Remembering the PalmPilot

It's clearly a bit of April foolery, but Donald Melanson's review of the PalmPilot Personal on Engadget does a nice job of capturing the excitement of those early PDAs. I owned every model of Palm and Handspring device for several years, and really organized my life around them.

Unlike many of the so-called "handheld PCs" of the day, Palm's devices weren't trying to be small computers. The apps and operating system were greatly simplified, with everything just a few taps away. Yet those apps also made the devices much more capable than the personal organizers that were popular at the time, which did only a few tasks and not very well. They may not have gone on to explode in use the way smartphones have in the past decade, but they found a niche and served it well for a good number of years.

Of course, there were areas that did leave some room for improvement. While the resistive touchscreen offers reliable stylus-based input, it's also low-res (160 x 160) and hard to see in less-than-ideal conditions, with an Indiglo-style backlight offering a poor substitute for a true backlit, color LCD. The limited internet capabilities offered by the devices also require a bulky 14.4k modem that originally cost an extra $129 — and, of course, plugs into a phone jack.

What might have once been a slight drawback is a welcome feature today, though. The early Palm devices all run on a standard set of AAA batteries, which means that collectors and technology historians don't have to worry about hard-to-find rechargeable batteries (or worse, non-removable batteries) to keep them running for years to come.

USRobotics PalmPilot Personal review