Visor Pro Review

By: Keith Anderson, RN, NP, MS

Keith is a nurse practitioner at the Center for Joint Replacement at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California. He earned his Master's Degree in nursing from Loma Linda University in 1998. Prior to graduate school, he worked as a registered nurse in the ICU and ED of Loma Linda University Community Medical Center for approximately 7 years, having earned his BSN from Pace University in New York in 1993. Prior to entering nursing, Keith earned a Bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1990. Keith has long been interested in technology and science, and has been using Palm OS devices in his practice since 1998.

The Visor Pro is the same size and shape as my deluxe (or for that matter, my father's Platinum). Its the same silver as the Platinum, and has the same 4-bit (16 shades) grayscale screen as the Platinum. It even has the same 33 MHz Dragonball VZ processor as the Platinum. What the Visor Pro has that makes it compelling to me is 16 megabytes of onboard memory. What this means to you is the ability to keep massive reference programs on your Visor, an still have room for a few games, your addressbook, and a word processor so you can actually do some work. Just for hahas, I actually loaded both Epocrates and Medscape's Tarascon Palm onto the Visor Pro, along with MedRules. I then added drivers for both the PocketType keyboard and the Stowaway. Finally, I beamed over all the addresses I had collected over the years. Guess what? I still had a few megabytes of room left!

Then I started playing with it. Looking up meds in Tarascon was lighting fast, and I could flip over to Epocrates to see if there was any more info (occasionally, but not often). On my old Deluxe, MedRules usually takes about 8 seconds just to start, and another 3-4 for the actual rules to show up after I get past the disclaimer. On the Pro, it took less than 3 to load, and I couldn't measure the lag for the rules to show up. That's right, the thing is fast. It seems to handle both complex calculations and large data files faster. Of course, I only have my Deluxe to compare to. It seems about as fast as my father's Platinum (the few times I've gotten to play with it.)

The Pro also comes with some neat software upgrades that only Handspring has. First, it comes loaded with Palm OS 3.5. Not the newest OS (Palm is up to 4 something now), but as I said, it has a few tweaks. One is a silent alarm option. Because the Pro uses an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery, it has a little LED below the power button to let you know when the unit is charging. Handspring made use of that LED to serve as a silent alarm as well. You can change options from within Date Book Plus, allowing you to choose audible alarms, or a flashing light from 1-15 minutes. I tend to carry my handheld in an eHolster, so a little blinky light wouldn't help me, but if I did a lot of time in meetings and I didn't want the thing bleeping at me, a silent alarm would be nice.
It also has the same fast lookup feature in the address book that came with the Edge. If you hit the up arrow button right after the address book button, or any time you are at the top of the page in address book, the unit beeps, and the screen changes. The hard keys (Date Book, Phone, To Do and Memo) are remapped to a fast search tool. When you press the Date Book key the list changes to show only those entries whose last name begins with A - L (you get M - Z with the Phone key). If you hit the button again, you eliminate all the entries with last names that don't have A - L as the first two letters, and so on. You can do the same thing with first names by using the To Do and Memo keys. I tried it. Once you get used to it, it really is pretty fast. Things work a little differently if you have your Address Book set up by company and last name (you search company on the left, and last name on the right), but the idea is the same. If I had enough addresses that it really became a problem, it would be a useful tool.

The rechargeable battery is similar to the one in the Visor Prism. Handspring's specs say you should get 4-6 weeks of power out of one full charge, and you get a partial recharge every time you sync. If like (like me) you tend to put your Visor on the cradle as soon as you walk in the door to your office, you should never run out of juice. I seem to remember Handspring saying that you can get a top-up charge in as little as 15 minutes, so if you hit the sync button while checking your messages, and leave it on the cradle while you answer those messages, then you should get close to a full charge every day.

Now for a few things I didn't like. Not much really. I still don't like the silver paint that both the Platinum and the Pro use. Unless you are totally anal about protecting it, it rubs off the corners and scratches, leaving you with a pretty battered looking handheld in a short time. I'm also still kind of ambivalent about the rechargeable battery. I know that LiIon batteries don't have the memory effect problem that NiCds did, but there is still a limit to the number of times a rechargeable battery can be recharged. If the battery dies, it will take a trip to Handspring to have it replaced. Most of you think that you will have upgraded to a new handheld by then, but I want to point out that there are still people using Palm III's or even the original Palm Pilot out there, running on their trusty AAA's. My Palm III runs just fine, even though it is now almost 4 years old, as does my Visor Deluxe at 1 and a half.

Anyway, the Platinum and the Deluxe have both been retired, replaced by the Pro and the Neo (respectively). Both have 33 MHz processors, but as I said at the beginning, the Pro has 16 meg of memory. It's kind of like having a pocket that is twice as a big as you expected.

I give the Pro 95 out of 100 - a fast beat that gives 200%.

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Keith can be reached by email

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