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Universal Bridge Review
By Robert Zach
This product is born out of a misnomer. With the introduction of the m50x and m125 series Palm introduced a new HotSync (serial) port. This connector was supposed to be a "universal" interface that Palm will use long term (something more that the life of these new Palms hopefully!), but with three interfaces currently in circulation on various Palm PDAs, there is no universality in connectors. Fortunately with this Bridge, MidWest PCB, brings the "universal" back to the Palm serial port! Palm's port will be universal eventually, but for now MidWest PCB's adaptors make it that way.
The Universal Bridge comes in two flavors, one adapts Palm's "Universal Connector" to the Palm V/Vx interface, and the other to the Palm III, IIIc, etc. With these two adapters a Palm m500/m505/m125 can be HotSynced in all existing Palm cradles. And, many Palm V/Vx and Palm III type accessories can also be used on the m50x/m125 Universal Connector via the Bridge.
The Universal Bridge is not the first adapter from PCB; they introduced a Palm Vx to Palm III style adapter the last time Palm changed the serial port interface. I found those products (see my review) somewhat primitive. These new Universal Bridges are very professional/commercial looking and have a nice stylized appearance.
I tried the Bridges with several of the many Palm III- and Palm V-style accessories that I have. I found that in most cases the products worked just fine with the adapters. I won't go through a long list of what I tried, just check PCB's website for their compatibility list.
I will say a little about the items I found which did not work, and in most cases this was due to the physical design of the Bridge and/or accessory. For example, modems with curved connectors (say from a Palm V or m100) do not mate to the Bridged m50x very well. In some cases the adapter makes for very loose connections which require you to firmly grasp the Palm and the accessory in order to use it. The Bridge also adds considerable height to the PDA. In a keyboard scenario, this may make the accessory unusable. Not because it won't fit the adapter, but because the added height causes the PDA to lay back to far in the keyboard's rest requiring you to prop it up to see the screen well. I did also find that some Palm III accessories fit very tight in the adapter.
Some of these issues could even be resolved with a redesign of the Universal Bridge. When looking at the profile of the m505 with the Bridge attached you can see that the interfaces do not line up vertically. The Bridge is build with the connectors on either side of a PCB; maybe moving them to the same side and directly attaching them could shorten the adapter's length and help move the centerline back to normal. I think this would greatly enhance the product. I do appreciate the more professional look than in products past, but maybe a little more refinement would move this product from excellent to superb.
The major disappointment I found was that the Palm V and IIIc cradles will not charge the m50x. I am not sure if this is a pin mapping problem or if it is just not electrically possible. I wish that there was a way around this or it could be made possible. A nice feature would be the ability to get an emergency charge from an any alternate cradle. PCB makes no claim here, so there are no dings on the product as such - I do wish they could figure out how to do it though.
Overall, I like this product very much. It works! Furthermore, this small investment will save you money on replacing your older beloved accessories. With the Bridge an upgraded m50x/m125 user can get some more life out of their Palm V or III accessories - a worthwhile investment.
Update: Paul Peterson from Midwest PCB Designs read this review and sent the following response:
In a keyboard scenario, if the customer simply places a 3 1/2 inch floppy or another "prop" behind the pda it will not only fit the adapter, this resolves the issue of it to laying back "too far".
Also, the tight fit on Palm III accessories is intentional. Most of our cradle customers complained it was too loose, not secure enough or "unstable".
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