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PalmOS Tech Articles > #1, June 2001

New PalmOS handhelds hit market
No injuries reported

This spring has seen a flurry of exciting activity on the Palm front, with no less than five major product releases from Palm Computing and its hardware licensees.

On March 12th, Palm spin-off Handspring (Handspring.com) announced its new Visor Edge, built no doubt in response to customer demand for a slim-line unit from the company to compete with Palm's V series. Like a Palm Vx, the Edge is an 8Mb monochrome device with a sleek metal case. The Edge, however, sports a faster 33 MHz processor, comes in three colors (red, silver, and blue), and offers a new flashing LED alarm for silent notification. It even supports Handspring's Springboard expansion modules through a functional, if slightly awkward "backpack" add-on which clips onto the rear of the unit. The Edge retails for $399, and is otherwise very similar to a Palm Vx, except that ships with OS 3.5.2 in non- upgradeable ROM instead of more costly Flash-RAM used on most Palm models.

PALM M500, M505
Not to be outdone by one of its licensees, Palm countered one week later by announcing its own m500 ($399) and m505 ($449) organizers. Avoiding the inevitable Roman numeral shortages with its former product naming, Palm adopted a similar modern but confusing numbering scheme used by Nokia for its cell phones. The new devices are a major step for Palm, answering the prayers of many high-end Palm users, while at the same time taking a shot across the bow of would-be Pocket-PC competitors who might otherwise gain ground against Palm in the battle at the high-end of the market.

The m500 is a monochrome device that matches or trumps the Edge on almost every point for the same list price. Like the Edge, both m500 series organizers have rechargeable batteries, 8Mb RAM and 33Mhz processors. They too have optional silent blinking alarms, but also support new vibrating alarms. Lastly, they also offer integrated USB ports for ultra-fast HotSync operations, a feature previously only available on Handspring Visors.

For expandability, both devices offer a new dual-purpose expansion slot supporting either standard multimedia card (MMC) or secure digital (SD) expansion cards and devices. About the size of a postage stamp, the tiny removable memory cards, along with upcoming external peripherals mark the first time Palm has adopted a removable expansion format. Its smaller size along with Palm's marketing muscle is sure to give Handspring a run for its money. The real exciting news, however, is color. While the m500 is a slim monochrome device with a case and screen nearly identical to the Palm V series, the m505 sports a new color screen in the slim-line format, a combination at the top of many Palm wish lists. The screen uses a new reflective, side-lit LCD screen like the iPAQ Pocket PC from Compaq. While dimmer than either the Palm IIIc or Visor Prism when used indoors, it is perfectly readable in bright sunlight, a serious limitation in the older color models.

On May first, taking the lead in both screen technology and counterintuitive cryptic product names, Sony announced its new Clie (pronounced KLEE-AY) model PEG-N710C. The device offers a high-resolution 320 x 320 reflective display, side Jog-Dial control, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, and a built-in MP3 player. Retailing for $499.99, the new device will be the most expensive PalmOS unit to date. Available initially in Japan, the new Clie also comes bundled with audio and video playback software designed to work with its included proprietary Memory Stick expansion technology. Pushing the envelope on a number of fronts, the real questions are how compatible the device is running existing software, and how much software will support Memory Stick. Both may have to wait until it is widely available worldwide.

The last entry into this year's hardware shoot-off is the new HandEra 330 ($349) from the company of the same name. A long time hardware innovator in the Palm world, its maker, TRG, shed its generic and somewhat forgettable moniker in the most eyebrow-lifting name change since PalmCentral transformed first into PdaCentral then into GoPda, and finally into Handango. As a note to companies wishing to join the crowd, the names Handelicious, Handalooza, and Handimonium, are still available.

The HandEra may very well be the first mainstream device for this company formerly known as TRG. While sporting the same 8MB RAM and 33MHz processors as the other new arrivals this Spring, the 330 sports a new high-resolution 240 x 320 monochrome display. While looking very much like a standard Palm Organizer, this means that the display is 50% sharper, and that the display extends all the way down into the graffiti writing area. A benefit is that you can now see your graffiti writing ink (ala TealEcho) and on programs written with special HandEra support, the graffiti area can be dismissed altogether for a truly large display screen. In addition, HandEra has expanded the PalmOS to automatically scale-up programs to use the higher resolution display and provides system routines for them to easily support screen rotation.

Besides the new display, the HandEra is also the first PalmOS device to support two simultaneous expansion cards. It contains both a SD/MMC expansion slot for cards compatible with the Palm m500 and m505, and a standard compact flash (CF) slot like its predecessor, the TRG Pro. For power, it supports either four AAA batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. It also has a Jog Dial, voice recorder, and the same amplified, clean sound of the TRG Pro, though still does not provide a headphone jack.

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