Contact Info:

Arkon Networks Inc. Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • $120
The Pros:
  • Very nice interface software
  • Can use Visor apps and talk simultaneously
  • Replaceable/Rechargeable battery
  • Parts are included and now in almost any color you desire
  • Springboard compatible

The Cons:
  • Audio quality is marginal
  • Software not flash upgradeable
  • Sync cradle not universal
  • No hardware buttons Ratings*:

*Maximum Rating is FIVE (5) InfoPalms

Parafone Review
By Robert Zach

Akron, although I never heard of them until now, is a big name.  In fact I already use one of their products - a Vtech Cordless phone.  This company already has quite a lot of experience in this space; and now they are turning their expertise loose on the Handspring Visor platform.

The Parafone (or PRF500) is a Springboard compliant module that turns your Visor (Deluxe), Prism, or Edge into a 900Mhz cordless telephone; and it's quite easy to do!  Just plug the base station into a phone line and slide the module into your Visor.  The a single application loads from the module and you're ready to dial.

This product is very well packaged and includes a USB 1.1 based base station/cradle, the Visor module, a replaceable battery for the module (ala most cordless phones), an around-the-ear headset with boom mike, an AC adapter, a length of telephone cord, and an absolutely gorgeous user's manual (pictures, step-by-steps, etc - VERY well documented product)!

For me this product had quite a gee-whiz factor.  I have always looked at the Visor and my second Swiss Army knife - and now my trusty PDA could also be my cordless phone. Nice.

In fact the product is nice to use, mostly in part to the excellent interface software. Plugging in the card installs not only the Parafone interface (99K) but a Parafone enabled version of the address book (83K) that will be run by default.  This version of the address book allows the user to do exactly what you'd first expect - tap a phone number in the list and have the Parafone dial it.  You can tap a number in the address list or in a single address view mode.  Either way a list of all numbers for that contact will be displayed for you to highlight and call.

The main application is the Parafone interface. This interface is divided into three sections selectable by the icons in the lower left of the main display.  The default display is the Speed Dial section (pictured) - it is identical to the VisorPhone, the others are the Dial Pad and the Call History.

The first screen allows you to pre-define numbers to call.  The "Voice Mail" and "Call Card" are pre-defined but configurable.  The dial pad is just that - it's the main telephone interface.  And, the Call History allows you to see calls indicated as incoming, out going, or missed (an X icon).  Any Caller ID information that may have been present is also displayed here.  Several options exist in this interface that allow you to set dialing rules as well as which of the three displays should be the default.

Placing a call is very simple.  Just tap a speed dial or dial the number.  You'll see the screen pictured on the right while the call is going on. The icons at the top of the display allow you to adjust the volume, select a new channel between handset and base (if you are getting bad reception), and mute the call (a great feature missing on some phones). And, the absolutely best part of all - you can use any other application while a call is in progress.  Take notes on the NotePad, give out other numbers, schedule events etc.  Very Slick.  Unfortunately you'll have to go back to the Parafone app to hang up though.  [maybe someone can write a hangup hack ;-)]

I found this product quite simple to use.  But while in using it I have found a couple of things that I wish were different or were missing.

First, the base station is designed to double as not only the handset charger but a Visor sync cradle as well.  Unfortunately the cradle only fits the Visor [Deluxe].  It will not allow a Prism or Edge to by HotSynced.  And, what I thought was missing, it will not charge the Prism or Edge.

I also found the speaker to be tinny and there was some static that could be heard while making a call.  Apparently Handspring had the same "interference" problems when the VisorPhone was introduced.  A replacement program is available that allows you to swap your Visor for a version that is better shielded - Akron conveniently included a coupon card that allows you to complete this "Advance Replacement" program with Handspring.

There were also a few more features I thought should be included.

  • A speakerphone and keypad in the base would have been nice.  Allowing hands free and use of the phone without the Visor
  • A data port in base station would be nice so I can hang a real phone or FAX off the line.
  • The inclusion of a modem in the module so that I can wander around the house and dialup to the Internet from my Visor to check mail, surf, etc.
  • The addition of hardware buttons (or one at the least) to allow a call to be disconnected without having to switch back to the Parafone application (volume adjust would also be nice).
Overall it would appear that this is the "basic" model.  Let's face it, 900Mhz is not cutting edge cordless either.  My guess is that Akron is testing the waters with this product and will make improvements in a future release if there is demand.  Rumor has it that there is already a 2.4Ghz model in the works.

This brings me to one last comment - $120 is kind of pricey for a cordless phone, but of course no other phone on the market allows for integration with a Visor - typically it is the "early adopter" that foots the bill for the "market research".  I'm hoping the "research is good" for Parafone and we see the 2.4Ghz model with the above features added.

So, overall an good product in an excellent package, I look forward to seeing the improvements to really make this an excellent product.

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I.M. Anonymous @ 9/26/2001 4:15:40 PM #
This is ridiculous.

A PDA is a PDA, not a cordless phone.

RE: Hmm.
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/26/2001 4:25:15 PM #

$120 for a dumb module that's worse than a $39 cordless phone with digital answering machine.

RE: Hmm.
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/27/2001 9:26:48 AM #
This reminds me of a few years ago when I wanted to watch Sunday football games while I did office work on my computer. I went out and bought a $100 video card, $100 tuner and added memory to my computer which then had a 14" monitor. My wife later asked, "Why the hell didn't you just go out and buy a friggin $100 19" TV for the office!!!" The worst part was having to wait for Win 95 to boot up before I could watch the damn thing. I've since recovered from my geekiness.

Technology gone awry. Geeks repent!

RE: Hmm.
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/27/2001 7:42:32 PM #
Awesome story!

One cool thing ...

Moosecat @ 9/26/2001 4:20:52 PM #
... they could do would be to use this unit plus the Visor's memory as a voice recorder, since the unit already has a speaker. Rather than write down a phone number, eg, you could just record it as someone is saying it in the conversation, and then enter it later or never.

(I guess this idea could be used for the Visorphone too...)

Now, as soon as voice recognition comes of age, we'll really be in business.

RE: One cool thing ...
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/27/2001 12:37:36 AM #
HaHa, why dont I just take my cash and BURN IT. What a joke.

Damn straight!

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/26/2001 4:45:51 PM #
What is a PDA? A personal digital assistant. Does it say phone in there somewhere.

Unless you've got money to burn by basing every appliance on a PDA (cordless phone, remote, cell phone...), well maybe not the Visor Phone, this is completely useless!!! You can get a cordless phone for about 40 bucks, with the money left over you can get other stuff for your Palm. Don't look at me like some cheap bastard, it doesn't even feel practical to put your PDA to next to your ear! You'll quickly gunk up your screen unless you use screen protectors.

Last Year's Comdex ...

Token @ 9/26/2001 5:06:48 PM #
... had a module similar to this from Zilog. EXCEPT that it also allowed two way comms with a base station (and its attached computer) over the 900MHz (might have been 2.4GHz) cordless phone spectrum. this allowed the phone to also act as a remote control for the computer to do X10 type functionality. Nice demo, pity it hasn't seen the light of day.


I.M. Anonymous @ 9/27/2001 1:21:54 AM #
This thing is a BWOM. (BIG WASTE OF MONEY)

Could have been really, really cool

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/27/2001 9:51:39 AM #
This would be useful it if had integrated a modem in it. It would be like cheap wireless lan.

Looks Cool

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/27/2001 10:46:03 AM #
This looks interesting. I guess part of the value is the integration of your already existing phone database, (mine's about 400 now). I'm interested, but sure would like the wireless surfing enabled.

PDA is a PDA?

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/8/2002 10:13:16 PM #
That is the most ridiculous comment I have read in some time... who is to say what a PDA is or is not, or more importantly, where it is going? You sound like the IBM executive who in the 1960's estimated that the demand for computers did not exceed 3,000 units worldwide.

I'll give you one person's view on why this is the direction of the future (though admitedly still expensive in the early adopter phase):

...all of your phones should sync to your Contact Manager. In said Contact Manager, you will set permissions on who can contact you through what channel and at what time. The Contact Manager will further update itself with your contact's information as it changes. Does today's product meet those expectations? Of course not... just give it time to mature.

RE: PDA is a PDA?
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/8/2002 10:47:54 PM #
yup. Today's "Computer" does much more than just its name implies - ie compute math problems answers.

Just a try?

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/21/2002 5:58:47 PM #
Well, nice try though - too bad that I've got ISDN and a DECT standard wireless phone - I'd love to use my PRISM (!) or my wive her EDGE(!): both won't work 100%.
It seems like an old (but good) idea that came to life but what a pitty, it does not suit the technological needs of today.

Better make a big leap - or we will see the Treo turn into a cell-telephone with wireless-phone and LAN capabilities before the next development step of this product births.





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