Pocket PC with internal PC Card slot (May 2001 issue)

Move over boys, there's a new Pocket PC in town. The @migo, made by Palmax and distributed in the United States by UR There Productions of Dania Beach, Florida, joins the big guns--Casio's Cassiopeia, Compaq's iPAQ and Hewlett Packard's Jornada--in the world of Pocket PCs. But don't mistake it for your typical consumer PDA. It is not. The Palmax @migo is intended to fill the serious mobile computing needs of vertical business markets.

And those markets are growing fast according to International Data Corp., which estimates that the handheld computer market will expand from sales of seven million units in the year 2000 to 19 million units by 2004. So, if the @migo can target a few niches it will certainly find itself a home.

At first glance, the @migo Pocket PC (US$599) elicits memories of the Cassiopeia E-100 series Pocket PCs with its square-ish look, matte silver finish on the front and gun metal finish on the back. Even the buttons are arranged in a similar fashion to the E-100's. But on further look, the @migo has an esthetic appeal that is somehow missing in the Cassiopeia. For example, it's beveled in all the right places, including around the screen, which helps to visually differentiate it from its counterparts. Still, if you're looking for a design masterpiece, a la the Palm V or iPAQ, you're in the wrong place. While the @migo is certainly not an unattractive PDA, it's not going to turn a lot of heads when you first flip it out of your pocket. That is, until you slip a wireless modem into its built-in PC Card slot; that's when the fuss will start. It's kind of like the average-looking guy with a great personality. He can get chicks too!

So let's look further into this Pocket PC with the unusual personality.

The @migo is the first Pocket PC to incorporate a full PC Card slot, rather than just CompactFlash or MultiMediaCard, into its base unit. The remarkable part of this is that, despite the modest size of the @migo, the slot does not protrude from the device's shell, which still maintains a smooth flat appearance. That alone is quite a manufacturing feat.

It's the @migo's built-in PC Card slot with its promise of wireless communications that opens the door to vertical markets. Sure, you can slip a PC Card Expansion Pack on a Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC, but then you've suddenly created a device that is a good deal heavier, more expensive, and much less portable than what you'd hoped for.

The @migo, on the hand, doesn't have that problem.

And the @migo has the guts to back it all up, thanks to being built around Intel's 206MHz StrongARM RISC processor. What surprised us at first was that it appeared faster than the iPAQ in informal testing. Since the iPAQ 3650 is commonly acknowledged as the uncontested Pocket PC speed champion it wasn't until we conducted our benchmark tests, using Virtual Office Systems, Inc.'s VOBenchmark 2.0, that we were convinced we were indeed holding the fastest currently available Pocket PC in our hands.

Of course you'll need some decent battery power to keep the @migo happy, so its designers supplied it with a rechargeable 1500 mA 3.7V lithium-ion battery. Compare that to the iPAQ's 950mAH Li-Polymer pack and you can see why the @migo doesn't need a second battery to run most of the common PC Card peripherals.

On the flip side, the @migo's screen may be its weak link. Like the iPAQ, the @migo utilizes a reflective active matrix LCD, which means it is viewable both indoors and outdoors. With its ability to display 64,000 color variations and a sharp 0.248 mm dot pitch, the screen offers excellent resolution and contrast. But while it's a capable enough display, it doesn't really excel at anything. For instance, the Casio Cassiopeia's backlit LCD is by far brighter and clearer indoors. The iPAQ's sidelight, too, is noticeably better indoors, while its screen is more readable outdoors.

So, as is often the case in the wonderful world of PDAs, there are trade-offs and your challenge is to view different devices holistically while also judging them based on the feature set that fills your needs.

Beyond its speed, screen and exclusive PC Card slot, there are a couple of other @migo features worth commenting on, namely its cradle and its case.

It's quite apparent that the manufacturer--Taiwan-based Palmax which has been a Windows CE licensee since the birth of the palm-size PC--knows PDAs and what makes the work. The @migo comes, for example, with an interesting cradle that has both a built-in USB cable and a serial port on the back. And the cradle is smartly bottom-weighted and contains rubber footpads, so it's less apt to tip over or slide around on your desk. There is also a small tab on the cradle that inserts into a hole at the base of the @migo, which helps to seat the device and stabilize it while in its cradle. That may seem insignificant, but if you've used other PDAs you may be familiar with two common problems that this cradle design can help avoid: constantly knocking over your PDA and even breaking off or damaging the synchronization connector. It might take a little while to become adept at inserting the PDA into the tab but it's certainly worth the learning curve. Between the bottom weighting and the stabilization feature the @amigo rests more solidly on my desk than any other PDA I've reviewed.

But that is not all. There's also an audio out port on the side of the cradle. The advantage to having this port on the cradle is that you can hook up headphones or a set of speakers on your desktop and never have to connect any wires again. In fact, I've got a pair of Labtec LCS-1030 speakers connected to my @migo. So, I simply slip my @migo into its cradle, start up Windows Media Player and I'm rocking. I'm certainly not an audiophile--distinguishing variations in quality of sound just isn't my forté--but the sound seems comparable to my portable CompactDisc player.

Another nice feature of the @migo is its carrying case. It's made of soft black vinyl, which you'd swear was leather. It folds over wallet-style and seals with a light magnet. On the back is a snap loop as well as a clasp, which provides a ton of versatility. You can clip it onto your belt or snap it to the strap of your pocketbook or backpack. And the top and side are open to provide access to the PC Card slot, the IR port, the headphone jack and the buttons.

Overall, the @migo is an attractiveproposition. It is surprisingly speedy, has an interesting (albeit unimpressive) indoor-outdoor color screen, a powerful battery, plenty of useful little touches, and a superb docking station. It is clear that this device was designed around the full PC Card slot that no one else has. As a result, the @migo is thicker and heavier than most other Pocket PCs, albeit still lighter and handier than a Compaq iPAQ in a PC Card expansion sleeve. While its list price of US$599 may seem steep, it is less than an iPAQ with a PC Card sleeve. What it boils down to is that the @migo may very well be the moderately priced answer to many vertical market businesses' mobile computing needs. -

Steve Bush

Processor Intel StrongARM SA-110 206MHz
OS Windows CE 3.0
Memory 32MB RAM, 16MB ROM
Display 64k color 240 x 320 pixel active matric reflective TFT
Digitizer Pressure-sensitive panel
Storage Internal RAM, PC/CF storage card
Size 3.4 x 5.25 x 0.9 inches
Weight 8.8 oz
Power 1,500 mAH Li-Ion
Interface Serial/USB, Irda, stereo audio, mic
Options CF card/PC Cards, cases
Price US$599
Contact Palmax/UR There www.urthere.com

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