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Palm m125 Review
By Ed Hardy
The m125 is the latest mid-range model from Palm. It offers a fast processor and a good amount of memory with a monochrome screen. It is the first non-high-end Palm model to have an SD slot for expansion.
I think there is an important tradeoff that gets overlooked in handheld design. What fits best in your pocket generally isn't what fits best in your hand. The m125 sits in my hand much better than any other handheld I can remember. But much slimmer handhelds are easier to carry around.
It can use the removable faceplates designed for the m100 series so it can be personalized to fit your taste. There are quite a few of these available, from very conservative to quite outrageous. The faceplate that comes on the m125 is in the conservative category, being a dark silver with black around the edges.
It has decent contrast, for a monochrome screen. The background is more gray than green.
Unfortunately, it uses the reversing backlight, which means it is tough to use in low-light. The reversing backlight is great in complete darkness. In low-light, contrast between the background and the text is about zero. I end up shading the screen to make it as close to darkness as I can so I can make out what is on the screen. There are some hacks out there that will disable this and I recommend you get one.
The support for memory cards built into the OS is decent but not outstanding.
When an SD or MMC card is inserted into the handheld, a new category is created in the Launcher. This is named the same as the expansion card. There is no way to create sub-folders or different categories of apps on the SD card; they are all listed together.
Some applications can be run from the card but what really happens is the app is copied into RAM, run from there, then deleted out of RAM. This won't work for large apps that are made up of several different parts, like AvantGo.
Before you experts fire off an angry comment, I'm talking about what is possible in the Launcher built into the Palm OS. There are quite a few applications out there that allow expansion cards to be much more useful. Going through the whole list is way beyond the scope of this review but I suggest McFile for moving files around and Launcher III for launching apps. They are a good place to start for beginners.
An odd fact about the m125's SD/MMC card slot is that it is on the side of the handheld, not that top as we have come to expect from other handhelds with expansion slots. I'm not sure if this is a potential problem or not. It isn't one now, as regular memory cards fit fine. But someday there will be SD Input/Output devices like digital cameras and Bluetooth cards, which will extend well beyond the confines of the slot itself.
I suspect you will just have to accept the idea that you will always have to take SDIO cards out before you can put the m125 into your pocket. Before you get up in arms about this, I think the same thing will be true no matter where on the handheld the slot is. The potential to break the slot itself by accidentally ripping the card out is going to be too high for me.
Before I move on, I want to point out that you remove an SD or MMC card from the m125 by pushing it in, then letting it pop out a bit. Do NOT yank it out of the slot with main force. You will break the slot, requiring your entire handheld to be shipped off for repair.
One feature that is controversial about is its lack of flashable ROM. This means the OS can't be upgraded. This probably isn't as big a deal as some people think it is. I'm not sure there is going to be another major OS upgrade that it could run even if it did have flash ROM. Palm is working now on OS 5, which is designed for handhelds running ARM-based processors. I'm fairly convinced that all the important new features in OS 5 will require the new processor. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that there won't be a version of this OS for Dragonball-based handhelds. There's no point in making an upgradable handheld if there probably won't be anything to upgrade it to.
But that doesn't mean the m125 will be junk in less than a year. Palm OS 5 will be backwards compatible with current apps so m125 users won't suddenly be unable to use all the new Palm apps. Keep in mind, though, there will almost certainly be high-end apps out next year that this mid-range model won't be able to run. But it is only the very high-end ones that this will be true of, like some games and video players.
It also comes with MGI PhotoSuite for displaying pictures. When I said the m125 screen was good for a monochrome model, I meant good enough to display easily readable text. I don't think a lot of people will want to carry around low-res greyscale pictures of their last vacation. I know I don't.
Oh yeah, they updated the Note Pad for this model, too. This is the little app that lets you draw notes to yourself, rather than having to write them. It has come in handy for me plenty of times. The most significant change is they now let you undo the last line you added.
I know some people prefer rechargeables but I'm OK with off-the-shelf batteries. I'm going out of town for Thanksgiving next week and I'm going to have to lug along my cradle because it's the only way I have to charge my regular handheld. If I didn't have to send the m125 back to Palm tomorrow, I could take it and just buy some batteries if I needed to.
For example, I never even bothered to connect the m125's cradle up to my computer; I've been using the one for my m505 with no problems. I've also used it with my Stowaway folding keyboard and the Kodak PalmPix camera that have the UC.
I think Palm's move to standardize on the UC is one of the best moves the company has made this year. I've heard so many complaints from people who don't want to upgrade because they would have to buy all new peripherals. Palm will be using the UC for at least the next couple of years so you can buy your peripherals with confidence that you'll be able to use them on your next Palm model, too. Unless you are waiting until 2005 to buy it.
I wish all the Palm licensees would switch to the UC, too. It would be great for peripheral makers if they could make one keyboard or GPS module and know that everyone can use it, whether they have a Clié, Visor, or whatever. It's not too likely, though.
While the m125 can use many of the same peripherals as the m500 series, this means it can't use the ones designed for the m100 series. This is going to cause confusion for buyers. Packages that say "Works with the Palm m100 Series" are all going to have to be changed. It might have been simpler if Palm had just called this the m300 and pointed out that it can use some m500 peripherals and some m100 ones.
I'll try to help clear some of this up. The m125 can use the faceplates and flip covers for the m100 series. It can't use the m100 series styli. It is slightly thicker than the m100 series, which means many cases won't fit, either. Anything that needs to connect to the HotSync port, like a modem, needs to use the Universal Connector. Of course, some products don't say they use the UC; they just say they are for the m500 series. See why I said this is going to cause confusion? If there is any doubt, contact the manufacturer or visit their website to find out if the product is m125 compatible.
Plus you can use the IR port for the standard stuff, like beaming apps and files to other handhelds.
The stylus is particularly cheap. It is essentially a solid bit of plastic. There is no reset pin built into it.
The cradle is the same one that ships with the m500 series, except that it doesn't come with a power adapter, of course. It has been described as looking like a slipper and I think this is accurate.
I think this is a good handheld for a high school or college student. It doesn't have the MP3 player or hi-res color screen these students want, but it also doesn't have the high-cost you have to pay to get a handheld with these features.
This might even be a bonus to parents buying one for their son or daughter. They'll know that the main purpose their kid is going to use this for is to keep their schedule or take notes for their classes, not listening to pirated MP3s. I expect a lot of kids to find one of these under the Christmas tree.
Of course, students aren't the only people who might like an m125. It is right for anyone who wants a slightly more rugged handheld with a lot of storage who doesn't want to spent $400 to get them.
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