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Minstrel m500 Wireless Modem Review
By Davy Fields
10/28/2001


Purchasing Information
Buying the modem is something many people are concerned about. OmniSky has yet to support the m500 Series modem, and doesn't answer requests on when they will do so. Many articles have been written about this, and OmniSky itself announced it would support the modem in August. August came and went and now into the middle of October they have still made no announcements. So I was forced to purchase the modem from buy.com for about $330 with free shipping, which is a tad pricey, but the price is minimal compared to the use one could get out of it.

Installation
The modem arrived in a brightly colored box containing the modem itself in bubble wrap, a tiny AC adaptor, and the installation CD with two slips of paper on "Getting Starting". There was no modem case included.

I popped the CD into my Mac's CD drive, only to discover it didn't have any Macintosh software on it. Fortunately, the only file you install I found hidden in the 'Palm' folder of the CD. I installed the 67k file, and popped the modem on the back of my m505. Attaching involves sticking the bottom of the m505 into the modem and then pressing up on a switch, attaching the modem fully, and releasing the switch.

I plugged in the charger (which conveniently charges both the m505 and the modem) and let it sit for a little while. During this time, I contacted AT+T Wireless and signed up for an unlimited service plan for it, costing only $30 a month. (Note: Service plans vary from place to place. Do some research in your area before you purchase the modem. -Ed)

After entering the information they gave me (telling the modem where to look for service) into the Minstrel Control Application, the modem was installed.

First Impression
I fired up Handspring's 16-bit Blazer Browser (v 1.1), and began to use the Web. It fired up right away and didn't require any extra configuration. I visited palminfocenter.com, cnn.com, espn.com, and many other sites just to check on the speed. I was pleasantly surprised at how fast they loaded.The Web pages looked great, especially in color, and I was very happy about my purchase thus far.

Connection
I was quite surprised by the speed I got. Loading a full page with images (around 50k) often took 20 seconds or less, and had text up in less than 2 seconds almost every time (Maybe the Universal Connector is a step in the right direction).

The modem goes the fastest when downloading one big image, around 2-3k a second. Although it's advertised at 19.2 kps, I found the speed to be higher than that.

The modem worked everywhere I went, which wasn't a huge surprise since I live in the world's technology capital, Silicon Valley. The only time I found the performance to slow was when in a high speed moving object. The modem would continue to work when cruising around in a car going 20-30 mph (me not being the person driving, mind you) but when we got on a highway it would slow significantly and sometimes disconnect.

Many people found the Vx modem to have lots of disconnects, even just standing around, but I can assure you this doesn't happen nearly ever with the m500 Minstrel. I never had a disconnect anywhere (except going 60 mph on a highway). The service was always excellent, and the connection was rock-solid.

Unit Impressions
People tend to compare the Vx modem to the m500 one so I'll just do that for a little while since I own both. The m500, with the modem, is the tiniest bit thicker than the Vx one. They are almost identical width-wise, except for the antennae. The m500's one is taller, but doesn't extend, and is also on the right side. The Vx's antenna is shorter, but it extends, attached to a flimsy rail. I think the m500 is more durable because of this as the Vx antennae feels very delicate compared to the m500's modem.

In terms of battery life, the m500 modem dominates the Vx. My Vx modem's battery life is very short, and requires constant recharging. It also has no pass-through charging feature, so it's a common occurrence to sometimes have a charged modem with a dead Palm, and vice-versa. The m500 modem's battery is huge. I've never come close to draining it, even with heavy use. My m505's battery dries out sooner than the modem's, and my m505 has about a 10 hour battery life.

Both of these modems are still very svelte so you can still comfortably hold the Internet in your hand. If you have big pockets, you can still carry the Palm in it, just don't plan on using it with tight jeans.  

Uses
Many people don't know what they can do with a wireless modem so they don't purchase one based on the fact they think they wouldn't use them. If you share this opinion, I'd advise you to check one out.

You can use AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, many kinds of online e-mail accounts, and all types of POP3 e-mail. It can download 16-bit color pictures, and can even download software programs straight from the web using PalmGear's PQA.

You can buy plane tickets, look up movie show times, you can even send a fax. Unless you've used one you wouldn't know how cool this can be.

Conclusion
Once you get past the high initial price, you have yourself a very cool Internet surfing machine. The modem is worth every penny, and if you get a decent service plan you'll actually save money over a year compared to the Omnisky Vx pricing scheme. If the modem was cheaper I'd give it 5 stars in every category, but because of the cost, I have to mark it down for cost-benefits. Other than that, the modem is the best way to get on the Internet of any PDA device with fast connections, no disconnects, and the ability to go days without recharging. If you can spare the expense, do yourself a favor and purchase this modem. You won't regret it.

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I agree

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/28/2001 8:45:32 PM #
Great product!

RE: I agree
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/28/2001 10:53:37 PM #
Mine is on backorder, and I can't wait to get it!

RE: I agree
rdinterm @ 10/29/2001 8:17:18 AM #
Great review. I use mine with Verizon Wireless, $24.95 unlimited. Have used in DC Metro, Richmond and North Carolina. Very reliable!

Much better than my old Prism with Omnisky.

RE: I agree
covingto @ 10/29/2001 11:00:20 PM #

rdinterm,

Does Verizon offer their own service for the Minstrel or do they piggyback on Omnisky or a similar service? I know that AT&T offers a repackaged Omnisky service, but I didn't know Verizon offered this service. Do you have any pointers?

Thanks.

RE: I agree
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/30/2001 10:37:53 AM #
I believe it is rather the other way round: Omnisky purchases coverage from Verizon (and other providers in other areas).

I spoke with an Omnisky salesperson today, as well as with a Verizon salesperson, and that is what they both confirmed.

RE: Use of Verizon
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 5:02:47 PM #
I use my Motorola StarTac with my Palm 505 and cable using my normal voice minutes. I didn't sign up for any special internet or data plan. Could I purchase the Minstrel and use it with my existing plan or would I have to purchase a data plan?

Great review

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/28/2001 11:40:05 PM #
Davy, thanks for the great review. As a former OmniSky user I was wondering how the new minstrel stacked up. Now we just need faster connections!

Davy is mistaken.

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 1:26:17 AM #
This is from Novatel's website:
"The CDPD network transmits data at speeds up to 19.2 kbps over existing cellular phone networks"

That is 19.2 kilobits per second, not kilobytes per second. So, 1 bit = 8 bytes, so divide 19.2 by 8 = 2.4 kilobytes per second. So, your speed of 2-3k per second is the exact speed you whould be getting, but you will NOT get 19.2 kilobytes per second, that is pretty much impossible. Heck a 56k modem can only get 5 kilobytes per second.

RE: Davy is mistaken.
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 2:01:38 AM #
I think you'll find he didn't say kilobytes. We all got the gist of it... he has the old V unit and the 500 unit is faster for some reason.

RE: Davy is mistaken.
jjsoh @ 3/22/2002 5:51:40 PM #
The orginal poster is mistaken. 1 byte = 8 bits.


Jim

What will be first

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 6:26:15 AM #
Very Timely. I am an owner of a Vx w/Omnisky that desperately needs replacing. I traveling alot and I utilize my modem frequently. Therefore, a modem is a must.

What to buy. Although I have been waiting for a new VII or 705?? I don't think I can wait any longer. I was actully thinking of moving back in time and getting the Prism w/Omnisky. Do you have any opinions on that package. I have been shying away from the 505 because of the negatives I have heard about the screen and the lack of Omnisky support for the 505. Has anybody compared the color of the Prism to the 505.

What will come out first, New 7 series, Update 500 series w/16m and enhanced scree, or Omnisky for the Clie.

RE: What will be first
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 7:07:47 AM #
No one expect Palm and Sony know that, ****.

RE: What will be first
Altema @ 10/29/2001 10:37:45 AM #
Actually the bad press about the M505 originates from the huge variation in sidelight brightness from device to device, and that everyone was expecting Palm Vx form factor PLUS expandability PLUS a screen like the IIIc and Prism. The expectations were correct on the first two, but the screen is silver and not white. Screen clarity and contrast is excellent, but you have to get used to the sidelight if you get one of the dimmer devices. Some sidelights are so dim you can hardly tell that the sidelight is on, others are nice and bright, but most fall somewhere in the middle. Fortunately, my second M505 is about as bright as my laptop when running on batteries.

Sony and iPaq get around this brightness problem by providing brighter sidelights that are also adjustable. But, you can't put those sidelights in anything the size of the Vx because the battery technology is not there. The iPaq has a runtime of 2.5 hours with the sidelights up, and 1.5 hours while wireless browsing, and that's with a battery that would run a Palm Vx for about half a year! IMHO, Palm may have done better to include a second sidelight and added another mm to the size with a larger battery, WITH a brightness control. Ironicaly, the M505, Sony, and iPaq all look the same with sidelight off.

RE: What will be first
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/30/2001 12:01:49 PM #
I think you are nuts to make a big deal about the colors or the screen on m505. I just bought mine and I LOOOOOVVVVVVVE it. I am deaf so I am much more picky than any of the guys here. Visbility is number one thing to me along with the vibration alarm and I am very happy with m505. Backlight is wonderful and if you charge it every night, you are just fine. I love charging it cuz it gives me an excuse to find the latest new palm software off the internet while I am waiting for it to complete. It takes only few minutes!! If you get a regular clear tape as a screen protector(recommended from Palm Series group on yahoo- look it up there), the colors and the screen gets much better and you will be surprised.

I am sorry for getting off the track here (yes, I will buy the modem that Davy recommended.) I'm just tired of people being afraid of m505 cuz of the colors.

Voice Capabilites?

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 8:15:09 AM #
Is there no way to use voice on this system. I mention this because I have seen the sleds available for Vx but they have headsets to allow using as a phone.
Is there any point me asking if this will be available in UK/Europe? Not sure why but US uses different naming convention for its Cellular network protocols.

Regards,

Shayne Gardener
m505 and Vx owner

RE: Voice Capabilites?
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 9:27:41 AM #
US and Europe don't use different naming conventions, they use different networks. This is a CDPD modem while Europe uses GSM. Unless they make a GSM version, which would almost require rebuilding it, you won't be able to get it in Europe.

Your probably thinking about the OhFish, which should be out soon for the m505. It is GSM, is a phone and modem, and will probably cost more than the Minstrel.

RE: Voice Capabilites?
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/31/2001 12:44:31 AM #
Actually a Ohfish Sled would cost cheaper than a Mintreal modem besides I heard it is a tri-band GPRS so you can use it in the US and get a faster speed than the CDPD system

Compatible networks

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 8:45:09 AM #
Where can I find a list of compatible networks?

Is US cellular compatible?

Thanks,

RE: Compatible networks
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/29/2001 9:32:29 AM #
Call up US cellular yourself and ask if their network is CDPD.

Or you could just use your mobil phone

Jeffrey @ 11/1/2001 7:07:15 PM #
My problem with the Minstral is the 19.2k for $300+. Until we get G3 things aren't going to get much better (witness the demise of Richocet), so if the low speed digital phone network is the main option I decided to just get the cable from SupplyNet that connects my m505 to my Samsung 6100 phone. With Spring my phone plan minutes can be used as "web" minutes for an additional $10, so for $60/month I get 1000 anytime minutes that I can use for palm websurfing or voice. So far the only drawback is Sprint hasn't lived up to their 19.2k claim; I only connect at 14.4k.

For the office and home I have the Xircom wireless Lan modual for my m505, which works great and is very fast (it's $300 as well, but at least its fast ;) I use PQAs and Blazer with both the phone and Xircom.


RE: Or you could just use your mobil phone
Jeffrey @ 11/1/2001 7:35:55 PM #
Doh, "Sprint", not "Spring" ....

Email w/ AT&T

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/3/2001 11:12:47 AM #
ED, I signed up with AT&T wireless with my Minstrel M500, and I'm trying to send / receive Email. I can log on to my primary ISP's pop server & download mail with no problem. Sending is where I'm stuck. My primary ISP is @home, and they say they don't offer SMTP support if you're not logged in thru their network (via cable modem). I also have a backup dial up account with Pacbell/prodigy but, I don't seem to be getting anywhere there either since I'm not "online" thru Prodigy. AT&T wireless wasn't much help. What/who are you using?
Thanks,
MM

RE: Email w/ AT&T
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/10/2001 6:44:33 PM #
call up att @ home and get the real address of the smtp sever. I spent 1 month to find someone at att that could do this. It can be done, you just have to get a hold of someone intelligent enough.

Hard to find Minstrel M500

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/5/2002 1:57:12 PM #
I just recently purchased my Palm M505. My first thought after buying it was where I could get a modem. I found the one that connects to a phone line and that seemed kind of pointless. I already have that at home. So I started searching for a wireless attachment for the Palm. First, I emailed Palm.com. They informed me that there is NO wireless modem for the Palm M505. ??? So after a couple hours of searching, I finally came across the Minstrel M505. Anyway, I'm wondering if the benefits of going wireless outweighs the cost of the modem and service.

Please reply to my home email:
jaschaef@pacbell.net

Thanks.
Jason Schaeffer

Need Help! Sharing of Minstrel m500 Wireless Modem Driver

Sufi @ 7/26/2006 10:29:36 PM #
Hi Davy,

I've been looking high and low for the minstrel modem driver but still couldn't locate it. I have bought the device from ebay but unfortunately seller did not have driver as well. Tried Novatel Website but drver not available. Tried calling Novatel in States and Canada, but did not received support needed. Tried looking on the web, still unsuccessful.

Therefore I would really appreciate if you or whoever out there who happen to have the driver for the Novatel Minstrel Wireless m500 for Palm M505 to share the driver with me.

Thank you.

Sufi

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