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PC World

Psion pushes new palmtop

June 25, 1999
Web posted at: 9:51 a.m. EDT (1351 GMT)

by Marc Ferranti

NEW YORK (IDG) -- Looking to secure its niche in the world of mobile computing, Psion Computers debuted a new palmtop computer at PC Expo on Tuesday. The Series 5mx taps Java and software synchronization technology to keep on-the-go users connected to the Internet, e-mail, and applications on their home or office PCs.
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The $549 Series 5mx is expected to be available in a few weeks. The device weighs in at 12.5 ounces with batteries, and measures 6.7 by 3.5 by 0.9 inches. The 640-by-240-pixel backlit screen is brighter than displays in earlier Psion devices, according to the company. The Series 5mx runs for a month on two AA batteries and offers "instant on" startup--unlike larger computers that run PC operating systems and require a typical PC boot-up process.

The Series 5mx offers built-in applications including agenda, contact manager, word processor, and spreadsheet programs. The device's database software can exchange files with standard office applications from Microsoft, Lotus, and other companies via an incorporated converter library. And Psion's PsiWin 2.3 software lets users synchronize the Series 5mx e-mail software with e-mail applications on desktop machines, according to the company.

One of the main features Psion is promoting is the incorporation of Java virtual machine software into the device to allow users to take advantage of Java applets on the Web, said Brian James, director of industrial sales for Psion in the United States.

Web sites use Java applets to let Web surfers access a range of services, such as the ability to browse and order from product catalogs, he said.

The Java virtual machine will also allow Java developers to modify their applications for the Series 5mx, James said. He added that Psion is hoping this will lead to a host of new Java-based, third-party applications for the device.

But Psion palmtops are getting squeezed into an increasingly smaller niche by low cost notebooks on the high end and slightly less expensive handhelds--such as the Palm OS devices from 3Com--on the low end, according to Randy Giusto, an analyst with International Data Corporation.

Last "grasp?"

"I don't think the Java technology is going to really, in itself, attract that many users," said Giusto. "I think Psion is grasping, they're really losing ground to the Palm device."

Psion's James defended the Series 5mx against this claim by pointing to the full complement of applications and what Psion calls the "touch-type" keyboard.

"You really can do typing and all the things you can do on a laptop on this (Series 5mx)," James said. Users typing on the device, however, will find that the keys are smaller than the average full-size laptop, he acknowledged.

To connect to PCs, networks, and the Web, users can buy an optional PC card adapter for less than $100 which will allow them to use a wide range of modem cards, according to James. Otherwise, the device includes a cable that can be attached to PCs. For wireless connectivity, the Series 5mx lets users make an infrared connection to Ericsson LH88 mobile phones, through which users can connect to the Web or other networks. Other types of mobile phones will be supported in the future, James said.

The Series 5mx runs on a 36MHz ARM710T RISC processor and the EPOC 32-bit operating system. It has 16MB of RAM, and a CompactFlash card slot lets users add up to 96MB of additional memory.

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