At first blush, Psion's Series 5mx handheld computer appears to be nothing more than the Series 5 with a splash of trendy silver paint. It's physically identical to its two-year-old predecessor, at 6.7 by 3.5 by 0.9 inches and 12.5 ounces, and retains the incredible expanding keyboard, the eminently useable built-in software and connectivity features. But scratch beneath the shiny surface and you'll find many reasons to upgrade your sales force.
There's more power here than in any other machine that will fit in a suit jacket pocket. It now has 16 megabytes of RAM, twice as much as before. The speed of the ARM 710T processor has also doubled, to 36 megahertz. Add additional speed improvements across the board to the already economical EPOC operating system and you get a responsive handheld computer that is both faster and stingier on batteries than the Windows CE competition.
The built-in software continues to impress. Instead of the stripped-down software you get with Windows CE, the Psion Series 5mx gives you software that is the functional equal of that on the desktop, but much more memory-efficient. EPOC applications support a full range of formatting options and styles, as well as printing, spell checking and even document embedding. The Series 5mx handles word processing, spreadsheets, large volumes of e-mail and Web browsing with aplomb. Improvements include the addition of frames, cookies and authentication to the Web browser; templates and an outline view to the word processor; and a monthly view in the calendar. E-mail can now be synchronized with MS Outlook and Lotus CCMail. There is now a dedicated Contacts application (the Series 5 used a database template for this) that can be called upon from any other application and a simple Jotter application that can be used with the included stylus.
Unfortunately, Psion has done little to address the number-one complaint of Series 5 users, the dim monochrome screen. It's still 640 by 240 (full-width VGA) but only marginally brighter and sharper, comparing poorly to the monochrome displays found on 3Com's Palm devices. Color will have to wait for the upcoming Series 7. Oddly, there's still no modem in the device, even though an e-mail icon now appears on the case, and Psion has positioned the device as a communicator. You'll need to supply a PC Card modem or a mobile phone that can connect via the device's infrared port.
Overall build quality is up to the standards set by earlier Psion devices and even slightly surpasses them. In particular, the rubberized finish of the Series 5 case has been replaced by silver-colored plastic that is less prone to peeling.
Psion may not have made much of a splash in the United states, but you needn't worry about compatibility with other platforms. You can share files with all of the leading office suites: Corel Word Perfect, Lotus Organizer and Microsoft Office. The PIM will sync with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Organizer. The addition of a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) opens doors to back-end enterprise data. It's even possible to beam contacts between the Series 5mx and a handheld running the Palm OS.
The Psion is priced at $549. For more information, contact Psion at www.psionusa.com or (978) 371-0310.