USR Pilot

The U.S. Robotics revived public interest in PDAs just as the market was slowly decaying. But, it did not accomplish this feat by introducing a breakthrough, powerful minicomputer. Instead, it did just the opposite.

USR simplified the PDA. The company refused to follow the trend of increasingly robust, standalone palmtops. Instead, it produced a compact, connected, and cheap electronic organizer. It marketed the Pilot as an accessory that could easily integrate with usersí preexisting desktop computers rather than a high powered, independent PDA. And, this strategy has led to a relatively successful debut in mass market.

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The Pilot is an personal organizer. Period. It is a simple PDAand its modest ambition prevents it falling into the typical PDA trap of attempting too much with too little resources. Its main applications are an address book, scheduler, to-do list, and notepad. It is open to third-party software, but lacks the memory capacity to store many add-ons. However, its highly specified function and low cost of $250 has been enough to attract consumers looking a PDA which actually lives up to its name as a personal digital assistant.

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size- 4.7" x 3.2" x 0.7" and 5.7 oz. (easily fits into a pants pocket)
screen- small, low resolution, black & white, touchscreen
battery- Two AAA batteries can power it for 8-14 weeks.
speed- Motorola "DragonBall" processor (2-3 second wait time)
fragility- No protection for screen. Many users have complained about its cheap construction and easily crackable screen.

For complete technical specifications, please visit the official U.S. Robotics Pilot site accessible though the Resources page.

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The Pilot employs an inventive system of handwriting recognition called Graffiti. Users input text into a pressure sensitive pad directly underneath the screen. Users can also bring up an oncreen keyboard.

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A unique aspect of the Pilot is its emphasis on integration with a host computer. It is essentially a portable extension of a desktop machine. Each Pilot comes with a cradle which connects to the hostís serial port. Users place the PDA in this device and press the HotSync button to effortlessly synchronize data between the main computer and the Pilot.

The Pilotís small screen and low resolution makes it impractical for involved Internet browsing. Nonetheless, a startup, Nikean Wireless Devices, is readying two miniature add-ons to snap onto the bottom of the Pilot. One is a wireless modem bundle which includes a web browser and e-mail client. The other is a device which transforms the Pilot into a alphanumeric pager. These two devices exponentially raise the Pilotís functionality, but seem to violate the Pilotís simple PDA philosophy.