Palm Plays Up Battery Life In New Wi-Fi Equipped Handheld

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Palm Wednesday plans to ship its first handheld with integrated 802.11b wireless capabilities, promising the device will outlast Pocket PC competitors with a battery that can power wireless use for a full day.

The new Tungsten C contains a large lithium-ion/polymer battery that will deliver about eight hours of use with the 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, wireless capabilities activated, according to Anthony Armenta, a senior product line manager at Palm Solutions Group, based here. With occasional wireless use the device will run for about one week before the battery needs to be recharged, said Armenta.

Palm's new Tungsten C is powered by a 400MHz Intel XScale processor and includes a built-in keyboard for answering e-mail and browsing the Web, 64 Mbytes SDRAM, a transflective TFT screen and an SD expansion slot. The device has a street price of $499.

Also on Wednesday, the company is expected to release the Zire 71, a consumer-oriented handheld with a color screen, built-in digital camera and MP3 player. Much like Palm's existing Tungsten handheld that has a slide-out Graffiti writing pad, the Zire 71 keeps its small 640 x 480 digital camera hidden until it is needed. Users gently pull down on the handheld to slide out the camera.

The Zire 71 uses a Texas Instruments OMAP310 144MHz ARM processor and comes with 16 Mbytes of storage, an SD expansion slot and a transflective TFT screen. It is priced at $299.

While the Zire 71 is aimed at consumers who want to share photos and use other multimedia capabilities, the wireless Tungsten C is focused at enterprise users. Armenta said the increased penetration of wireless access points in campus environments and in public locations such as hotels and airports is paving the way for increased demand for wireless handhelds.

"Wi-Fi is growing quite rapidly, and we think now is the time to jump in," he said. "What's missing is a device you can actually count on."

Pocket PC-based handhelds from vendors such as Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard have been offering integrated 802.11b capabilities since last year but battery life has averaged three to five hours at the most, solution providers have said.

"Battery life is still a significant issue with Pocket PCs," said Anthony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates, an Oakland, Calif., solution provider that has developed a number of mobile applications.

But Meadow also said he isn't sure the Tungsten C's integrated wireless will have immediate appeal among most of his customers. Mobile workers who need to check e-mail in a campus environment would experience the most benefit from such a device, he said.

"Whole wireless business has taken a lot longer to take off than anyone expected," he said.

Still Palm points to growing awareness of 802.11b wireless. Intel, for example, has been heavily promoting wireless hotspots after releasing its new Centrino mobile CPU, and even fast food chain McDonald's has gotten behind the movement.

Armenta said Palm will be promoting the device to verticals that are already using wireless, such as health-care providers.

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