Palm launches new handhelds

By Mathew Schwartz, Computerworld |  Hardware

Palm Inc. fired the latest salvo in the personal digital assistant (PDA) wars with the announcement of two new devices, the monochrome m500, and the 16-bit color m505.

Both have 8MB of memory, run the new Version 4.0 of Palm's operating system and have a new Universal Hotsync port, as well as improved screen readability and battery life. The m500, priced at $399, will be available in the U.S. late next month, and the m505m, priced at $449, will be released in early May. Both models will ship worldwide about a month after they hit U.S. markets.

The m500 and m505 are Palm's next-generation PDAs, as evidenced by their size and features lists. The devices are very similar in appearance, size and weight to Palm V devices: They are thin, aluminum-covered PDAs. But where a Palm V has a monochrome screen, the m505 is color. In the past, color screens have required bulkier machines to contain the extra batteries needed to power them for useful amounts of time. Now, however, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm said a new lithium polymer battery allows the m505 to run just as long as a Palm V -- which this reviewer found to be about two weeks of normal use. M505 review units weren't available at deadline.

Improvements include an e-book reader, plug-in card synchronization and Universal Serial Bus (USB) connectivity with Macintosh and PC computers out of the box. In addition to audio alarms, users also have two silent options: the Palm can flash an LED or vibrate. Users can set their Palms to "lock" after a certain amount of time and require a password for access.

On the desktop software side, Palm beefed up security and added support for vcard and vcal, two formats also supported by Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook for exchanging contact and calendar information. Selecting a vcard, for instance, will add the contact to a user's Palm desktop software, which in turn will appear on the handheld when synchronized.

The new Palms are "good devices and answer some people's concerns in light of competition [from Microsoft's Pocket PC]," said Alex Slawsby, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

In the past, Palm has lost market share not only to other Palm-compatible devices, such as Handspring Inc.'s Visor and Sony Corp.'s Clie, but also to devices such as Hewlett Packard Co.'s Jornada and Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq, which run the Pocket PC operating system. The Pocket PC devices have typically offered bigger, easier-to-read color screens and better integration between PDAs and PCs for programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel. Also, Pocket PC handhelds can read plug-in cards and double as MP3 players out of the box. On the other hand, Palm devices have traditionally been smaller and less expensive and had significantly longer battery lives.

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