So far, I’ve owned every Palm Pilot ever produced. I lost my original Palm Pilot 1000 on an airplane (not likely anyone will return one if you lose it).. I bought the Palm Pilot Personal (differs from Professional only by the amount of memory) for the new backlit screen. I ordered an upgrade to Palm III status for it, but cancelled the order when it took too long. I purchased the new Palm III. Now I’m lusting for a Palm IV (announced last week for a late November shipment schedule).

Which Palm Pilot for Me?
Does this sound insane to you? It should. Technology companies are constantly upgrading their hardware… we simply can’t step up and buy every new model. In this article I’ll give you my advice on what to buy today based upon where I see the value and based upon what you now may or may not already own.

Palm III Upgrade

  • New operating system
  • 2 MB memory / flash upgrades
  • InfraRed beaming
  • Pager upgrade

The upgrade is pretty simple to explain: $129 gets you a new memory module with 2 MB storage capacity and which is flash upgradeable. You also get the new 3.0 operating system that has a few new fonts that are easier to read on the tiny screen. You also get a claim for improved handwriting recognition. InfraRed beaming brings base wireless connectivity to the unit.

$169 gets you all of the above but if you substitute one way paging for the InfraRed; the unit becomes a little thicker, but not much.

Pretty simple deal? Read on… it is or isn’t depending on what you own today.

Buy or Wait?
This is always the question isn’t it? I’ll try to take you through the analysis model by model, but let me point out the 2 “jokers” in the deck that you can’t ignore.

First, if you own any earlier version of PalmPilot, you can trade it in for a $75 reduction on the price of the Palm III. This takes the effective price down to $325… street prices are now about $349-$369, so that isn’t necessarily a great deal, but what will you do with an old PalmPilot anyhow?

The new Palm III has a hard cover system that you may or may not like. My feeling is most won’t like it at first but will get used to it and the extra protection of the screen probably makes it worth the effort… but this is totally personal and the hard cover can be removed, allowing you to go back to whatever method you carried and used the old Pilot to be be continued. The new Palm III is a little “sleeker”… duh… no big deal at all.

If you don’t already own a Pilot, then don’t wait Buy the Palm III. You want to get started using this great device immediately (I’ll address the new model in a bit).

Secondly, 3COM announced a new version — The Palm IV — that will debut in late November of this year. It will have some killer features and some debatable ones. A color screen is coming!!! This should be the killer feature. The size will also be slightly smaller — may or may not be better. The Palm III fits fine in just about any pocket. If the Palm IV is too small, it will start getting pretty hard to write on but if you only use it to look up addresses an phone numbers in, you won’t care.

Rechargeable batteries — a negative, I think. I think rechargeable batteries are but one more point of possible failure that can take you out of operation. Using two AAA batteries today (change about once a month with heavy daily use) works just fine. Rechargeable batteries sound just sounds like a marketing feature without real value. I also hear that Hotsynching may be done via InfraRed instead of the cradle. That’s a definite negative for me and almost bad enough to make me want to look at CE alternatives. Hotsynching via InfraRed to my PC is not ready for prime time because it is unreliable and slow. The the cradle system for Hotsynching works fine. If we have a rechargeable model only, I vote to build the Hotsync capability into the charging unit.

Some of you may chose to wait on the upgrade issues until you see this new unit. I can’t advise you there. The Palm IV will probably sell for $499 and if you order now from your dealer, you can probably have it for Christmas.

Model by Model Advice

Palm 1000 or 5000: Don’t spend the money for any of the upgrades. The updated software isn’t that different and there is no way to upgrade to a backlit screen and in my opinion that’s the biggest “new version” benefit. If you have one and it’s meeting your needs, hang in there.

Pilot Personal: Go for the upgrade. This is the best upgrade deal in the bunch. You’ll get four times as much memory, new software and InfraRed messaging. No upgrade feature is minimal.

Pilot Professional: Hard to see the value in upgrading. Memory only doubles (you already paid a premium for the 1mb module), the software changes are nice, but definitely not essential, and the InfraRed messaging is still not a widely used technology; you will find yourself in most meetings showing everyone how cool it is, but not really using it because you are the only InfraRed device around for miles. I would wait for a new model that you just have to have and buy that rather than spend anything on the upgrade for this model.

Palm III: Well, the good news is you don’t have to do anything… yet. The Palm III is presently the cream of the hill and the best of the brood.

We’ll just have to wait for the Palm IV to arrive and make up our minds then if upgrading from the Palm III to the Palm IV is worth the money and effort. I’ll do my best to guide you to the right decision.

If the Palm IV’s screen is bright with vivid color, it might be impossible to control the demon inside that will make us crave one! I’d start working on someone in the office now to work a deal for cascading the Palm III down as you upgrade your mobile life to color on the Palm IV!

There is a different value to the upgrade for each system that only you can judge. I hope my model by model advice helps you. I tried to take into account why some have been hanging in there with the original models and why others you know may have upgraded immediately.

Expect to see a rapid upgrade path for the foreseeable future, especially with the advent of the Palm IV. So far the Windows CE devices really aren’t cutting into Palm Pilot sales (and from what I’ve seen of them, they shouldn’t until they are really ready for prime time use), but enough companies are working on CE devices that they will bring enough techno power to bear that 3COM will have to keep improving or fall behind — and that’s good for present Palm owners!

I don’t think the Palm line will fall behind the WinCE devices. The good folks at 3COM seem to get the idea of what a Palm device should be while others, like Microsoft, don’t. 3COM provides a very simple and fast reliable pocket sized note taker with an address book and calendar. While it isn’t a PC substitute, it’s a substitute for a bunch of scraps of paper in your pocket or for the goofy filo fax.