Palm m125 packs punch for consumers

The m125, which ships today, adds expandability at the consumer end of Palm's line as the company takes aim at Microsoft's Pocket PC

A new Palm handheld computer, aimed at consumers, hits US shops today (Thursday), kicking off a £300,000 drive to promote Palm products ahead of the Christmas shopping season. The Palm m125, whose details have been widely leaked on various Web sites, is expected to be on sale in the UK from Monday.

The m125 is a significant step up for Palm's consumer line, which at the moment is represented by the m105. While keeping the same basic design as its predecessors it uses Palm's newly introduced standard base connector and adds a secure digital card expansion slot, meaning that the device will be able to use most of the same add-ons as the more pricey m500 series devices.

The m125 will sell for £199 (inc. VAT) in the UK, compared with the m105's current £169 price tag. The m105 is likely to drop in price.

The new handheld will get an operating system upgrade, to version 4.0, and includes standard PIM software. It includes 8MB of RAM, which can be upgraded via the SD slot, and operates on two AAA batteries.

Among other improvements the 4.0 operating system supports USB connections, speeding up PC synchronisation by four or five times. The m105 and older Palm models relied on a serial port connection.

One of the new bits of hardware m125 users will be able to get their hands on is a Bluetooth attachment from TDK, which will allow a simple (in theory) wireless connection to Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, laptops, PCs and other devices.

TDK launched a Bluetooth attachment for the high-end Palm V series, called Blue Five, at the end of last month and is due late next month to start selling Blue M, a version for m-series Palms with the standard interface. That includes the m500 series, and now the m125.

Times have been tough for high-tech manufacturers, and Palm, having initially resisted the malaise, has succumbed as much as everyone else. However, the company is aiming to boost sales leading up to Christmas with a £300,000 advertising campaign that highlights Palm's hardware and software expandability.

The campaign will be a key part of Palm's strategy to fend off competition from Microsoft, whose Pocket PC operating system powers devices from Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and other manufacturers. The selling point of Pocket PC devices is their superior processing power and screen resolution, which leads Microsoft to tout them as PCs that are shrunk to fit in your pocket.

Palm's riposte will be to highlight the hardware and software available from Palm's extensive developer community. Since the introduction of the m500 series earlier this year, which introduced the standardised connector and SD card expansion slot, attachments like GPS receivers, digital cameras and collapsible keyboards have appeared for the new hardware platform.

Ultimately the SD slot will also be used for such attachments -- Palm has already demonstrated a Bluetooth card, for example -- but at the moment Palm is promoting it mainly for memory expansion and application storage. Palm m500-series users can already buy games, city maps, dictionaries and e-books in SD-card form.

The print-based advertising campaign will run from November to January, Palm said.

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