now I have been acknowledged by the company and assigned to a sepcial service rep -- that was a week ago and as of today, not a word about my defective unit. The unit has since been reduced in price by $20 but it has GOT to work for more than two months! BUYERS BEWARE!

RE: DEFECTIVE MEMORYSAFES (2) & INADEQUATE RESPONSES
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2001 5:44:51 PM #
Northstar Mobile is experiencing growing pains so unfortunatly the run around with northstar mobiles employees was a bandwidth issue. Now, that the company has hired inside and outside reps, problems such as you were facing, will be greatly minimized

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