MobileInfocenter

Retail Roundup: Palm PDA and Accessory Availability

by: Kris Keilhack
October 11, 2006

With the future of Palm’s dedicated handheld lineup looking cloudy, it may be time for Palm OS aficionados to begin preparing for the inevitable. While I usually wouldn’t advocate circling the wagons and causing a panic, it looks like 2006 is going to pass as the first year since 1996 that Palm Inc. has not released a single PDA or handheld device. As of this writing, Palm.com lists the Z22, Tungsten E2, Palm TX, and LifeDrive as their non-Treo lineup and there are no signs that any new models are coming in the foreseeable future.

With all of this in time, it may be wise for those of us who have much invested in the Palm OS to start stocking up on extra styli, screen protectors and maybe even an extra handheld while they’re still available. Additionally, many PIC readers are similar to me in that they will not make a major handheld or accessory purchase without seeing the actual items firsthand…and despite the advances in e-commerce, traditional brick and mortar retailers are the only way to go about this time-honored tradition of “fondling”. Finally, traditional retail outlets are perfect for buying a last-minute accessory such as a replacement stylus or a travel charger prior to heading out of town.

Read on for my findings as I slogged through the retail trenches to see what the current retail presence of the Palm-conomy looks like. In the course of three weeks in September and October 2006, I went to the following chain stores in North and South Carolina:

Best Buy

Palm display at Best BuyBest Buy has always been a rather odd retail partner for Palm. They seemed slow to pick up on the Palm phenomena in the late 90s before finally catching fire around 2000 or 2001 or so. Then in early 2004, BB announced that they were cutting way back on PDA offerings in order to devote more shelf space to the omnipresent iPod and other higher-margin, flashy portable media players. Just when it seemed like BB was going to pull the plug on PDAs completely, the 2005 arrivals of the LifeDrive, TX and Z22 brought a bit of renewed focus. One notable casualty of BB’s shelf-clearing spree was all of the Windows Mobile and Pocket PC devices. I didn’t notice a single HP remaining at any BB store I visited.

At two local Best Buy stores, I was surprised to find the PDAs recently removed from the “mobile tech” counter up front with cell phones and mp3 players. Store #1 had set up a rather nice dedicated Palm area in a corner between the pocket calculators and the computer monitors. The other BB was still in the transitioning process, the clerk said, and had its Palms scattered around in their standard retail boxes and not under lockup. Could the diminishing value of Palm PDAs to thieves perhaps be a sign of the end times?

Store #1 (with the new display) had the TX, Z22 and LifeDrive out for purchase. Store #2 had only the TX and LifeDrive. Accessories for non-existent at both stores but a more detailed perusal of the mobile phone department revealed bright orange Palm packaged screen protectors, Treo styli and cases, and car + AC chargers for all Athena connector devices. Strangely, I didn’t see any Treos for sale at the Sprint or Cingular sections of the cell phone counter. The salesman I quizzed could not confirm that any of the “Treo” accessories would work on any of the regular Palm handhelds.

In another bizarre twist, both BB stores were selling their Palms for MORE than Palm’s MSRP. The TX was $308.99 and the E2 was $205.99. As a side note, this odd pricing strategy is not new—the usually low price-minded BB introduced it with the T3 in 2004 and has been doing it on and off ever since.

Rating: C
A decent selection of handhelds but clueless employees and few accessories make this one an iffy proposition at best. Only worth frequenting if you have Reward Zone freebie dollars to cash in.

Circuit City

Circuit CityI’ll always have fond memories of Circuit City since they were one of the first stores to carry Pilots back in 1996 (even thought my first Pilot was actually purchased at Egghead). Times have changed and so has Circuit City. The appliances are gone and the handhelds seem to be on their way out.

I visited one local CC store and noticed its PDA display in dreadful shape. A Z22 with barely functioning buttons and a totally dead E2 were the only models on display save for two iPaqs. The accessory selection amounted to little more than a few Palm and Belkin cases. About the only highlight at all was a reasonable selection of old MDM software titles on MultiMedia Cards reduced in price; Madden 2005, Atari Retro, and Game Essentials were available alongside a battered copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide 2006.

The CC store I visited is less than two years old and the PDA display has already been moved and rearranged at least three times. At least it usually stays within shouting distance of the notebook PCs. The one true highlight of Circuit City’s Palm inventory is the fact that it’s the only store where I’ve ever seen the T|E2 Essentials Pack bearing the current Palm branding (insert PIC story link here). The actual inventory of handhelds is kept under lockup in a glass case located under the display models. An actual reason for purchasing a Palm from CC could very well be their return policy; it's always been quite generous in my past dealings with them.

Rating: C-
Worth it if you need an E2 right NOW and want some free accessories with it. If you need your Madden ’05 fix, CC is the place to go. Otherwise, go elsewhere.

CompUSA

Just the thought of having to drive to one of the two local CompUSA stores makes me cringe…yet I end up going there more often than I care to admit. My trips there are usually harried rushes to get some specific accessory or PC-related item such as some Arctic Silver thermal paste at 5pm on a Sunday or a new ATX power supply when mine goes up in smoke the day before a project is due. So I usually don’t even pass the handheld section of the counter unless I have (lots and lots of) spare time.

At both local CompUSA stores I noticed, unsurprisingly, a changing of the guard. The Palm OS and Windows Mobile machines were in disarray and minimal inventory was available in lockup behind the counter. That said, a Z22, E2 and TX were all available for demonstration but the E2 was totally dead and the TX’s digitizer was wildly out of calibration. A lone LifeDrive sat behind the glass doors of the cabinet, presumably still for sale. I definitely had one of my better sales staff experiences here, as the middle-aged guy definitely knew his stuff. The only heinous bit of false information that he fed me on was saying that the TX’s Bluetooth supported the A2DP stereo headphone profile as well as audio capture from a BT phone headset mic. He definitely had been schooled in the fine art of upselling accessories and service plans.

Speaking of accessories let me mention them! This little stuff is far and away the best reason to set foot into a CompUSA store. Two aisles behind the PDA counter was a tremendous selection of Palm-branded and third party accessories, with an especially strong emphasis on cases. I saw cases for every current Palm formfactor, including the LifeDrive. Replacement styli were present for everything but Treos and every oddball items like Hotsync cables and Treo batteries were there. Some of it was even on clearance and really attractively priced, such as a Rhinoskin Zire 72 aluminum case for $15. As I continued shuffling through the store, I unearthed more PDA items on clearance on a table next to the Macintosh department, a few open box TX and E2’s mildly discounted in a cage up front and some more Treo cases interspersed with iPod accessories in the back of the store. If you have the better part of an hour to kill there’s no telling what you can find at your local CompUSA!

Rating: B+
It’s worth it just for the sheer number of accessories available. The sales staff are usually halfway decent but the store is usually in shambles and very disorganized.

Office Max

I spent very little time in the nearby Office Max for one simple reason: I’d never buy anything Palm-related from them due to their overly harsh return policy. The had a small sign next to the very neatly organized Palm end cap display saying that they accept no returns of personal organizers once the packaging has been opened. Aside from this major caveat, the Office Max display could come straight out of Palm’s corporate HQ. The lineup was comprehensive (TX, E2, Z22, Earthlink-branded Treo 650 in a hideous teal color) and the accessories (all Palm-branded) were fairly plentiful. Everything was neat, in its place, and priced exactly the same as it is at palm.com. However, I just cannot abide by their Draconian return policy. With Palm’s iffy quality control, you are at best locked into getting a replacement device instead of a full refund.

Rating: D
Avoid Office Max at all cost if you’re going to buying an actual handheld due to their harsh return policy. They’re fine if you need a quick Palm-branded accessory fix, especially if you have one of their common discount mailer coupons.

Office Depot

Office Depot PDA sectionOffice Depot is one of the few chains still trying to push conventional handheld devices. Office Depot is renowned for getting new Palms in early and keeping ‘em in stock. That, combined with the fact that they are convenient to my home and work, plus their excellent WorkLife Rewards program, is enough to get and keep my business.

I have bought at least three Palms at OD over the years due to the simple fact that they usually are the first ones to get the new models out for sale after Palm’s press release. I also like OD’s reasonable return policies and usually cheerful staff. I am very well acquainted with the two local OD stores, so I was rather surprised to find the Palm display area at store #1 devoid of the two most recent models last week (Z22 and TX). When I quizzed the sales rep, he said that they were “Making room for the new stuff”. He then reminded me that they had all four Palm/PalmOne models in inventory and for purchase and were just replacing the display models…but with what? Store #2 had all four Palms on display but only the TX and E2 available for purchase.

The actual handhelds are nicely presented in an upright fashion and only minimally strapped to the counter. This permits a very thorough fondling of the device and its buttons without impairing touchscreen usage. The E2 and LifeDrive that were on display worked fine, as did the various TomTom GPS units and Sandisk MP3 players that were encroaching on the Palm shelf space.

I think I can recall OD running a weekly promotion about twice per year over the past few years…when I bought my LifeDrive they were running a $100 mail-in rebate off of any PDA priced $299 or higher. OD loves mail-in offers and has been known to offer free IR keyboards or cases with handheld purchases in the past. Additionally, Office Depot (alongside Circuit City) was the only store offering the T|E2 Essentials pack (includes a case, multifunction stylus, and screen protectors) instead of the plain TE2 package, so there’s definitely a bit more bang for the retail buck by buying the bundle at these stores.

Accessory selection at OD is minimal but serviceable. It seems to vary drastically from store to store, as the smaller urban format stores have much smaller accessory offerings than the big-box Office Depots found near malls and in suburban areas. Most of the accessories were Palm-branded but I noticed a large amount of older Belkin stuff. If you need a charger or a case for your T|T or similar Universal Connector Palm then OD is the place to go! Also of interest was a very thorough selection of Handmark retail-packaged software such as Warfare Inc., Documents to Go, Monopoly/Scrabble and similar titles. Again, if you are out of town and don’t have an Internet connection, you can always go to OD and get your…umm, Palm OS game on!

Rating: B+
Always a good selection of handhelds in stock. Consistently agreeable return policies. If you can live with a mediocre accessory lineup, this is as good as it gets, especially if you can get in on their occasional PDA mail-in rebate offer!

Staples

Both of the local Staples stores are a bit off the beaten path for me so I seldom frequent them unless I’m in the area AND need office supplies (a rare combination of events).

I was pleased to see that the local Staples had split their PDA display into an interesting looking tower arrangement, with Palm OS devices on one side and WinMob devices on the other. The TX, Z22 and an E2 were all on display at Staples. The other Staples store I visited still has the older arrangement of the handhelds lined up and strapped down. One nice touch was that Staples was the only store offering printed Palm sales literature for the taking. Office Depot used to do this but ceased doing so sometime in the past year or so.

The 20-something sales clerk at Staples was super-helpful but not very informed about the latest and greatest advancements in mobile technology such as Bluetooth or virtual Graffiti. Nevertheless, in what must be a historical first, he recommended the Z22 for basic PIM needs instead of the higher-priced E2 or TX, correctly surmising that I had little interest in music or video playback since I told him I already had a “real” mp3 player. I bought my m505 from Staples back in 2001 and was able to get them to price-match some random e-tailer so that could be a possible way to score a better-than-online retail price at a brick and mortar retailer.

Staples’ accessory offerings were similar to Office Depot with perhaps a bit more emphasis on newer Palm-branded offerings. I also saw a fairly strong assortment of pre-loaded Handmark and MDM software at Staples, including the elusive Madden ’05 on MMC. I have no experience with Staples’ return policy so I really cannot comment on that aspect of the buying experience. I can say that their furniture department is superb, as I have outfitted my home office with some of their wares.

Rating: C+
Very much a middle of the road experience, despite the attractively laid out display cases and brochures. The salesman tried his best to be helpful and informative but he just lacked any real familiarity with the product.

Franklin Covey

Palm Retail Store in Palo Alto, CAAlso of note in my general area is a Franklin Covey store in an out parcel location near an upscale mall. This store has very short opening hours and was closed both times (~7pm & Sunday) when I visited them. I’ve actually been predicting this store’s doom for the past half-decade and it continues to solder on so maybe there’s something wrong with my hectic schedule instead of their operating hours…

Palm

Finally, Palm has a retail store in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I fortunately have not had to fly commercially lately and since this store is located past security, it’s not accessible by the general public. I have visited this store in the past and I consider it a slight notch above other Palm retail stores in staff knowledge and organization—probably due to the fact that it’s such a new store.

Other Chains:
In the course of my investigation, I visited at least one store apiece from Target, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and Costco. All of these are establishments that have sold Palm OS handhelds in the past four or five years but ceased offerings them due to the sagging demand in the sector.

Of the chains listed above I was really surprised to not find any Palm models at Target. That retailer is generally regarded as rather hip and technically savvy. Target previously sold lower-prices T|E and Zire models in blister packaging and would seem a natural for something like a Z22 or E2 targeted at students and soccer mom types.

Article Comments

 (9 comments)

The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. PalmInfocenter is not responsible for them in any way.
Please Login or register here to add your comments.

Start a new Comment Down

Accessories for older models

rmhurdman @ 10/11/2006 9:11:36 PM # Q
What really makes me angry is that it's impossible to find any accessories for the Tungsten C... brand new only 36 months ago.

Reply to this comment

Fade Away

kevinbgood @ 10/11/2006 9:45:31 PM # Q
Very good street investigation on the part of Kris.

I have to agree, things are looking a bit bleak for the traditional Palm handheld. Smartphones are on the rise and the Hawkins baby is being put to bed. Stores in my area are not doing much to keep the kiosks up to date. As a matter of fact, you will find most of them home to digital music players and GPS devices. The Palm handhelds that are there are the last of their kind and barely selling. Literature is disappearing, accessories are too and the employees have vague memories of what you are supposed to use a PDA for.

Being an avid rebuilder of Palm handhelds, I have quite a few in the closet awaiting transplants and so on. I guess I may have to stock pile a few for the long winter ahead until I am forced to buy a Smartphone. Hmm, what will it be, what will it be?

Come on Palm, give us one more big blast of something great. Don't let it end this way.

Addicted to Palm

Reply to this comment

10 Year Run

Gekko @ 10/11/2006 10:12:55 PM # Q

Handhelds had a good 10 year run. Now it's time to let them go. It's over, Johnny. It's OVER!



RE: 10 Year Run
VampireLestat @ 10/12/2006 12:01:33 AM # Q
You are wrong.

Handhelds with 320x480, powerful processing, with all the wireless radios (evdo, wifi, bt, ir, cell, wimax) are the future.

Expect to see devices that offer VoIP by default when near hotspots. When you walk away from a hotspot, you will be auto switched to EvDo or traditional cell telephone. Dynamic transparant changing.

Also, videophone tech will catch on through handhelds with front cameras and mics. Some HTC PPC models have that already.

HTC understands the future of handhelds, Palm does not.
The 10 year run thing might be true about PALM but 100% definately not about the handheld market.

If there were high quality, complete well rounded PDAs on the market, we would not be seeing the current situation.

By the way, the last Gartner report shows that PDAs, despite the horrible sloppy devices out there in the market, are still constantly in growth. Palm has the problem with self sabotage.

Palm Alternatives
T_W @ 10/12/2006 12:35:00 AM # Q
Anyone have any details on the current state of Palm Alternatives (smart phone or PDA)?

Palm is giving me no reason to buy another product from them. Wince is a non-starter for me.

The Blackberry Pearl phone form-factor looks pretty sweet. Have the RIMM PIM apps advanced beyond the "they really suck" phase yet? Or is RIMM still only an email device/pager?


Reply to this comment

Situation in Canada.

VampireLestat @ 10/11/2006 11:41:57 PM # Q
In Canada,

Futurshop & BestBuy are selling more and more "Available online online refurbished" devices. Probable due to high return rates and a gradual discontinuation of PDA sales. CompuSmart is the best place to get new box Palm's, but these guys don't even sell a godamn Belkin screen protector.

Palm Inc is 100% guilty of the current fall of what should be a healthy market.

a) No new models.
b) Every model, while enticing and unique, has 1 or few critical flaws that drive consumers crazy, resulting in returns; e.g., peeling blue paint, SD card frying, lag causing HD, poor photos, non standard mini mono jack, etc.
c) Sidegrades and actual DOWNGRADES that spit and laugh in the face of consumers; e.g.,

T3 -> T5 = no mic, no led, fatter less responsive stylus, no front speaker, single stroke grafiti gone (or was that before?), no cradle.
T5 -> TX = no Files, no DriveMode, bad color choice for G2 area.
Zire 71 -> Zire 72 = poorer camera

Palm Inc has dropped the ball, they have given up on Palm OS, they have given up on making handhelds, they are ripping the Palm OS community apart with the new "Palm OS to WM" assimilation developer program, no releases, fighting with Access, no OS updates, no product roadmap, secrecy.

More and more brick and mortar stores don't want to carry devices because of all of the above that is continuing to rip the value out of Palm devices.

Palm Inc. is a 1 trick Treo pony and they are self destructing while ironically in a period of Treo growth. They are jumping to the conclusion that they are doing the right thing based on what others like HP and Dell are doing, and that false conclusion is going to eventually push them out of the market as a serious player.

If there is no handheld released tomorrow, or AT THE VERY LEAST, a clear date for a future handheld release announcment, it will mark another crippling blow to the massive perception problem Palm has.

That's what happens when you go WM when you are not supposed to. Giving consumers more choice huh? Yeah... the choice to not be loyal consumers to go buy more complete mobile devices from other JAWLS (just another Windows licensee).



Reply to this comment

nice article....

2xs @ 10/12/2006 2:58:44 AM # Q
... but all I can say, u americans can be happy with the avaible offerings. Come to germany and i wish u luck in finding ANY accessoires for my lovely palm :'-( I would say, there are only two stores, "Saturn" and "MediaMarkt", which offer palm-products... well, in detail only the E2 und TX. I have not seen a Lifedrive for the last 6 month.

Its so hard being a palmuser in europe :-(((

gr33tz 2XS

Palm Professional -> Palm III -> Palm Vx -> Palm m505 -> Palm TT2 -> Palm TT3 -> Palm TX

Reply to this comment

Franklin Covey Information

Palmonger @ 10/12/2006 4:28:25 PM # Q
Franklin Covey is run responsibly by people who, due to their devout Mormon beliefs, close early for their employees well-being and stay closed on Sundays for the same reason. Instead of selfishly expecting them to blindly cater to you, they happen to cater to you when it's convenient for them and their philosophies. And miraculously, they're making enough money to stay in business. Fascinating, isn't it?

Reply to this comment

Palm dismal sales and marketing departments

onremlop @ 12/1/2006 7:19:57 AM # Q
I have been using a Palm for almost 10 years and what strikes me is the lack of initiative on the marketing dept to get the message out about the obvious versatility of the handhelds for consumers and business.

For consumers, for example, the Palm TX MP3 player is by far and away a better sounding, more flexible and` easier to use than an ipod. Has anyone seen any promotions or advertising reflecting this fact? I have friends at work that did not know the Palm had an mp3 player and were blown away by the sound quality in comparison to an ipod and many of them bought one just for the mp3 player.

Where is the sales department in trying to get corporate business? With the functionality of a Palm, I would think more businesses such as the health care, retailers, warehouses local businesses, etc... would have their employees utilizing palms and third party software for palms. They are flexible and quite a bit lower in cost per unit than slapping a computer in front of someone that uses it only a few times a day.

People are not going to buy your product if they don't know who you are or what you can do for them. It is like the old adage where the King didn't have time to talk with a salesperson selling a machine gun when his troops are going into battle with spears. Palm needs to or needed to get their message out and keep it out there with advertising, marketing and a dedicated sales force. But, like so many failing businesses we see today, "but that costs money." Unfortunately, the last bit of advertising we probably will see coming out of Palm is an "Out of Business" sale in the local classifieds. It is sad to see such an innovative product being held by individuals looking to cash in and get out quit and the heck with the company and the product.

Reply to this comment
Start a New Comment Thread Top

Account

Register Register | Login Log in
user:
pass: