Not so long ago they were strictly for gadget nuts and those who enjoy reading source code. These days you only have to blink and a new Handheld PC boasting higher processing power, greater connectivity and increased applications arrives on the market. Handhelds now come in various guises that go way beyond the era of digital diaries, incorporating mobile phones, MP3 players, digital cameras and GPS systems along with enhanced computing capabilities. New models from Palm, Sony, NEC, Kyocera, Handspring among others are about to reach our shores, so Gizmo decided to take a brief look at the trickiest, most desirable Handhelds from the latest batch.
Let's start with the Treo 270 from Handspring - a communicator that integrates a mobile phone, wireless email and Internet applications, Infrared (IR) communication, 16Mb memory, full-colour touch screen and backlit QWERTY keyboard along with standard PDA functions. Interfacing is via the keyboard or stylus touch and a flip-top lid protects the keyboard when not in use. The Treo 270, like many of the new devices you can expect to see in the next 12 months, can be upgraded to cater for GPRS mobile access - meaning that you can stay connected all day but only pay for the packets of information you use and also deliver faster connection speeds than GSM networks. The Treo 270 runs Palm OS 3.5.2H and its 10.8 x 7.1 x 2.1cm dimensions and 153 g weight make it one of the smaller handhelds running a Palm Operating System. For those uninitiated in the jargon, there are two main flavours of operating system - PalmSource, which produces the Palm OS and also licences its use to other manufacturers like Handspring, and Microsoft, which produces Windows CE for the Pocket PC range. Palm is facing increasing competition from Microsoft's Pocket PC and both have released new versions of their operating systems this year - Palm OS5 and Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 software. The new Palm OS5 will accommodate more processing power and bring high-end Palms more in line with the Pocket PC, which is less efficient but more powerful and able to carry greater RAM - all of which relates back to the race for greater functionality.
The Sony CLIE and the Kyocera 7135 Smartphone also use a fliptop design and support the Palm OS, the difference being that both these devices incorporate the screen into what is essentially a "lid" on the Treo 270, becoming "mini-laptops" and freeing up more room for the keyboard. The 7135 includes MP3 and GPS functionality and its tri-mode mobile phone is equipped for digital and cellular CDMA and analogue cellular networks Running Palm OS 4.1, the 7135 has16 Mb of RAM internally (this can be boosted via SD slot) and like the Treo 270, supports both IR and USB connections to PC. The MP3 player includes a speaker-phone so that music can be heard without headphones and the partial GPS receiver works in conjunction with a network server. Voice-activated dialing is also featured and the 7135 can be configured for use as a modem for a PC or laptop. The Sony CLIE also has an expandable memory and supports Palm OS 4.1 - but the CLIE adds a digital camera to the list of possible applications for Handhelds. Not yet released in the US, the Kyocera 7135 is expected to cost around US$500 when released there later this year. No word yet on an Australian release date. The CLIE NR70VG which is now available at a cost of AUS$1,349.
Palm also produce hardware to run the OS - the m515 Handheld is the latest high-end Palm to hit the Australian market and matches the specs of many of its competitors -lightweight at 139 g, 16Mb memory running OS 4.1, dual expansion slots, high-res 65,000 colour screen and wireless connectivity when used in conjunction with accessories such as a data enabled mobile phone - the main difference is that there's no built-in keyboard, although plug-ins are available. Cost: AUD$869.
In the Pocket PC camp there's the Toshiba Pocket PC e740 - still very portable at 180g, the PC e740 features an Intel Xscale?400Mz processor, 64Mb of RAM, 65,000 colour display, SD Card expansion, Bluetooth and GPRS wireless connectivity. Microsoft's Pocket PC 2002 platform and the extra RAM means that computing power is increased and the impressive battery life of up to 8 hours is being matched by the latest offerings from other PocketPC manufacturers. Among them is NEC with the MobilePro 300E - marginally smaller and lighter but basically offering the same connectivity and software functions at a slower (206MHz) processing speed. The Toshiba e740 costs AUS$1,499 and the NEC MobilePro 300E retails at AUS$999.
The rush of new Handhelds, hybrid devices and the stream of new software innovations and cross-platform solutions that go with them are entering a burgeoning market - IDC Research predict that pen-based handheld shipments will reach 14.5 million worldwide this year, jumping to around 63 million hybrid devices in 2006.