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Palm launches Tungsten line-up

High-end PDAs aimed at business customers complete two-tier product roadmap

Once again Palm is playing catch-up with rival Handspring. Where the Visor introduced USB synching, the Treo was first in line of the Palm OS-based PDAs (personal digital assistants) to integrate a phone. Now Palm has caught on to the trend for convergence devices and has built phone features into its latest Tungsten products, as well as adding Bluetooth support.

The Tungsten launch follows up the launch of the Zire at the beginning of the month, and represents the second phase of its plan to divide its offerings into two distinct categories — consumer (Zire) and business (Tungsten).

These different target audiences are illustrated by the products' prices and specifications. Where the Zire offered a barebones PDA sporting a meagre 2MB of internal memory and no means to expand twinned with a sub-£100 price tag, the Tungstens are packed with bells and whistles with prices to match.

The entry-level Tungsten T is slimmer and more compact than previous handhelds from Palm at 102x76mm. It can be extended by another 25mm to expose a Graffiti pad for inputting data with a stylus. It is priced £340 ex VAT and is available now at The Palm Store.

The T doesn't feature an integrated phone, as the low price would suggest, although a basic £180 mono Treo does offer a built-in mobile phone and sports the same price tag without a connection. But it can offer some features Treo users miss out on, including the latest version of Palm OS 5.0; a 144MHz Texas Instruments Omap1510 processor; built-in Bluetooth; secure digital card expansion and a full-colour screen.

The Tungsten W (pictured), which adds phone features — supporting both GSM and GPRS (general packet radio service), for voice and data calls, costs a bit more at £510 ex VAT without wireless service. It also boasts a mini keyboard, but will not be on sale until early next year on the Vodafone network.

Both Tungsten devices feature Palm's new five-way navigator, a dial on the face of each device that can be used to navigate the display with one hand. Both also have 320x320 pixel, 16bit colour displays and 16MB of RAM.

But the W will not use either the new processor or operating system found in the T — instead it relies on the older 33MHz Dragonball VZ chip and Palm OS 4.1.1.

"The focus in development was really on getting wireless connectivity and the application suite right with the Tungsten W," said explains Palm product manager Anthony Armenta, defending the company's decision not to use Palm OS 5.0 and the ARM chip architecture for the voice-and-data PDA. He noted that nearly 20 percent of all Palm OS applications still don't support the new operating system.

"(Palm OS 4.1) gives you the best compatibility with applications," he said.

The Tungsten line may face some stiff competition from the growing number of handheld makers that plan to offering new models, said Todd Kort, principal analyst with research company Gartner.

Dell's PDA is eagerly anticipated and may well set a new lower benchmark for handheld pricing.

"With [this] price point, I think [Tungsten] is in trouble," Kort said. "Dell is going to reset the market expectations for PDA pricing.

"I think the Tungsten product was conceived during a time when Dell's entry was not anticipated," he said.


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