Palm vs. Handspring: What’s the difference? FAQ: PDA Comparison

The real difference is that there’s not much difference. Palm Pilot or Handspring Visor? I call them the PalmSpring.

Using a PDA…

So what can one do with these things? PDAs (personal digital assistants) are handheld computers. They have more RAM and a faster CPU than desktop computers from the late 80s.

If you use reminder lists or Franklin time planners, a PDA will replace all of that. The main uses are:

  • Calendar and time planning: Just like a time planner or a desk calendar, you can use the PDA’s calendar to organize meetings, dinners, trips, and so on. Since it’s computerized, you can copy items, set them to repeat (such as birthdays are yearly, with reminders, or monthly tasks.) It fits in your pocket, so you always use it.
  • Address Book: Keep all of your addresses and telephone numbers. You can find any item by using Search. You can sort them into categories.
  • To-Do Lists: You can create lists with items and rank them by priority. Items move forward each day until you finally do them.
  • Writing: Use a little stylus to write. Within a few hours, you can easily jot down notes. If you like, you can buy a keyboard and type in your notes.
  • There are thousands of programs: spreadsheets, astronomy programs, financial, business, reference, books (see e-texts,) maps, city guides, and so on. If you add wireless or modems, there are web browsers, email, and so on. With the Handspring, you can add GPS and a map, so that you always know where you are. You can add a camera to both Handspring and Pilots, to take digital photos, which you can transfer to your computer and send by email. You can add a voice recorder module, to make quick reminders. You can add MP3 module to listen to music. There are over 5,000 software titles for PDAs at PalmGear. The software is all online, most of it is less than $10-20, nearly all are try-before-you-buy, and many of these are free.

In short, a PDA can do everything that your computer can do. And it’s in your pocket, so you take it everywhere.


The comparable units are the Palm Vx (the Palm 5x) vs. the Handspring Visor Deluxe.


  • Both are PDAs (Personal Digitial Assistants.)
  • Both have 8 MB of RAM.
  • Both have the same OS
  • Both can use all of the current Palm software.
  • Both work with Mac or Windows.
  • Both have a 16-tone grayscale screen (160×160 pixels.)
  • Both have infra-red transfer capability (IR-port). You can beam programs and content back and forth between two PDAs (and between Palm and Handsprings too.)
  • Both were designed by the same team.
  • Both are really the same device, just different shells.
    Palm Vx

  • Thinner, smaller, and lighter (4 oz): If size/weight matters, choose Palm Vx.
    (The Handspring is thicker, longer, and heavier at 5.4 oz.)
  • Rechargable internal batteries: When you put the Palm Vx in the cradle, the batteries are recharged.
    (The Handspring uses AAA batteries (about $9 for 12) and these last about a month or so.)

  • Modules: You can expand your Visor by adding modules. Handsprings are larger because of the module slot. Modules (sold separately) include GPS, a modem, a digital camera, medical reference books, a universal remote control, extra RAM, voice recorders (for memos), MP3 music players, wireless web access, and more. See a list of modules.
  • Price: The Handspring is $250, the Palm Vx is $450.
  • USB cradle: Handspring uses USB to connect to your computer. USB is faster than serial connections. (See below for more on USB.)
  • Colors. You can choose among five translucent colors.


Beneath the skin, both are really the same device. They both use the Palm OS. The only difference is the outside. It’s like “Dell vs. Gateway, and they both use Windows 98.” If you buy a Handspring, you can share programs and content with Palm devices (and vice versa.)

For a comparison of the features of the various Palm devices among themselves, see For more info, visit and

Where to buy…

The best place to buy either the Palm or the Handspring is online at or Pay with a credit card and the puppy is at your door in a few days. You can buy the Palm or Handspring and try it for thirty days with a satisfaction-or-money-back guarantee. Perhaps buy both, try them, and return the one you don’t like.

You can also buy used PDAs. People buy one, use it for a while, buy a better one, and sell the old one. Prices are 50% or less of the retail price. and have message boards which include Classifieds, which is where people sell their PDAs, leather cases, accessories, etc.

If you have a friend at Palm, then send her flowers and chocolate. Palm employees can buy up to three Palm PDAs per year at about 50% discount. However, it takes more than six weeks to deliver. Palm delivers first to paying customers. Palm employees are at the end of the line.

If you are in Silicon Valley, Palm is in Santa Clara, near Great America park. You can buy Palm Pilots (plus leather cases, accessories, the T-shirt, etc., at a steep discount) at the 3-Com company store, just inside the main entrance of the 3-Com building, next to Palm. Handspring is in Mountain View, at Bernardo and Central Expressway (just south of Castro.) They don’t have a company store yet.


Whichever you get, fetch a copy of Vindigo (it’s free.) It’s a city guide for your PDA.

If you get a Visor, get the backup module ($40.) It lets you make a complete backup of your Visor. Sync only backups your data, but not software or settings.

For Visor, there’s the Visor FAQ

What is USB?…

A common question is “What is USB and do I have it?”

USB is a new standard for computer connections. It replaces the serial cables (modem cables.) parallel cables (printer cables,) and all other cables (mouse, joystick, keyboard, scanner, etc.)

  • USB connections are much faster (up to 20 times faster, so your PDA can update itself very quickly.)
  • You can add up to 256 USB devices to a computer. If your computer only has two USB ports, just add a USB hub (like an extension cord) which has six more USB ports. Add as many as you like.
  • USB cables also carry power, so you don’t need extra cables or transformers.
  • USB works with printers, monitors, etc., so it’s much easier to manage.
  • USB is plug-and-play. Just plug a new device to your computer. The computer figures out that it’s new and will start using it.
  • USB is hot-swappable: you can plug stuff in or out without turning off the computer

If your computer is from early 1997 or newer, it probably has USB.

Here’s a photo of a USB plug. These are about a half inch wide.

Here’s a photo of the USB ports on the back of a computer. These are about a half inch wide.

The USB ports are rectangular. (Sorry for the low-quality photo. I can’t find a better photo.)

Note: there are also serial ports on your computer. These are the D-shaped ports, with nine pins in them. Do not shove the USB plug into your serial port. Yes, if you shove hard enough, it will go in. It may also burn out and destroy your computer.

If you don’t have a USB port, then get a serial cradle for your PDA at any computer store.