Fossil Abacus Wrist PDASascha Segan
When we first put on Fossil's Abacus Palm OS watch, a colleague predicted one of two things would happen: Either we would get mugged shortly after stepping outside or be proclaimed a geek god.
We're happy to have experienced the latter. The Wrist PDA, once the ultimate in vaporware (Fossil first showed a Palm-equipped watch at Comdex in 2002), is now a triumph—a good-looking watch that's a real Palm OS digital assistant.
The Wrist PDA has old-school specs: On our benchmark tests, it performed at less than one-third the speed of the palmOne Zire 21, a low-end PDA. Still, the Abacus runs a stunning array of Palm OS software. Zagat to Go works perfectly, as do DocumentsToGo 6 (but not 7), AvantGo, Tetris, and the freeware Metro Navigator. Only misbehaved apps that don't support an on-screen title bar, like the Phoinix GameBoy emulator, have trouble; they run, but you can't summon menus because the watch has no physical key for doing so. Clicking on the title bar or using a shortcut stroke will pull up menus, though.
When left alone for a minute or so, the watch defaults to its time-telling app. The datebook provides alarms, which aren't all that loud. There's no stopwatch, lap timer or world clock. Fossil says it wanted to leave those to third-party developers.
Note that geek gods need big wrists, sharp eyes, and nimble fingers. The watch is large: We had to cinch the buckle to its tightest stop for our wiry wimpster wrist. And packing a 160-by-160 screen into a watch face often leads to incredibly tiny text and infinitesimally small on-screen buttons on a display that already can be difficult to read in dim light. Clicking on items sometimes requires the precise dexterity of a brain surgeon. Increasing the standard font size in applications like AvantGo helps somewhat.
The Wrist PDA is full of ingenious touches that will thrill geek gods but might make mere mortals a little nervous. The eensy stylus, which snaps into the watch buckle, is usable—but also losable—and you get only one spare. (Geek gods don't lose things.) You enter data by writing on the watch's touch-screen face or by calling up the world's tiniest on-screen keyboard. (Geek gods have steady hands.) Using a USB cable to sync and charge the watch, absent a stand or cradle, feels clumsy. (Geek gods use IR sync but still need USB for charging.)
We used this watch a lot more than we have other PDAs, because it's always right there. Whenever we had a few seconds to spare, we looked up movie showtimes, read articles, or mulled over our next reviews using AvantGo or DocumentsToGo.
The Wrist PDA may be the apotheosis of the classic PDA—a device that lets you keep your personal data with you all the time, everywhere. For a true geek god, it's a shining jewel on the throne of a personal Olympus.
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Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.