New PDAs coming soon: Wi-Fi enabled Palm TX, $99 color-screen Palm Z22

Palm Inc. has lowered the cost of acquiring a personal digital assistant (PDA) with Wi-Fi connectivity, and also is courting technology novices with a new, inexpensive PDA, the company is expected to announce Wednesday.

The two new PDAs, the Palm TX and the Palm Z22, are entry-level models that the company believes will make handheld computing more affordable for a wider variety of customers, said Raj Doshi, product line manager for handhelds at the Sunnyvale, California-based company. The TX costs $299 with around 100 MB of user-accessible flash memory and an integrated Wi-Fi chip, while the Z22 costs $99 with a color screen and 20 MB of user-accessible flash memory.

Palm's customers have been clamoring for more PDAs with Wi-Fi, according to Doshi. But the company has a schizophrenic Wi-Fi strategy. Its popular Treo smart phones do not come with Wi-Fi, much to the consternation of analysts and Palm enthusiasts, but the TX will become the second PDA to feature an integrated wireless networking chip.

Palm believes that PDA users tend to stick close to Wi-Fi networks in their home or office, while Treo users are on the road more frequently away from Wi-Fi hotspots, Doshi said. While Treo users certainly visit their homes and offices on occasion, many analysts believe that the cellular carriers that sell the Treos are more interested in keeping those users connected to the Internet on pricey cellular network connections, rather than free Wi-Fi connections.

Still, Palm is fulfilling the wishes of users for more PDAs that can connect to the Internet with the release of the TX. PDA shipments have been in a freefall for several years, as mobile phones have become more powerful and capable of handling very basic contact and calendar information.

However, while PDAs that can connect to the Internet retain their appeal, potential users of the TX will match it up against other PDAs running Windows Mobile from companies like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., said Todd Kort, principal analyst with Gartner Inc.

"This will be [Palm's] most credible Wi-Fi product to date. But it's kind of late in the game when you've got an OS that is obviously not going to be upgraded," Kort said. The future of the Palm OS is up in the air after developer PalmSource Inc. was acquired by Access Co. Ltd., and PDA users looking to spend $299 might prefer to buy a product with an OS that will evolve over time, he said.

The TX comes with flash memory, which has become the standard for Palm's products. Flash memory can store data even if the device loses battery power, which has been the source of great frustration for past Palm users, Doshi said. The PDA uses a 312MHz XScale processor from Intel Corp., an expansion card slot that supports the SDIO (secure digital I/O), SD, and MMC (multimedia card) formats, and a 320-pixel by 480-pixel screen.

On the software side, the TX includes DataViz Inc.'s Documents To Go software for creating and editing Microsoft Corp.'s Word and Excel spreadsheet files, and for reading PowerPoint presentation files. It also works with MobiTV Inc.'s application for allowing users to watch live television on handheld devices.

The new Z22 PDA is targeted at those individuals who have yet to give up their leather-bound paper organizers, Doshi said. Some of the key features for attracting this group are the flash memory, which will help protect data, and the color screen, which looks much nicer than paper, he said. At $99, the Z22 is also cheaper than buying a paper organizer and refilling it every year with the new calendar.

Palm has a good chance of attracting people who have never used a PDA with the Z22, Kort said. "They are trying to remove the intimidation factor that people associate with a PDA. It's something that is appropriate for students who don't need to connect to Wi-Fi," he said.

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