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    Palm gets its groove back with new slate of features
    After losing traction to a host of competitors, the handheld innovator woos consumers

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #709 May 27- June 3, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    Palm produced the first successful handheld computer, and still leads in sales with 55 per cent of the market last year. But the company seemed to have been in a creative slump of late, with products from a range of companies using Microsoft's Pocket Windows offering more speed, power, and features. And running Palm's own operating system, handhelds from Sony gave users more screen resolution and multimedia features, while Handspring's Treo successfully combined a Palm-powered handheld with a cell phone.

    But the sleeping giant has awakened. A set of new products suggest that Palm has got its groove back.

    Late last year, the company released a pair of models (see Gear Guide January 28, 2003). The $169 Zire was a bare-bones PDA, most notable for its low price. The $599 Tungsten T was more innovative, combining a new version of Palm's software with a new, more powerful processor, a high resolution full-colour screen, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity in a clever, space-saving design.

    Three new models also combine enhanced power, clever design and potentially useful features.

    Tungsten W

    Aimed at business users, the new Tungsten W (about $825 before rebates) and Tungsten C (about $750) drop Palm's traditional reliance on writing on-screen, in favour of writing with a built-in mini-keyboard. Both share the crisp, high-resolution colour screen with the earlier Tungsten model, and all three members of the Tungsten family include some version of wireless connectivity. Bundled copies of Dataviz's Documents to Go allow Tungsten users to read and write documents in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint format.

    Where the original Tungsten T includes the still not widely used Bluetooth, the Tungsten W connects to standard GSM/GPRS cell phone and data networks such as Rogers/AT&T or Microcell/Fido. Unlike the other Tungsten models, this one uses Palm's older operating system and slower processor. This gives it better battery-life than would be possible with the newer versions, allowing up to 10 hours of talk time between charges.

    Tungsten C

    The just-released Tungsten C replaces the cell phone with built-in WiFi wireless networking, letting it connect to corporate, home, and small business networks and the growing number of wireless "hot spots" in cafes, hotels, and airports. With 64 MB of memory, a fast processor, high-resolution screen, and dual expansion slots, it's Palm's most powerful model ever.


    Where the original Zire was notable mostly for its low price, the new Zire 71 ($450) focuses on multimedia. Like the Tungsten C and T models, it's built on the newer version of Palm's operating system and uses a fast, powerful ARM processor, with a full-colour high-resolution screen, which it puts to good use displaying photos and short video clips. Add headphones and it doubles as an MP3 music player. Like the original Tungsten T, the case pulls down; in this case, revealing a digital camera; turning the Zire's screen into the camera's LCD viewfinder. Limited to 640x480 pixel resolution, the photos are far from professional quality, but could be e-mailed or posted on a personal Web site or printed in snapshot-sizes. Memory cards can be used to store photos, music, or video clips.

    This isn't the first time an MP3 player and digital camera have been built into a handheld computer. Sony offers similar capabilities in its Clie PEG-NX70V for instance, but that model is much bulkier and $350 more expensive.

    Palm's models have tended to focus on a Zen-like simplicity. Their new products remain simple and elegant but now add speed, power and the ability to connect in a variety of ways.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan