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The Price:
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  • Decent battery life

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  • Screen dark and muddy without sidelight
  • Leather flip cover a bit heavy

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Palm m505 Review

palm m505 reviewBy Ed Hardy
5/2/2001

The Overview
The m505 is the latest handheld from Palm Inc. and is the first to offer a color screen and an SD/MMC expansion slot. It is approximately the same size as the Palm V series but not close enough that peripherals and accessories designed for one will work with the other.

The Screen
I'm sure what everyone wants to hear about first is the color screen. Unfortunately, everything people have been saying about the pre-release models is true. In normal room lighting, without the sidelight, it is dim and the colors are weak. There is no way to adjust the contrast.

Also, it still has the infamous black grid between all the pixels, though it might be better described as a gray grid. It isn't anything like as bad as it is on some other color Palms.

But the news isn't all bad. The colors are great and, in general, the screen is perfectly viewable with the sidelight on. I suspect I'm going to have the sidelight on pretty much all the time. To take care of this, I downloaded GlowHack, which has the sidelight on by default. It can be turned off by holding the power button down.

I copied some pictures into PhotoSuite, which comes with the m505, and they looked great. Don't trust the ones that come with PhotoSuite; their picture quality isn't very good.

If you had problems with previous color models because they washed out in sunlight, you will love the m505. It's screen only looks better as the ambient light gets stronger. It never looked better than at noon today outside in a parking lot.

Just to make sure I touch all the bases, I'll say that the m505 has a reflective screen that displays 65,000 colors. The sidelight lights up the Graffiti area.

It is very difficult to properly show a handheld's screen in a photograph. Despite what we may think, what the camera sees and what we see are very different things. That said, I have a couple of pictures in which I'll try to show you what I'm seeing.

Click for Larger Image

Click for Larger Image

In the picture on the left, you can see the m505 outside in direct sunlight. Click the image for a larger version. In the picture on the right, you can see an m505 and IIIe side by side with no lighting besides what is coming in the window.

I want to thank James Gunter for taking these pictures. I don't have a decent digital camera and he was kind enough to volunteer.

The SD/MMC Slot
Palm has taken a page from Handspring's book and added an expansion slot to its latest model. However, at least until next Fall, the SD/MMC slot can only be used for memory expansion. The SD Association is still finalizing the process whereby input/output devices like modems will use the SD slot so we'll have to wait a while to use this slot for anything else.

When an SD card card is inserted into the m505, it automatically wakes up. In the default Launcher application a new category is created named the same name as the SD card and all the applications on the card are listed. Databases are not shown.

The m505 doesn't directly run applications off an SD card but it pretends to. When an application on an SD card is tapped on, it is automatically copied into RAM and run from there. This takes a second or so, depending on the size of the app. The app runs normally from RAM. When the app is exited, it is deleted from RAM.

It probably works the same way for MMC cards but I am doing this testing with an SD card so that is all I can say for sure.

Palm applications will have to be modified by their developers to be able to use the expansion slot to store their files. Unless they are, the application simply doesn't have any way to access the contents of the card. The apps that were bundled with the m505, Documents to Go and PhotoSuite, have been so modified. The default Launcher doesn't seem to have any way to move files, only applications.

The Battery
If I'm going to be running the sidelight all the time, battery life becomes even more important. When I first got the m505 about noon today, I immediately began charging it. It went from telling me it was almost out of power to a half charge in fifteen minutes or less. It was totally charged in an hour. I've been using it for five hours straight and running the IR port for a good part of that and it is down to 40% of full charge. This is with the side light on the entire time.

So far, that seems like a decent lifespan to me, considering on a normal day I use my Palm less than a hour, some days much less. I'll report back later on how long it took to run the battery completely flat.

The Processor
The m505 runs a 33 MHz Dragonball VZ processor. Basically, everything I tried to do was pretty much instantaneous. I can't ask for any more than that.

The Alarms
The m505 has three different types of alarm that can be used in any combination: sound, vibrate, and flashing LED. In Date Book, the sound is the standard Palm beep but in the Clock app alarms can be set to play several irritating tunes guaranteed to wake you up.

The vibrating alarm is a nice addition for anyone who doesn't want everyone in a meeting to know he just got reminded of something. I guess I'm not the person the flashing LED alarm was created for. I don't think I'd notice it under any circumstances.

The type of alarm is set globally. If you say you want a vibrating alarm, all your alarms will vibrate. I'd like to be able to set which type of alarm I get for each event. For example, I'd like to be reminded that David Letterman is coming on with a silent vibrating alarm so it doesn't wake up my wife. But the next morning I want a nice loud reminder of my 9:00 am meeting.

Alarms have a snooze button which is always for 5 minutes. During the snooze delay, a small asterisk blinks in the upper lefthand corner of all apps.

The Body and Stylus
The housing is mostly metal with a plastic strip all around the outside where the channel slots are. It certainly feels solid. In fact, it feels about as heavy as my IIIx, though Palm says the m505 is an ounce lighter. It certainly doesn't feel as light as the m500, which almost floats off my hand. While it is a tiny bit thicker than the m500, I couldn't really feel a size difference between them.

I wish I understood why Palm made the left channel slot smaller than the right. I can't see a reason for this. I feel sorry for all left handed Palm users because this is really going to inconvenience them.

In any case, the stylus will now only fit in the right channel slot, the flip cover will only fit in the left. While my SLIMpoint stylus replacement will fit in the stylus slot, the one from my IIIx will not; it's too thick.

The m505 holds its stylus really tightly. Really, really tightly. I darn near bent my thumbnail back getting it out the first time. Still, everyone who has every lost a stylus this way should be happy. And I'm sure it will loosen up with frequent use.

The stylus itself has a metal shaft with a plastic top and bottom. It has a handy reset pin under the top.

The Flip Cover
The m505 comes with a leather (or leatherette, I can't tell) flip cover. It goes into the right channel only after great force. I thought for a while Palm had made some horrible design error and the cover didn't fit right into its slot. Then I got irritated and shoved it into place and it finally slid home.

I do like the fact that the flip cover can fold around all the way around to the back. This was one of the few things I really didn't like about my IIIx.

The expensive-looking leather flip cover goes well with the expensive Palm. However, it is a bit thick and heavy for what it does. I'd prefer a nice light plastic one that weighs half as much. It would also be nice if someone made one that had some SD card holders in it. I predict a busy market for third parties selling replacements.

The Universal Connector
One complaint that Palm users have shouted from the hilltops is their frustration every time Palm releases a new model and they have to buy all new peripherals if they want to upgrade. Palm promises this has come to end... next time. The m505 once again has an all new shape requiring all new peripherals but Palm is vowing to continue using this shape for at least two years on all its models so most peripherals will be guaranteed to last for at least that long.

On the bottom rear of the m505, where on previous models was a serial port, is the new USB port. OK, it isn't actually a real USB port but it isn't exactly a serial port any more either. I'm not sure what to call it. Palm handily solves this problem by never referring to it at all in their rather sketchy in-box documentation. Anyway, just on either side of it are some small clips that must be intended to help hold clip-on peripherals.

The other part of the Universal Connector is two small intentions on the middle back of the m505 clearly intended for clip-on devices to use to attach themselves to the handheld.

The Cradle
The m505 comes with a newly redesigned USB cradle. It holds the handheld fairly tightly and the m505 must be inserted and removed in a specific way for it to make a proper connection. This is a bit of a pain but not anything that won't become second nature in a few weeks.

Near the USB plug at the end of a long cord is a power plug where the cradle is plugged into the wall. This gives sufficient room for the cradle to be able to reach both the computer and a wall socket.

I wish I could tell you if the m505 HotSynced any faster than its predecessors with its new USB cradle but I don't have a USB port on my computer. Until I can get my hands on a serial cradle I'm going to have to depend on the infrared port on my trusty PowerBook.

The Conclusion
All in all, I have a pretty positive view of the m505 after only owning it for about 6 hours. Yeah, the screen isn't as bright and clear as the one on my laptop, but the m505's battery life and portability means my laptop is going to continue to sit on my desk just like it has since I got my first Palm.

Update: Be sure to read Part II of this review, which is a much more in-depth look at the m505.

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Palm case

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 8:00:36 PM #
there is a slim case that keeps FALLING OUT of the m505. it has slots for the expansion cards. Its made by palm it cost 29.99

I returned it because it falls out. so does the flip case that came with it.

I will try to insert it harder to see if it stays (the flip case) put. Then I will try the same thing with the leather SLIM case by Palm (I guess I have to buy it again if it works well with the flip cover that came with the palm)

I too am beggining to get used to it. after 8 hours, I got mine at 10:30 am this morning!

RE: Palm case
Ed @ 5/2/2001 8:08:08 PM #
If your flip case keeps sliding out and a few millimeters of the stylus-thingy show above the top, then it isn't inserted as far as it can be. Shove on it harder and it will eventually be flush with the top. It won't fall out then.

---
Plenipotentiary
Palm Infocenter
RE: Palm case
onyx @ 5/2/2001 8:59:25 PM #
thanks, i was having the same problem with the flip case and had to push it in all the way to make it flush. All in all a really good palm. Now i can stop drooling all over the dang place!

palm is where it @
RE: Palm case
vgz @ 5/2/2001 9:09:18 PM #
I would like to see Parallel Design's Personality Pack for the m50x series. It looks like a great product for the V/Vx and they told me they were working on one for the m50x series when I sent them an e-mail. Check them out at paralleldesign.com. Maybe the m50x model will hold SD/MMC cards somehow.

Matt
RE: Palm case
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 12:13:58 AM #
Hi Palm users, this is morningstar1844@hotmail.com. I felt the same way about the leather flip case with space for 4 SD or MMC cards. but the trick was to almost jam it on and it works. After playing with my Palm M505 for several hours (mine was fully charged when I opened the shrink wrap, was very surprise. I initial impression of the screen was ok, but I consider it close to great. I like the backlit portion of the Palm for writing graffiti. It is super in a dark car or on an airplane trip. I think we are all winners. I didn't have any games installed to try out the color. Tomorrow I will try "Scud Attack" and try to report on it. I am entirely happy with the screen now. PC World did not really do a review that was correct and unbias. Thanks again to Ed Hardy!

RE: Palm case
mikecane @ 5/3/2001 9:12:30 AM #
I'd like to see Parallel Designs do their flip lids for the m5xx series too. They have a gret product there!

RE: Palm case
mikefoley @ 5/3/2001 11:04:29 AM #
I emailed the guys at paralleldesign.com and
they are working on a something for the m50x.
I have the flip cover for my Palm V. I'm waiting
for the m505 to show up in a store in the greater
Boston area (we don't have Office Despot anymore).


mike

RE: Palm case
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/7/2001 8:23:10 AM #
All you have to do is secure the tab at the top of the case into the slot of the palm, make sure its all the way in with no potruding edges. It should work.

I returned a palm that had this problem, the palm I exchanged it for, the slot was tighter therefore it was not so noticeble that the case fell out if not secured properly.

The same thing happend with the stylus, its very tight, on the exchanged model it was less tighter, and with wear and tear from pulling it in and out, it has become less tighter and has more functionability

RE: Palm case
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/7/2001 5:20:20 PM #
Will the LV case used for the Vx fit with the m505?

RE: Palm case
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/10/2001 1:49:30 AM #
Because palm made their left channel slot thinner, I can't use my hard case. I seem to have a tendency to let my palm fall out of my breast pocket when leaning over. The hardcase has saved my palm numerous times. I hope they come out with another version of the hard case for the m5xx series.

RE: Palm case
andrewholler @ 1/17/2003 10:51:39 PM #
What a nice Palm, but isn't it a starter palm?
It's not the best unit out there, but a nice starter, thats for sure.

I.M. Anonymous

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 8:09:53 PM #
OK, I won't be upgrading from my Vx...

a) Who cares if the screen looks great in sunlight.. I use my Palm primarily indoors. If I have to run the "sidelight" all the time, the battery is going to run to zero in no time. Plus, what happens when the sidelight burns out from all that use?

b) I can't run programs directly off the external card? What's the point, then? If I'm using close to 8MB of RAM already, that means I gain nothing by having an external card that contains, say, a reference medical book -- because the Palm STILL won't have enough RAM left to load the program. I thought the whole point was to be able to run programs DIRECTLY off these external cards.



RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 8:13:51 PM #
I don't think you're seeing the larger picture.

If you can offload your large databases to the SD card, your Palm shouldn't be anywhere near
8mb full.

If you can offload your Palm applications to the SD card, your Palm should always have enough
room for the applications to be automatically copied over.


RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 8:20:13 PM #
Durr... wouldn't want to do something silly and oh say... move some of the applications to the SD card now, would we? That would be ridiculous, and it would free up memory, which is absolutely absurd, sweet mother of Larry!

Oh, and if Palm was smart at all, the sidelight is of some sort of LED variety (or anything similar) which means it CAN'T burn out... if they weren't smart, then poop on them.

RE: Battery Life
Ed @ 5/2/2001 8:27:40 PM #
> If I have to run the "sidelight" all the time, the
> battery is going to run to zero in no time.

I've gotten about 5.5 hours of use out of 66% of a battery charge. Looks like the charge will last at least 8 or 9 straight hours.

---
Plenipotentiary
Palm Infocenter

m505 Battery Life
Ed @ 5/2/2001 10:07:30 PM #
I just got my first "Your battery is running low" message. A single charge lasted seven hours. It will almost certainly be longer on a day when I'm not HotSyncing five or six times. And having to HotSync by IR has to be draining it, too. Therefore, I feel safe concluding that seven hours is the absolute least amount of time a charge will last. That's with the sidelight on the entire time.

Anyone else perform this type of experiment?

---
Plenipotentiary
Palm Infocenter

RE: m505 battery life
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 10:27:34 PM #
I am somewhat disappointed with this unit,
both screen and battery wise. Using launcher
III, I can see my battery life drop by
a percentage, almost minute by minute.
(Of course I am running sidelight all the
time as I can't see anything without
having that turned on.)

I will give it a few days before returning
it, the question is whether to hold
on to my Visor for another year, or
get the m500.



RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 10:27:40 PM #
I have 6 MB of important data (i.e. *patient* related data) on my Palm Vx. Not games. Not frivolous crap that can be "backed up" on an external card. Many of the useful medical apps (like mini reference manuals, etc) require 2-3 additional MB of RAM which my device just doesn't have available. Get the picture? What we need is a Palm upgrade that either supports additional, REAL memory.. or allows you to simply pop an external card on that contains a textbook, etc. and RUN THE PROGRAM OFF THE CARD.


RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 10:34:44 PM #
First, your data is no more important than anyone else's data.

If your concern is with the way the m500/m505 manages SD memory, I suggest
you call the manufacturers of the applications you find important to see when
these applications will become SD aware (so you can offload your large
databases to SD), or are completely offloaded to SD (ie. a PDR on SD, etc.).

If nobody complains to the manufacturer, the manufacturer really has no reason
to do anything on SD media. You have to have consumer interest... make the
call, and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

If your application is SD aware, you can have your large databases existing
on SD while the application (typically small) on the Palm. I have yet to see
an actual Palm _application_ that is more than 1mb. I have seen plenty of
applications that have huge databases (like AvantGo). I would have serious
concerns if the _applications_ you use are 3-4mb large.


16 MB RAM upgrades
PFloyd @ 5/2/2001 11:37:00 PM #
I suspect you'll be able to get third party RAM upgrades before long.

RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 11:48:26 PM #
You still don't get it, do you?
The whole point of my post was that it's futile to upgrade to a device that offers inferior color screen quality & does not deliver on the promise of being able to run programs from an external drive. All this latest Palm does is let you *upload* programs that are archived on mini disks. If *you* want to pay $500 for this privilege, be my guest. I think it's a step in the right direction -- but at least acknowledge that this is NOT where we need to wind up.. especially for those of us who wish to be able to access textbooks and reference materials via our Palm devices. It's the Palm itself -- not the external drive/disk -- that's the limitation.

RE: I.M. Anonymous Running programs from the card!
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 12:21:58 AM #
Two developers are currently rewriting or making patches to their programs so you will have free memory.
Lexidrugs of skyscape will have a fix in 4 - 6 weeks with better support of color. Also you will be able to run the program off the SD card or MMC; then you have their 5 minute medical consulatant. There is about 4 megs saved for our general programs.

2nd you have BibleReader from olivetree.com will have a fix in around 2 weeks so then you will have another 1.5 megs of memory available. We will be ok for awhile until the new ARM units arrive.

Happy Palming my friends!

RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 4:28:03 AM #
Ok, ok , your medical data are importants...BUT STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW, and read again all the usefull post:
In the palm there are 2 kind of files : database and application.
The applications are typically small (example of great readers : isilo, iambic reader,tiny sheet etc...), and are "runnable" , they will have to be copied from the SD to the internal RAM BUT , your important and large data (ebooks, dictionnary, etc...) ARE ONLY databases that can be read DIRECTLY WITHOUT COPYING from SD cards, with isilo, iambic reader, etc, if the developpers of these applications have added this functionnalities!....

RE: I.M. Anonymous
EdwardGreen @ 5/3/2001 7:53:34 AM #
You could have a 32Mb SD with a 32Mb database on it. The Reader Application simply needs to use the Palm API which only reads part of the database at one time, rather than loadinging it into "application" or device Ram. The SD is a hard disk.



-
kHiTeDev

RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 8:54:32 AM #
The more I read about the M500/M505 external memory limitations, the more I'm glad that I bought the Sony N700C. With MSMount I can load 8-12 meg or more (readonly) databases on the Memory Stick. I had hoped that OS 4.0 would have supported this transparently, but from the various messages, it appears not ....

RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 9:03:14 AM #
The databases can be read off the card only if the application can find its member databases. Right now, it doesn't work for any large multi-file reference application without modification. I tried it last night.

RE: I.M. Anonymous
mikecane @ 5/3/2001 9:16:12 AM #
What people are missing the point on, is what if you have a large database that is used for both reference and to *write to*?

I understand that read-only from SD part. It's the *write-to* SD part that I think Palm has missed.

RE: I.M. Anonymous
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 11:47:41 AM #
>>
What people are missing the point on, is what if you have a large database that is used for both reference and to *write to*? I understand that read-only from SD part. It's the *write-to* SD part that I think Palm has missed.
<<

The Palm VFS API fully supports *both* reading and writing to the cards (SD/MMC or CF, the API actually doesn't care). The application must simply be coded to write to the card.

It is interesting that TRG/HandEra's original FFS API for CF cards faced a similiar misconception (and sometimes still does). People think their API is read-only because the AutoCF extension allows only read-only databases, which is not the case. People now think Palm's API only allows read-only access because of the built-in launcher's ability to copy apps off the card and run them means card access is read-only, but it's not. Palm, Sony, and TRG/HandEra's APIs allow reading and writing to the external storage cards they support. The problem is few apps actually take advantage of these OS features.

RE: I.M. Anonymous: About running programs on SD/MMC card
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 11:52:24 PM #
I am from Hong Kong. I have some friends go to the launch of Palm m500/m505. They asked Palm Inc. about running program directly on SD/MMC, they said the program are first copied to RAM, however, it is not the main memory (8 MB) but on another chip, which is 4MB. That is, 2MB ROM, 8MB RAM + 4MB Buffer RAM for SD/MMC.

I was trying to find some evidence on this, however, I cannot. I just trust my friends' report.

My friends forgot to ask what about programs which is larger than 4MB such as dictionary...so it is still unknown.

Sorry for my poor English.

Please post close-up pictures w/ sidelight on

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 8:23:15 PM #
Nice review.

Is there any way you can post pictures of the m505 indoors with the sidelight on?

It would be very much appreciated.

Screen pix of m505 vs. iPaq
dteky @ 5/2/2001 9:23:14 PM #
RE: Please post close-up pictures w/ sidelight on
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 10:02:16 PM #
Take a look at this picture. Best I've seen.

http://www.brighthand.com/resources/m505/Image005.jpg

RE: Please post close-up pictures w/ sidelight on
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 10:05:11 PM #

Stylus

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 9:12:17 PM #
I know this is about the m505 but I just got a m500 and the stylus writes like I'm writing on sandpaper. I used my stylus from my Vx and it writes smoothly. Is this just my stylus on the m500 or has everyone with a m500/m505 had this problem.
Also, I do have USB and I think it syncs much faster than the old serial. Palm finally woke up.

it's new
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 9:41:54 PM #
the screens are often like thet when they're new. it goes away with time, my 500 was like that when I got it a week ago, and my 505 is like that now.

BTW: for protecting your screen, my trick is overhead transparencies. they work great, just cut them to the right size and stick 'em in the frame (under the lip of the case over the screen). It works as well, if not better, as those expensive write-rights, and it's cheaper, too!

-Pepper

I unscrewed stylus point from my old V and screwed it on the
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 5:48:55 AM #
the m505 tip. NO MORE SANDPAPER FEEL!

Screen burn on my Palm M505 and VIIx

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 9:25:01 PM #
I spend more time with my Palm VIIx after I get in bed and turn the bedroom lights off as well as when I wake in the morning. I always use the back light when I'm in bed. So. I ha ve already burned the hell out of my screen. Now since it is not color, it doens't matter to me.
As for the M505, wait until they improve the screen contrast before you buy.

RE: Screen burn on my Palm M505 and VIIx
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 9:36:25 PM #
Huh?

RE: Screen burn on my Palm M505 and VIIx
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/2/2001 10:53:26 PM #
In bed? I'd hate to see what kinky web clipping applications he's got on that thing.

RE: Screen burn on my Palm M505 and VIIx
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/3/2001 1:09:31 PM #
Perhaps you should consider doing other things in bed besides diddling (oops, I mean "fiddling") with your Palm. This way, you'll get more life out of your toy and you'll also have a shot at having a life.

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