Psion toughens up PDAs

The mobile-computer maker has introduced a Windows CE device designed for harsh environments, as it fights for approval of its Symbian sale

Psion's Teklogix division this week launched an update to its entry-level handheld computer, the Workabout, adding expansion capabilities and, more significantly, making the casing tough enough to withstand a four-foot drop onto concrete.

The mobile-computer maker also told shareholders that its financial situation is improving, promising it would return to paying dividends if the controversial sale of its stake in Symbian goes through.

The Workabout Pro's predecessor, the Workabout, has sold in the hundreds of thousands, Psion said. The device is intended for industrial use, in manufacturing, distribution, field service, meter reading, retail and similar businesses. It is based on Windows CE .Net and an Intel XScale processor, and can simultaneously support GSM/GPRS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Psion said.

The toughened device comes in two versions, the entry-level Workabout Pro M with monochrome display, 32MB flash memory and 64MB SDRAM, and the Workabout Pro C with a colour display, more memory and embedded Bluetooth. Both will be available in North America, Europe and Asia from June.

The CRM-oriented NetBook Pro, introduced last year, represented a switch from Psion's own EPOC operating system to Windows CE (see review here). EPOC is the basis for the Symbian OS that is now used in mobile phones. Psion moved further away from its roots last month when it announced its intention of selling its 31 percent holding in Symbian to Nokia, a move that would give Nokia control over Symbian.

The sale must be approved by regulators and by shareholders, who will vote at a meeting next week. Psion stands to gain £135.7m from the transaction but the move could also make Psion a less attractive investment prospect -- shares in the company dropped by nearly a third when the sale was announced.

However, the move would have some immediate benefits for shareholders, Psion promised. "Assuming the Symbian disposal is completed, the board intends to resume the payment of dividends in the 2004 financial year," Psion said in a statement on Tuesday.