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A Closer Look

Wrist PDA, More Novelty Than Utility

By Anthony Zurcher
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page F07

Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can now wear a wristwatch that doubles as a Palm organizer. But do you want such a contraption, Fossil's $249 FX2008 Wrist PDA, strapped to your arm?

That's an open question. Anyone who might be interested in such a device probably already has a cell phone with a decent calendar and address book -- if not the Palm operating system itself. So why strap a hefty gadget to your wrist if you've got a perfectly acceptable alternative in a pocket or purse?

Fossil's FX2008 runs the Palm OS 4 and has a touch-sensitive screen. (Courtesy Fossil)

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If there is an answer, it's probably this: The Wrist PDA (short for "personal digital assistant") is technological bling.

It's for people who not only don't mind that it's big -- half an inch thick and 1 5/8 by 2 inches wide -- but who like that fact, who want to call attention to their wristwear. The Wrist PDA's dimensions as well as its boxy, brushed-metal casing should see to that; this could be the Honda Element of timepieces.

But this monstrous watch doesn't just tell time, it also can sort your contact lists, manage your schedules and let you play Tetris. Its gray-scale screen, one inch on a side, can even display one of 11 watch-face designs, ranging from classic dials to artsy digital readouts.

To control these functions, the Wrist PDA includes a touch-sensitive screen, plus three buttons and a rocker switch on its sides. The buttons are big enough to let you quickly navigate the Palm software's menus without resorting to the tiny fold-up stylus that stows in the wristband's buckle.

Using that stylus can be a real challenge. If you have big fingers or limited dexterity, trying to tap some of the smaller on-screen buttons or enter text using the built-in handwriting-recognition software may exasperate you. This dainty stylus can also be lost easily; fortunately, Fossil includes a spare.

The screen lights up with a blue glow at the press of a button, but that's a sure way to eat up the battery. Yes, this watch needs regular recharging: With moderate use of its Palm features and that backlight, our test model ran slightly under two days between charges. It can be recharged by plugging it into a wall outlet or by leaving it connected to a Windows or Mac computer's USB port after you hot-sync it (a tiny plug for its USB cable hides on the left side of the watch).

Compared with other Palm devices, the Wrist PDA isn't so hot: It runs the older Palm OS 4 and offers less than eight megabytes of memory, specs comparable to four-year-old models. (Had it shipped last summer as originally planned, it might not have looked quite as archaic.)

What if, however, you're not looking to grab people's attention with your watch and just want a timepiece more useful than what you wear now? Then you might find it less acceptable that this contraption is too thick to fit well under shirt sleeves, all but forcing you to wear it below your cuffs. (The Wrist PDA only comes in a man's size, but that's likely the demographic Fossil is targeting.)

You might also be less inclined to forgive the way this little beast's 3.2 ounces of weight can actually tire out your arm. The thought of casually accessing information on your watch while standing in a Metro station may sound inspiring, but you're more likely to find yourself sitting down, hunched over, with your wrist on your thigh as you squint at the screen. You could just take the thing off and hold it in your hand, but that defeats the whole watch-as-PDA purpose.

One last caution: This watch isn't water-resistant, so be careful going out in the rain.

Given how few people are wearing "smart" watches built around Microsoft's MSN Direct technology (also sold by Fossil), it's hard to imagine the Wrist PDA doing much better. As long as it does the same things as a Palm handheld, but less elegantly, its only real selling point is novelty.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company