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New MS OS; New High-tech Handhelds

Leading WindowsCE handheld vendors Casio, Compaq, and Hewlett Packard announced the release of the new PocketPC handhelds (formerly known as Palm size PCs). With the new PocketPC OS, vendors are now dramatically differentiating their products.

Compaq is offering a modular system with slip on jackets that add PC card or CompactFlash capability. And Casio is offering the first handheld aimed specifically at multimedia users. Compaq claims its new Pocket PC, called the iPAQ, is the smallest and lightest on the market, weighing in at 6 ounces. The unit is also unique in that it is designed as a bare bones modular base over which the user can slide on optional “jackets” (the way a pager slips into a plastic holder). “With the PC card jacket, we can transform the iPAQ into almost anything. You can have a CDPD modem card for wireless capacity and in the future we’ll have GPS jacket and a cellphone jacket (with a headset),” said a spokesman.

The first iPAQ jackets, called expansion packs, will include a PC card pack and a CompactFlash pack at estimated street price of $149 and $39 (note this is correct price, its not $139) respectively.

The basic iPAQ Pocket PC has a color TFT screen measuring approximately 21/4 by 3 inches. It uses a 206MHz Intel StrongARM 32-bit RISC processor and has USB and MP3 capability. As with all the new PocketPCs it adds Pocket Word and Pocket Excel, and Internet Explorer and Microsoft Reader and Windows Media Player (for MP3 and WMA). It ships with a USB port and optional serial port connectors are available. The iPAQ is expected to ship in June at an estimated street price of $499.

Casio’s new EM-500 is the first PocketPC aimed specifically at the multimedia enthusiast and the first to use removable MMC (which is smaller than CompactFlash (CF), measuring about the size of a postage stamp versus CF which is about half the size of a cigarette pack). It has an enhanced memory capacity of 64 MB of RAM for downloading sound and video or word files. The 500 will ship this summer at a price to be announced.

Casio is also debuting the E-115, which offers improved graphics and enhanced multimedia capacity over the E-105. At a suggested retail price of $599, the unit has 32 MB of RAM with a 131 MHz processor plus a 65,536-color touch screen. It ships with Microsoft Outlook synchronization, Microsoft Pocket Word, Pocket Excel and Pocket Money and works with Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Streets and Pocket E-Book. The unit also provides e-mail support for AOL and plays MP3 and MS Audio as well as video movies.

Hewlett-Packard is debuting its Jornada 540 series, which will include the 16MB Jornada 545 and the 32MB Jornada 548. The series is sleeker and thinner than its predecessor and uses a 133MHz processor. In addition to the new Pocket PC software standard capabilities Hewlett Packard also includes the ability to connect to select mobile phones with Socket Communications’ Digital Phone Cards and the company expects to offer wireless accessories in the future for CDPD and GSM/GPRS networks and a CompactFlash Type I Bluetooth module. HP also includes in the 540 series Image Expert CE for viewing, editing and sharing digital images and ZIOGolf. HP is also including desktop applications MusicMatch Jukebox for recording CDs into MP3/WMA formats and AudibleManager for managing audio books.

The 540 series has a 240 x 320 pixel 65,536 color display, and comes with a Compact Flash Type 1 slot, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for approximately two weeks of use. The 545 ships with a USB cradle and will be sold through traditional retail channels at a street price of $499. The 548 with both USB and serial cradle will be sold through the web exclusively at $599. The 540 will be offered as a commercial product only.