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Midwest PCB Designs

PalmInfoCenter.com Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • $30 each (shipping included)
The Pros:
  • Professional look
  • Functions as described
  • an save you money!

The Cons:
  • Fit is very tight for Palm III accessories
  • Vertical alignment of ports could be improved
  • Palm V/IIIc charging cradles won't charge m50x

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Universal Bridge Review
By Robert Zach
1/10/2002


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:

    We have addressed issue of loose fit on the Palm V modem by making a slight modification to the part. There will be no loose fit or need to "firmly grasp the Palm and the accessory in order to use it". The modem will fit like a glove.

    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".

Update 2: Paul Peterson has been able to confirm that the Universal Bridge works with the Palm m130 and i705.

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What about the m100/m105 cradle?

martianviking @ 1/10/2002 1:39:57 PM #
You mentioned, "With these two adapters a Palm m500/m505/m125 can be HotSynced in all existing Palm cradles."

Isn't there a cradle for the m100/m105 devices that uses a connector that there isn't a Bridge for?

Sorry to be a bit of a nit-pick, but that's what we PDA nerds are like, aren't we? :)

RE: What about the m100/m105 cradle?
bcombee @ 1/10/2002 1:54:05 PM #
The physical connector in the m100/m105 cradle is the same as on the earlier III-series cradles. However, this cradle is shaped to only accept the rounded bottom of the m100/m105. I think the Bridge may raise the device enough from the cradle to actually let it sync.

RE: What about the m100/m105 cradle?
Ed @ 1/10/2002 4:36:57 PM #
Paul Peterson from Midwest PCB Designs has confirmed what Mr. Combee said.

---
News Editor
RE: What about the m100/m105 cradle?
martianviking @ 1/11/2002 7:28:38 PM #
Very cool. Good to know.

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/10/2002 1:47:26 PM #
'nuff said

Charging with adapter

SilliconMan @ 1/10/2002 4:04:38 PM #
>"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."

The problem is more likely to be the power supply to the cradle rather than the pin mapping. I had a IIIc but I am not sure of the charger power supply. I know my Clie has a 5.7V 800Ma supply, the m50x's probably close to that.

In the case of the III series, there is one pin on the connector that isn't used. On the IIIc this unused pin is the power input for the charger. Since this pin doesn't do aynthing but charge the battery, its also likely that they didn't wire it.

Palming away.....

RE: Charging with adapter
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/14/2002 2:31:00 PM #
So are you saying that if Pin 9 on the Palm III connector were tied to Pin 16 on the m50x connector
that the charging feature should work?

No Palm connector is usable

I.M. Anonymous @ 1/12/2002 11:33:17 AM #
None of these connectors are usable. The Palm world needs a CONNECTOR that attaches securely to it. How do you think things would be if all the serial, video, USB, PCMCIA, etc, connectors on our computers would work if they relied on just laying the device on it. Why can't we have a connector that will SECURELY attach to the Palm and will not fall of. This is absurb! I want to be able to attach a cable to my Palm and be able to move around freely without it falling off!!!

RE: No Palm connector is usable
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/19/2002 3:06:32 PM #
The Universal Bridge does a great job in hotsync cradle/cable, keyboard, modem and many
many other non-portable Palm hardware accessory applications.

To make a blanket statement like "none of these connectors is usable" is ludicrous.
What you mean is that it does not meet your requirements for portable use.

What about the upper teeth?

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/17/2002 5:17:28 AM #
If they went all this way to have it connect with the lower part of the Universal Connector, what about extending this bridge to have teeth for grabbing the Universal Connector holes too? If you had a connector like this, you have a solid sled grabbing to all the Universal Connector anchor points and not just the bottom.

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