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Palm finally goes color
(CNN) - Palm Computing announced Tuesday the company's first color handheld computer, dubbed the Palm IIIc, as well as a replacement for the Palm IIIx unit.
Windows CE-based palmtops have had color screens for some time, but palmtop color technology remains problematic. The color circuitry needs extra space, and can be a major drain on battery life.
Palm spokesman Paul Osborn said the move to color wasn't caused by a need for color displays, but simply the next evolution in an attempt to make Palm computers more readable. Palm has been known for an unwillingness to add "bells and whistles" for novelty's sake, instead concentrating on usability and stability.
The Palm IIIc is only slightly longer than the other models in the III series, and is the lightest and thinnest of all color handhelds. The designers were so size-conscious that they removed the little serial port door in order to shave off a few millimeters of space.
Just like the earlier Palm Vx unit, the IIIc uses a fast 20 Mhz Dragonball processor, and includes 8 megabytes of RAM. There's also 2 megabytes of Flash RAM, which holds the operating system. It can be tweaked to hold programs too, using sometimes unstable hack utilities. In another first for the Palm line, it uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery. As in the V series, it recharges in its cradle.
The screen uses TFT transmissive technology, and works best in the artificial light found in offices. Even outside in natural light, glare does not get in the way of the crisp display, which can show 256 colors. While not quite perfect for photographs, it does a decent job with them and is excellent for games and application graphics.
Since a color display is such a huge drain on a battery, Palm made it a goal that battery life would not be a problem in the IIIc. They are touting that the unit will have 2 weeks of battery life in normal use, defined at about 40 minutes per day, and the screen set at the default brightness level. This sort of advertisement is targeted at mobile professionals, traveling apart from their cradle/recharger unit. After a week of use, it was surprising to note that battery life doesn't pose a problem even with heavy use.
The IIIc also sports a new operating system. Palm OS version 3.5 will be downloadable for other Palm units close to the end of March, but ships with the IIIc. Highlighting the new OS is support for 8-bit color. That still helps non-color Palms since it switches on a 4-bit monochrome capability in the Palm III. Previous versions of the Palm OS only allowed for 2-bit color depth.
Version 3.5 includes all the 3.3 enhancements, such as faster HotSyncing, as well as plenty of usability enhancements. The Palm OS team tried to reduce the amount of taps for users. To that end, there is a command toolbar for shortcuts, a type-ahead feature, and other streamlined innovations.
Other features include the ability to beam both categories and names to another user with the IR port, some dialog enhancements such as a snooze button and larger finger-tappable buttons.
Palm has been working with third-party vendors to develop software that takes advantage of color.
Four color applications come with the IIIc: an enhanced calculator, a backgammon game, a photo album with a tool to drag and drop JPG images into a Palm format, and a new AvantGo client. The immensely popular AvantGo, a service that brings Palm-friendly versions of Web sites to the handheld, can now include images too.
Kodak has software that allows color photos on the device in an 8-bit format, and its PalmPix camera will support color viewing directly on the device. Mapmaker Rand-McNally has color maps that can be imported from its StreetFinder 2000 product, and is working on a snap-on wireless GPS unit.
There are no glaring faults in the device. The screen refreshes very fast. The unit's size is manageable. And it's got a cool black finish. But the up/down button could be more responsive.
As one might expect, it's very expensive. The Palm IIIc retails for $449, just as much as the wireless Internet-capable Palm VII. When it comes down to a choice between color and wireless connectivity, it's difficult to choose color. However, prices should drop within the next few months and a 'Palm VIIc' can't be far off.
Palm's other announcement, the Palm IIIxe, is an 8 megabyte unit meant to replace the Palm IIIx. The xe, retailing for $249, also has a black finish, but is otherwise indistinguishable from the IIIx. The cost of the IIIx drops to $229, and will be discontinued sometime in March. Palm will continue to market the entry level unit, the Palm IIIe, at a new price of $149. The slim V and Vx retail for $329 and $399 respectively.
Palm has a few more surprises, too. It is now selling a DC charging kit for $39 for the IIIc. The unit works in both car and plane lighter-size jacks. Because of the new length, the company will market a couple of new cases for the IIIc, although some current III series cases still fit, as well as all the VII cases.
The company will sell a foldable Palm Portable keyboard for $99. It is the size of a regular keyboard, but folds up to approximately the size of a VII.
Lastly, the company is making some changes to the Palm.Net service for the Palm VII. Palm.Net now offers a new unlimited monthly service plan for $44.95, rather than the past limited plans. One can also forward an Internet mail to the Palm.Net service with new POP3 compliance, then download it to the Palm VII.
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