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Making the Palm-Bluetooth Connection

by David Weiss
05/22/2003

I've been obsessed, since the introduction of the Palm VII, with the idea of getting wireless access to the Internet from a Palm handheld. The Palm VII never stuck with me, though, because it's a tad bulky. Connecting a Palm to a cell phone has been a possibility since Palm 4.0 and the Mobile Connectivity Kit, but balancing two devices connected by a cable would be even more bulky and put a serious crimp on spontaneity. Recently, Handspring released the Treo 300, a color Palm PDA that's also a cell phone, and I found it a wonderful way to get Net access on a Palm, anywhere in the Sprint PCS coverage area. As I said in my account of my week with the Treo 300, I felt that it did have a few imperfections: The screen was hard to read in bright sunlight, and it doesn't have an SD slot for adding memory, data, or peripherals. I wondered what it would be like to surf the Net using my current palm, a monochrome m500, with a Bluetooth phone. Finally, I got a chance to find out.

Why Bluetooth? Two devices sharing information over Bluetooth don't have to point toward one another, freeing you up to use only one device to access the other.

In order to make the Palm/Bluetooth connection with my m500, I needed a Palm Bluetooth Card ($129), and this works with any Palm that runs Palm OS 4.0 and later and has an SD slot--even the humble, recently-phased-out m125, which you can still probably find somewhere on the Web for cheap.

The Setup

On the phone side, I used a Sony-Ericsson T68i ($269), a very slick little number that might fall through a hole in your pocket if you're not careful.

After installing the Bluetooth software, I placed the Bluetooth card in the slot, and the Palm chirped merrily, but I was immediately disappointed: The card stuck out about half an inch out of the slot. It looked a little wrong, as though the Palm were offering a stick of gum. And in my fantasy of using my m500 to surf the Web, the m500 doesn't look any different, it's just that it's endowed with wireless Web connectivity. (But for those of you who are lucky enough to own a Palm Tungsten T--or who are considering going that route, you can realize this fantasy, since the Tungsten T has built-in Bluetooth. )

Connecting

Using Phone Link, a wizard that's included with the Bluetooth Card installation files, I was able to quickly and easily create a connection with the phone. Phone Link walks you through all the necessary steps, including configuring your system for Internet access with the phone acting as a modem.

To connect to the Net, you tap Connect in Phone Link (Or in Network Preferences), and it takes about two minutes to dial into your ISP and establish a connection. The Treo 300 establishes an Internet connection much more quickly, since it's using a digital network to transmit and receive data, and doesn't have to dial into a modem on the receiving end. But with the Palm/Bluetooth phone arrangement, you're only charged for minutes, not data.

Wireless Access
Wireless Access. Just tap Phone Link's Connect button to connect with the phone and dial into the Internet.

For email, I used Top Gun Postman, a very humble free app, but one that does the trick. After you tell it your SMTP and POP info, you just tap Get Mail, Send Mail, or Both. It pulls sent mail from the Sent Mail portion of Palm's Mail app, and received mail goes right into Mail's In-box. You also use Mail to read, compose, delete and reply to mail, and all the other usual email maneuvers.

Email from Thin Air
Email from Thin Air. Top Gun Postman is a simple, free app for getting and sending email on a Palm OS handheld.

In no time at all, I was getting and sending email on my m500, which was a great feeling. I didn't have a way to objectively measure the speed, but it seemed snappy enough, by Palm standards: about what you'd expect using a PDA over a wire-bound modem.

For the Web, I used Vista Software's PalmComm ($10), a very bare-bones browser that's perfectly suited to the m500's monochrome screen. And surfing was a very pleasant experience indeed, given the limitations of surfing on a Palm. If a site isn't specifically formatted for PDAs, it will be rendered a little strangely. The speed seemed consistent with using Blazer (another Palm OS Browser) on the Treo 300.

Google CNN O'Reilly Network
Site Seeing. PalmComm is a simple but serviceable browser for the Palm OS.

On the Road

Having achieved wireless Internet on my m500, I thought I'd try getting a little fancy. I was on a train, and I put the phone into my backpack on the seat beside me, and I still had the Net connection. When it was time to get up and switch trains, I kept surfing, with nary a hitch; it apparently didn't matter where the devices were in relation to each other, in order to maintain the connection.

On one occasion, I couldn't connect to the phone even when the devices were side-by-side, but after taking out the Bluetooth card and reinserting it, all was well. I suspect that these types of problems wouldn't occur with a Tungsten T.

Finally, I tried dialing from Palm's Address Book, and this worked well, although it does have an annoying limitation. You can only dial the primary number for a contact. It's also very easy to pass numbers from the Palm to the phone, but as with many Palm commands, you can only process one record at a time.

For wireless Internet access, I very much appreciate the Palm/Bluetooth arrangement. True, you have to carry around two devices, which is a compromise, but multitalented hybrid products often compromise in the quality of one or more of their functions. The Palm/Bluetooth Phone setup gives you a choice of phones and a choice of Palms. And since it's Bluetooth, the phone can be tucked away in another pocket (or inside a bag), and you'll have full access to wireless services from the Palm.

David Weiss is an Oakland, California based freelance writer. He's worked as a senior editor at Macworld magazine, and as the lead editor of MacHome Journal. Read more about David at www.davidweiss.net.


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