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Multipurpose PDA From palmOne

5/23/2005 02:00:00 AM Eastern

The first of a new class of PDA/multipurpose devices was released by palmOne. Called the LifeDrive, the Wi-Fi-ready, portable digital media player is positioned as “more than an iPod” and “more than a PDA” and partially as a pocket-sized replacement for a bulky notebook computer, said palmOne's product marketing director for handhelds, Stephane Maes.

The company bills the LifeDrive as a melding of a business productivity tool and an entertainment device.

The 4GB LifeDrive can store and play or show movies, music and photos. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking, and it allows “through the firewall” wireless e-mail with attachments when the user is in a Wi-Fi hot spot. It can also remotely retrieve Microsoft Office files left from a person's computer.

While other portable media players on the market offer a digital smorgasbord of features, palmOne claims a seamless, easy-to-use interface between functions, said Maes.

A key feature of the LifeDrive is its 4MB of storage allowing users to carry around many of their desktop files, said the company. Another key feature is a new easy synchronization format that lets users drag and drop files to be synchronized in one click while maintaining the system's file structure, so “you are sure you always have an updated version of your files,” said Maes.

The LifeDrive has photo software that recognizes when the user inserts an SD card with photos, offering an easy photo “dump” so the SD card is ready for reuse, said Maes.

Users can wirelessly download music and create play lists directly on the unit. In addition they can create slideshows with background music or record a voice-over, Maes said. Further, palmOne is bundling a 30-day free trial of the RealNetworks' Rhapsody digital music subscription service with the unit.

The LifeDrive does not have a built-in digital camera. The company said its users would require a 4-megapixel or better camera with zoom and flash, which would add too much to the cost of the unit, now at $499 suggested retail.

With its ability to store maps the LifeDrive can also double as a navigation system. It may be combined with a $250 GPS kit with Bluetooth to provide turn-by-turn directions.

The unit has a new 320 by 480 high-resolution color touch-screen display which palmOne said is similar to that of the Tungsten T5, only brighter with better color saturation. It is the first palmOne device with USB 2.0.

Analyst for IDC, Framingham, Mass., David Linsalata said, “Having the 4GB hard drive is a good evolutionary step for the PDA — the ability to store 4GB of information, combined with the new smart file management. The challenge is that the unit can do so much, it's up to the user to decide what they are going to use it for, and that's a double edged sword.”

Ken Wirt, palmOne's worldwide marketing senior VP, noted, “LifeDrive is versatile. For the business executive, it's a personal mobile briefcase. For the photo enthusiast, it's a camera companion.”