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Royal banks on $99 handheld

Royal's palm-sized, low-cost daVinci organizers harken back to the early PalmPilot, though hundreds of dollars less than other handhelds.

Royal has announced the daVinci series of palm-sized organizers, a line of simple, low-cost Personal Digital Assistants that harken back to the early PalmPilot.

While the new daVincis will probably never talk to the PC via cell phone, or allow sophisticated Web browsing, Royal is betting that both PC users and non-PC users will be lured to a sub-$100 PDA with email and organizer capabilities.

Royal PDA
Royal PDA
The devices are due to ship this quarter.

Similar to the early PalmPilots, the entry-level daVincis feature scheduling and address book applications, 256K of memory, and a PC docking cradle for PC data synchronization, but for $99.

When introduced, Palm Computing's PalmPilot was lauded for its efficiency in performing simple tasks like scheduling and contact management. As the PalmPilot has gained market share and dominance, Palm Computing has--not surprisingly--heaped on more functionality.

But some observers believe too many features spoil the simplicity. "One of the joys of the PalmPilot is that it's so dumb, it's easy to use," said analyst Jim Turley of MicroDesign Resources. [New features can be like] adding a jet engine to a paper airplane."

The upcoming PalmPilot, code-named Razor, is due out in November, reportedly sporting a new screen, more memory, and faster processor, with wireless connectivity to cell phones and PCs expected to be available in later versions.

But Royal is also eyeing a slightly more enhanced device. The daVinci Pro, which is expected to retail for $150, also includes the same kind of slot found in notebook PCs. These slots typically hold credit-card sized modems and network devices.

Optional features also allow users to synchronize data with Microsoft's Outlook email program or Lotus Organizer, a sophisticated scheduling program for PCs. Additionally, the daVinci Pro includes a backlit display and 1MB of memory.

Royal is also launching a Web site where daVinci users can download applications and software updates, possibly in an effort to jumpstart developer support like the PalmPilot enjoys.