Palm debuts two slim, expandable handhelds

By Cameron Crouch, PC World |  Hardware

Feeling the competitive squeeze from Pocket PCs and Handspring Visors, Palm is releasing a new model that combines some of the major attractions of each while keeping the sleekness of a Palm V.

Palm is announcing today the M500 and the color M505, both due to ship in April. A key feature: Both include an expansion slot for Secure Digital (SD) or Multimedia (MMC) cards, which means you can add memory, media content, and communications functions --eventually -- without giving up Palm's pocket size and simple operating system.

But Palm's initial expansion is incomplete. The snap-on accessories and SD content are purchased separately, and you'll have to wait months for SD cards that add functions like Bluetooth or GPS. And despite 16-bit color, the Palm M505's display is disappointingly dull, favoring battery conservation over a bright color screen.

The Palm M500 will cost $399, and the M505 $449. But if you already have a Palm and its accessories, be prepared to replace the lot, because the add-ons won't work with the new line.

The new Palms are clearly intended to compete squarely with Pocket PCs and Handspring's Visor Edge and color Visor Prism. Pocket PCs have gained popularity for their glitzy multimedia functions and productivity software, while the Handspring models' easy expandibilty has made them an increasingly attractive alternative to Palm.

Palm's M500 announcement comes just one week after Palm OS-licensee Handspring unveiled the Palm V-like Visor Edge. Since its release last year, Visor has been praised for expanding the Palm OS through the Springboard slot. The new Visors, however, lose their sleek shape when you add the Springboard modules; in order to support the large Springboard connector and modules, Handspring made the slot an add-on to the Visor Edge.

Expandability Options Emerge Gradually

The biggest innovation in the new Palms is the small slot on top, which accepts postage-stamp-size MMC or SD cards. While MMC is the likely format for memory, SD cards at launch will add secure content, says David Christopher, director of product marketing in Palm's consumer markets group.

Initially you'll see cards like Lonely Planet travel guides and a games card with a handheld version of Sim City, Christopher says. But you probably won't see input/output SD hardware peripherals (similar to Springboard modules) for things such as Bluetooth until at least fall, he adds.

The reason for the delay: The input/output standard for SD cards isn't yet ratified. "The SD I/O specification is due in March," says Kimberly Cook, assistant general manager at Panasonic's E-Net group, a major developer of SD devices.

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