Palm m500 / IBM Workpad c500

a good deal for $50 on eBay


I received an IBM Workpad c500 on 2005-10-21, bought for $40 + shipping from eBay. This is the third Palm Pilot I've had, and my fourth Palm-like device.

First, I bought a Royal DaVinci (256k), sometime in the late 1990s, to find out whether a PDA would be useful to me. I quickly found two things: a PDA is very useful to me, and the DaVinci was totally inadequate for the things I wanted to do.

So, I went out and bought a Palm IIIx. And I used it like crazy. I filled its memory with programs, then found a custom ROM builder and filled the ROM with programs too. It kept track of a zillion lists for me, all of my school notes, class schedule, various games, and just about everything else I cared to bother writing down. And it stayed with me all the time, in the Palm-brand zippered leather wallet I bought for it.

Then I was given a Kyocera 6035 Palm phone, and gave my IIIx to a friend. It was like the IIIx, except with cellular phone functions and twice as much memory. But oddly enough, I didn't use it much. It wouldn't fit in my wallet, which meant I had to carry around another device. The screen was smaller, which made it harder for me to accurately enter data. The touchscreen was flaky, with extremely poor accuracy, and would randomly register taps in weird places (or refuse to register taps at all). The phone flip pad open/closed sensor wouldn't always work, and the screen itself would flake out sometimes. The screen was also rather easy to scratch, which was a problem since the flip cover only covers half the screen. And the device was buggy in general.

So, I never was particularly happy with the Kyocera 6035. I mostly stopped using PDAs during the time I had that phone.

I did get an original iPaq h3635 during that time to run Linux on, but the iPaq proved problematic as well: too big (especially with an expansion sleeve), no screen cover, no built-in expansion, too little memory and flash ROM, short battery life, immature software selection, etc. It was fun and educational for playing with embedded linux, but not useful for me as a PDA.

I also bought an original Zaurus SL-5500, which proved much more useful than the iPaq. It ran almost the same software, but the hardware was almost immeasurably better. However, the OpenZaurus distribution is still pretty buggy, especially when running X11 instead of Opie, and it took a great deal of effort to make the device useful for PDA functions. But I did use it, and still do for some things. And I expect to keep using it for a long time.

But I still missed having a PDA which would fit in my wallet. The Zaurus does not, and really isn't as good at PIM stuff as my old IIIx was. So I bought a m500 from eBay. As far as I can tell, it's the best monochrome Palm-brand PDA ever made -- the last in an increasingly refined line of devices. After the m500, Palm had to start finding other reasons for consumers to buy its devices -- high-resolution color screens, music and video playback, integrated cameras, and other non-PIM features.

Besides, it's hard to beat 90% off retail price for a brand-new, unused gadget.


The IBM Workpad c500 is identical to the Palm m500 except for two things:
  • It's black instead of silver.
  • It has a different logo printed on its case.
What this means is that it's pretty much the thinnest Palm ever made. It's only 10mm thick, which is about half the thickness of most PDAs. With its leather flip cover attached, it's still thinner than most other "naked" PDAs. So, it's perfect for keeping in my wallet.

It also has a rather long battery life, with an estimated time of one month between charges. ... not quite as long as my IIIx (2-3 months per set of batteries), but plenty long.

As for features, it's much like a Palm Vx. The main differences are that it has a faster processor (33MHz vs 20MHz), a slightly more refined case, a slightly improved screen, a newer OS, vibrating alarms, improved buttons on the front, and a SD/MMC card slot.


A few things weren't what I expected.
  1. I ended up with a serial cradle instead of a USB cradle. That's fine, though. It means slower syncs, but also means I don't have to set up USB drivers for it. I can keep using the same old pilot-xfer program to talk to it.
  2. The power adapter plugs into the serial connector, not into the cradle. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this out. I almost sent it back, thinking there was no way I could charge the device. However, after using it a bit, I kinda like this design. It means one cable from the back of the cradle instead of two.
  3. The touchscreen didn't work at first -- at all. To fix this, I only had to loosen some screws on the back of the unit. They were screwed in so tight that the case was holding down the edges of the touch sensor. But luckily, it works fine after a little screw-loosening. It even works with a sheet of clear vinyl stuck onscreen to prevent scratches.


A few things seem like they could/should be improved...

The m500 was the first Palm to have a SD/MMC card slot, and it shows. It's not very well-integrated. Coming from a Linux background, I find it odd that the card isn't "just another mount point" which works the same as every other piece of storage hardware. But at least some of the add-on software can help make the card more useful. LauncherIII (v3) is particularly useful, though it's difficult to actually get. I only managed to get a copy because its author forgot to remove one of the links to it on an unrelated product page. Just in case it disappears completely, here's a copy of

The 160x160 screen is a tad bit low on pixels. I mean, it's adequate, but I'd really prefer a 320x480 setup with an optional graffiti area like on the newest Tungsten models. (OTOH, having a silkscreened graffiti area makes it easier to justify taping my own custom keyboard on)

The inverted backlight is kind of annoying. However, EasyLaunch can fix that for me with a quick stroke to invert the screen.


I find my new m500/c500 much more useful than my Zaurus sl5500, despite its relatively pathetic hardware specs. It has been worth far more than the $40 I paid for it; I use it for at least 40 different things... more than a few of which couldn't be done without its SD/MMC slot. And thanks to its small overall size, I can take it pretty much everywhere inside my wallet, and jot down notes or look things up or entertain myself anywhere, any time.

The m500 could definitely be improved... for example, the m515 would be a welcome upgrade, with its color screen. And the storage capacity could be bigger... and the CPU could be much, much faster (TomeRaider3 with the WordNet dictionary is unusably slow). But it's still an incredibly useful little device.
Last modified: December 11, 2005 @ 4:41 MST
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