The newly announced NetBook Pro is, according to manufacturer Psion Teklogix, a unique task-oriented mobile computing device aimed at the rapidly growing mobile CRM (Customer Relationship Management) market. The tasks involved are sales force automation, field service management and field inspection/data collection. Psion Teklogix is the company formed in late 2000 when Psion plc merged with Canadian company Teklogix precisely to focus on this sector.
The NetBook Pro bears a striking visual resemblance to the old Psion Series 7, the consumer-orientated device that in late 1999 set the mobile computing world ablaze with its small form factor, long battery life, colour screen and eminently usable keyboard. Some hailed it then as the future of mobile computing. The Series 7 was followed by the NetBook, a more advanced unit based around the same hardware design but aimed at the mobile enterprise market -- just like the new NetBook Pro.
Goodbye EPOC, hello Windows CE .NET
The NetBook Pro yet again adopts the same hardware design, being based around a sub-A4 clamshell form factor. However, there are improvements and changes pretty much everywhere else. Fans of the earlier devices will immediately notice the replacement of Psion’s old EPOC operating system with Microsoft’s Windows CE .NET 4.2. This is the same OS that forms the core of Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, and is Microsoft’s base embedded platform for small-footprint devices. The key benefit of switching to CE .NET 4.2, says Psion Teklogix, is the development and application integration opportunities it provides. Notably, it supports industry standards like 802.11b, Bluetooth, GSM/GPRS and CDMA. None of these capabilities are actually built into the Netbook Pro itself, but its PC Card, Compact Flash Type II and SD/MMC (SDIO) card slots allow them to be added. There is the added bonus that applications developed for Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC should run -- albeit not at full screen size. Psion Teklogix product manager Harvey Roberts would not be drawn further on this, other than to say: “Every third party application we have tried to date has run without difficulty”. To further add functionality, the NetBook Pro incorporates the JEM-CE implementation of Java.
Features and pricing
Weighing in at 1.1kg, the NetBook Pro’s clamshell lid lifts to reveal a usable keyboard and an 16-bit colour SVGA (800 by 600 pixel) touch-sensitive display. It has 128MB of RAM and 32MB of ROM, 20MB of which is available for end user storage. USB, serial and infrared ports are provided, while the processor is an Intel XScale PXA255 running at 400MHz. The software suite includes Pocket On Schedule for personal information management, Internet Explorer 6, WordPad for word processing and Windows Media Player. ActiveSync is provided for direct PC connectivity, although as the NetBook Pro’s target markets are largely field-based, it’s envisaged that this will generally be ignored in favour of over-the-air data exchange. Battery life is estimated to be at least eight hours, with a backup battery keeping data safe for ten days. The NetBook Pro will be available from the end of October, at the expected price of £1,152 (inc. VAT). This is close to the $1,500 US dollar price, even though all NetBook Pros are being manufactured in Wales and so should incur minimal shipping costs within the UK). If you’re thinking of buying a NetBook Pro to replace your notebook, note that Psion has no intention of directly supporting individual consumers at this stage. The official word is that it continually evaluates the suitability of products for multiple markets. However, Psion officially abandoned the consumer space late in 2001, and has made no attempt to re-enter it since. This means you almost certainly won’t be able to pop to a high-street electrical store and buy a NetBook Pro. Harvey Roberts admits, though, that there is nothing to stop online retailers selling single units if they choose to, so anyone who really wants to try this device probably just needs to do a little research.