The $200 Clie PEG-S320 is Sony's entry into the mainstream, low-cost device arena that includes the likes of Handspring's Visor Deluxe and Palm's m100. At the same time, the $400 Clie PEG-N610C comes with a color screen and undercuts its closest rival, the $449 Palm m505.
The introduction of the devices is a clear sign that Sony is "jumping into the middle of the price war" that Palm and Handspring are engaged in, said Alex Slawsby, an IDC analyst.
"Sony is going for the jugular, and it's saying that it won't concede volume shipments to its competitors," Slawsby said. Low-cost devices tend to ship in greater numbers because more consumers can afford them. "The problem is that it's a tough time to compete in the market because (industrywide) sales have been soft."
Clie's PEG-N710C, introduced in May, limited Sony to a small segment of the market because of its $499 price tag, Slawsby noted. But the new devices will open doors to higher-volume segments of the market, he said.
The Clie PEG-N610C, the more expensive of the two new handhelds, comes with a 16-bit color screen with 320-by-320-pixel resolution, a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor, 8MB of RAM and 4MB of flash memory. Unlike the more expensive PEG-N710C, though, this model doesn't come with an MP3 player.
At $200, the Clie PEG-S320 comes with a monochrome display and a resolution of 160 pixels by 160 pixels, 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor, 8MB of RAM and 4MB of flash memory.
Both new handhelds will use version 4.0 of the Palm operating system, which allows the PEG-N610C to display 16-bit color and allows both devices to use a USB connection to synchronize with a PC.
Sony is placing its bets on the new models because its initial attempts with the first Clie handheld launched last August were disappointing. "It was overpriced and under-featured," Stephen Baker, an analyst with market researcher NPD Intelect, said earlier this year of the original Clie.
The new Clie handhelds will be available in retail stores in August. The company said customers can preorder them on its Sony style Web site.
In addition to Sony, both Palm and Casio made handheld-related announcements Monday.
Palm said that retail giant Sears Roebuck will start carrying three low-end models: the m100, the m105 and the older, color-screen Palm IIIc.
And Casio announced the Cassiopeia BE-300, which the company is pitching as a low-cost device based on Microsoft's Windows CE 3.0 operating system. The company is already a licensee of Microsoft's Pocket PC OS, but the $300 BE-300 will cost about $200 less than the cheapest Pocket PC-based device from Casio, the $499 E-125.
The BE-300 uses a 166MHz chip from NEC and has a 320-by-240-pixel color screen and a CompactFlash card slot.
All the announcements kick off what will be a flurry of handheld news coming from this week's PC Expo convention, which is part of the Technology Exchange Week New York.
Palm CEO Carl Yankowski will make a keynote speech Tuesday at the trade show. Palm will also detail just how grim its last quarter was and will outline its cost-cutting plans after the close of trading Tuesday.