Palm V Review

Ted Felix

Update 7/4/2005: At first, I was having quite a bit of trouble getting the Palm V to work since its digitizer had drifted so far that I couldn't use the thing at all. However, someone emailed me and gave me a link to "Z-Digitizer". Install this on your Palm V and you'll be taken to the digitizer calibration screen after a soft reset. It works perfectly.

One caveat, however... Don't set a password on your Palm if you are having this trouble, and you are using Z-Digitizer. Z-Digitizer does not come up until after you have entered your password. Therefore, if the digitizer drifts, and you can't enter your password, you've lost everything.

A note on resets. There appear to be three ways to reset a Palm. The first is the soft reset where you simply press the reset button on the back of the PDA. This won't delete files, and probably won't solve any problems either. The next is a "warm reset". This involves pressing and holding the "up" button on the front while pressing the reset button on the back. I'm not really sure what that does. The last and most drastic form of reset is the "hard reset". This involves pressing and holding the power button while pressing the reset button on the back. This is so serious a maneuver that you will be prompted "are you sure?" style just to make sure. This wipes out everything and restarts the PDA fresh. This will clear files and passwords and get you back to that out-of-the-box experience.

You can pretty much ignore the rest of this webpage. I'll see about updating it as time goes by with more useful information.

Since I had no end of trouble getting the Palm V to work, this is less of a review, and more a story of one man's struggle with a PDA.

A friend of mine gave me a Palm V so my son could try programming with it. I found HotPaw BASIC which looked like a good language for someone already familiar with QBASIC.

For the first month or so, I didn't really have time to configure the Palm V for HotPaw, so my son just used it as a regular PDA without HotSync-ing to a computer. It seemed to work fine, although the digitizer (touchpad, touchscreen, touch-screen, whatever) did tend to drift quite a bit after a few days. It wasn't a big deal, though, so he kept on using it.


Once school was over, I decided it was time to see if we could get HotPaw up and running on the Palm V. This is when the trouble began. My first step was to try and use HotSync to backup the device. This appeared to work fine, but then it said it had to reset itself. This seemed a bit strange, but I figured it was typical, so I let it perform the reset. When it came back up, I was unable to use it at all due to the digitizer being so far out of alignment. It was so bad that there was no way to even bring up the digitizer calibration. The only solution was a "hard reset" (hold down the power button while pressing the reset button on the back) which would first clear the memory, then run the calibration.

Basically, you can't HotSync because it will perform a soft reset that renders the PDA useless. If you perform a hard reset, you lose all your data, but the touchscreen works fine. You can't win.

This is a huge design flaw. If the digitizer is expected to drift this far, then there should be a button somewhere on the device that allows recalibration (the contrast button on the Palm V would be a great choice). Touch-screen video displays always have a way to do this. The Palm V is rendered useless by the lack of this feature. Don't buy a PDA that can't be operated without the touchscreen. The newer models usually have a four-way arrow pad that lets you navigate the menus and get to the calibration app. (Although on my Dell Axim x50V you still can't get to the calibration app with the arrow pad.)

After some searching, I found DigiFix from Copera. This utility is supposed to run a digitizer calibration each time you do a soft reset. This sounded perfect in theory, but in practice it didn't work at all. DigiFix wouldn't even come up after a soft reset. Instead the screen would blank and beep momentarily, then go back to the initial preferences screen. So much for DigiFix.

I figured that perhaps the problem with DigiFix was because this Palm V had an older operating system on it (3.5.0). I downloaded the latest 3.5.3 for the Palm Vx, and tried to install it. No luck. I kept getting "There is not enough free space to install" upon reset. Update 7/7/2005: It turns out that this is a Palm V, not a Palm Vx (although the back of the case says Palm Vx, I think this particular PDA has the wrong back on it). If you try to load the Palm Vx OS upgrade on a Palm V, you will get this message. To upgrade the OS on a Palm V, use the Palm Desktop software and do a HotSync. The first hot sync will upgrade the OS. Now I'm at 3.5.3. I haven't retried DigiFix as Z-Digitizer works fine.


Don't even try to operate an old Palm V or other similar PDA without a utility like Z-Digitizer. The touch screen on old PDAs has a tendency to drift beyond the point of being usable, rendering the device useless unless you have some quick way to get into the digitizer calibration screen. It would be nice if a button on the device were dedicated to running the digitizer calibration. That contrast button on top is a good candidate. The contrast adjustment could be moved into a preferences screen someplace.


6/17/2005: A reader of this page has pointed me to Z-Digitizer which apparently works better than DigiFix. I'm going to give it one last try before giving up. Wish me luck.

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Copyright ©2005, Ted Felix. Disclaimer.