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The Palm m500 could be confused with a Palm V at a distance, but not up close: its shape is a tad more curvy, though the bottom portion of the case is slightly less flared than the V. More important, the m500 is a bit shorter and lighter (the latter largely because the back half of the case is now plastic, not metal).
A tremendous improvement, at least for those of us who've regularly carried Palm V units, is the use of two small indented nubs for the scroll buttons, which means they won't press against the fold-over cover and keep the unit powered on (and drain the battery) following an alarm. The power button feels more sturdy than the Palm V's flaky switch, and now it lights up when the m500 is charging in its cradle or, optionally, when an alarm goes off. Another welcome addition to alarms is a built-in vibrating alert for those times when you don't want the handheld to chirp loudly.
The Palm m500 also sports an expansion slot, which accepts Multimedia Cards (MMCs) and Secure Digital (SD) cards, for increased memory storage and future devices like digital music players. Unfortunately, at the time of this review, we were unable to test any of the cards offered by Palm. While different from other expansion formats (such as Handspring's Springboard slot or the Compact Flash format used by many Windows CE devices and digital cameras), SD/MMC cards at least are the smallest format.
Another hardware change in the Palm m500 is the USB-based universal connector, which provides for much faster data synchronization and the promise that this design will be the standard connection port used on successive Palm devices.
In most other respects, the Palm m500 is much like the Palm V. It includes 8 MB of memory, which is starting to feel skimpy in terms of storage these days, but is offset by the additional memory available through the expansion slot. The screen is a high-contrast monochrome display; on the unit we tested, the backlight was more golden in color than the green Palm V, which made it slightly more readable in darkness.
The Palm m500 runs Palm OS 4.0, the latest version of the operating system, but most of the software changes are either under the hood or incorporated as subtle tweaks. For example, the Date Book application appears virtually unchanged, though overlapping alarms are summarized on one screen instead of forcing you to dismiss multiple reminder screens. The Palm m500 also now comes with Palm's Clock application for quickly checking the time (though you can't view it through a window in the cover, as you can on the Palm m100 series models), plus Note Pad for jotting notes without using Graffiti.
The other notable software addition is Palm's Mobile Internet Kit, which lets you transfer e-mail, check the Web (using Palm's Web clipping technology), and use SMS text messaging on any GSM-compatible cellular phone with infrared capabilities. We were able to easily connect to the Internet using the Palm m500 with a Nokia 8290 phone, where the Nokia acted as just another modem. It's not as convenient as a built-in (as in the Palm VII) or clipped-on modem (like the OmniSky), but if you already have a capable cellular phone and the Palm m500, you might as well use them together.
In all, the Palm m500 represents a good step forward for the Palm line, even if it isn't as flashy or revolutionary as the Palm V's introduction. We anticipate the (hopefully) near future when SD expansion cards offer more functionality. --Nelson Finn