Psion Series 7 launches with colour, comms...

Psion this month will ship its next generation of handheld computers.

The units address most of the shortcomings of Psion's current devices compared with rivals based on Windows CE. They also give it a large lead in the race for Java-based information appliances.

The Series 7 is the more general purpose of two models. It will have many of the features long sought by Series 5 users, such as a colour touchscreen, a PC Card slot, a nearly full-sized keyboard and a rechargeable lithium ion battery.

Most of these features are already common on Microsoft Windows CE-based personal digital assistants but Psion will offer full Java support. Psion also has a superior reputation for ease of use.

Also due at the end of the month is the netBook, which the company announced in June. The netBook will be aimed at vertical business applications, and a developer kit for the netBook shipped last week.

The differences between the two designs are subtle, but significant for business users. For example, the netBook has more RAM and will be faster -- it uses a 190MHz Intel StrongARM processor, while the Series 7 uses a 100MHz processor -- enabling it to handle more complex Java applications. Also, the netBook will support Ethernet networks, while the Series 7 will support only modem connections.

IT managers said software support will be crucial, as Windows CE has a significant lead over Psion for business-related software, despite being late to the handheld market. "Only CE software information tends to come across my desk, and not much of that," said David Amos, IT manager for industrial distributor The BSS Group in Leicester.

Other IT executives said the new Psion devices could fill a need for users with less complex requirements. "They could be a useful alternative to full-blown, expensive laptops," said Gregg Pinchess, assistant IT manager at law firm Eversheds.