Sony opens its Palm

Sony has unveiled working models of its long-awaited handheld computer based on the Palm operating system.

Sony has unveiled working models of its long-awaited handheld computer based on the Palm operating system. The expandable unit is scheduled to ship in Japan in September, with other countries to follow.

Sony plans to release the device, which it calls a “personal entertainment organiser,” in two versions: colour and monochrome, with otherwise identical features and an almost identical price. The company estimates the color version will be priced around $1200, and the monochrome version, about $999.

As fans of the Japanese consumer electronics giant have come to expect, its device comes with some of the styles and features now becoming standard fare on the company’s products. But consumers may find initial versions of the device have several shortcomings.

Chief among its features is a slot for the company’s proprietary Memory Stick memory card, but the first models won’t support versions of the Memory Stick used with the company’s digital music players. This means it cannot do double duty as an MP3 player. The built-in copy protection hardware required to support the music memory cards won’t be available until the second-generation models debut.

Besides offering a way to add extra memory or even transfer files to the device, Sony plans to produce a range of peripheral hardware. These include a video camera with an adapter that plugs into the Memory Stick slot.

Another feature is the “jog-dial” button, becoming standard on many Sony cellular telephones and portable electronics devices. The button lets users scroll through lists on screen and select with a push of the same button, making one-handed operations much easier.

Distinguishing Video

One area where the device sets itself apart from other Palm devices is its capability to play video. Sony increased the clock speed of the device’s Dragon Ball EZ processor to 20MHz and installed a software video playback system from Generic Media. Playback quality depends on the video but is between four and ten frames per second, says Masafumi Minami, general manager of the network and interface department at Sony’s internal Personal IT Network Company.

“We have a very clear focus,” says Keiji Kimura, president of information technology at Sony’s Personal IT Divisional Company. “We wanted to pursue the utmost ease of use.”

Otherwise the machine is, at heart, a Palm-based handheld much like the competing Palm and Handspring Visor – though Sony has added some software to set it apart, including a Web browser, e-mail, and an image viewer.

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Martyn Williams

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