LAS VEGAS -- In a town where Technicolor extravaganzas are commonplace, the big draw for small electronics at this year's Fall Comdex is handheld computers with color screens.
Last year, everyone was talking about Windows CE. I tried to get caught up in the hype, but I never really took to the first round of the machines. Too slow. Small screens. Not fully compatible with all the applications I normally use.
A few months later, my old friends at Hewlett-Packard released their first Windows CE handheld. (My 95LX -- and then my 100LX -- were incredible machines). Then the 300LX and 320LX boasted bigger screens. Printing directly from the PDA. Great Internet browser software. Better than the other CE machines, but not quite there.
Fast forward to the present. Now it's Windows CE 2.0. Touting improvements everywhere. (We'll see about that!) But the really big deal "2.0" hath wrought is color screens.
This time, H-P is in the forefront. With its 360LX (black-and-white screen) and the 620LX (in living color). First impressions (this means trying them out for about 60-seconds while hundreds of other conventioneers are patiently waiting their turn):
They're nice-looking machines, they seem a little faster than the first-generation CE palmtops and the color screen is really neat. They have white backlighting (instead of the Indiglo green stuff we've grown to endure). The 360LX will retail for around $700, the 630LX for "just under a thousand." In English, that probably translates to $999.
Down the aisle, you should have seen the lines (and the elbows flying) to get a look at Casio's first stab in the Windows CE handheld market. Casio introduced the Mabilon. The black-and-white 4100 (selling for $699) and the color 4500 ($999). The big draw here is the camera card. For an extra $400, you can get a color zoom camera that attaches to the PDA and allows you to take and save pictures with your handheld computer. Good-quality pictures! It's very very cool. I think it's a great device for journalists to take with them out in the field. For non-journalists, it provides a great excuse to take your PDA with you on vacation. and everywhere else.
The downside for these new small devices is that color screens will compromise battery life. I heard someone from H-P boast: "Expect three hours from a set of alkaline AA's." I think that's overly optimistic, but we'll see when we get our hands on a test unit.
So now, Fall Comdex makes it clear where the handheld battle lines are being drawn. The degree of sophistication you can buy will be directly proportional to the amount you want to spend. There will be small devices under $500, larger B&W PDA's from $500-$1,000, color PDAs from $800 on up (including Toshiba's upgraded mini-laptop, the Libretto 70, retailing for $1,995).
I think the really interesting battle will be in the $500-$1,000 segment. I'll tell you what you can expect to find in that price range in Tuesday's dispatch ... from the land of computers and Siegfried & Roy!