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Palm gadget's true colors fall short

update The handheld maker owns up to what some consumers have suspected for some time: The Palm m130 can't display the 64,000-plus colors the company claimed it could.

update Handheld maker Palm admitted Monday that its low-end m130 handheld is not capable of displaying as many colors as the company had advertised.

When it released the m130 in March, Palm had advertised that the device's screen could handle more than 64,000 colors, but it actually displays far fewer. Each pixel can display one of 4,096 different colors. By using blending techniques such as combining nearby pixels, a process known as dithering, the gadget can display 58,000 "color combinations," spokeswoman Marlene Somsak said.

The company is apologizing for the problem but is not planning to offer refunds, Somsak said. Palm will also change the packaging and advertising for the m130 to address the discrepancy.

"We've made an honest mistake, and we are trying to address it," Somsak said. As for those who have already purchased the device, "We hope they will accept our apology for this well-intentioned error," she said.

Gartner analyst Todd Kort said it was somewhat surprising Palm did not know the specifications of its own device. At the same time, Kort said Palm faces a tough decision in deciding whether to offer refunds.

"Palm is in a tough enough position financially that they can't really afford to give people their money back," Kort said. "The device is still fully functional, but (the ad) was deceptive."

Kort said Palm might want to find some way to compensate those who purchased an m130.

"They are treading on thin ice if they think they can just walk away and hope the issue goes away," Kort said.

Hewlett-Packard had a similar issue two years ago with its Jornada handhelds running Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system. The company offered refunds to its customers.

In March, Palm said it was offering free cradle replacements to owners of m500 series handhelds to solve a longstanding problem that prevented some devices from properly sharing data with a computer. Reports of the problem cropped up shortly after the gadgets were introduced in the spring of 2001, but it wasn't until November that Palm confirmed there was a problem.

The same month, Palm reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that the company was overstepping its bounds in claiming its devices were capable of wirelessly accessing the Internet--most Palm models require a separate wireless modem and Internet service to do so. Palm agreed to change the way it advertised the products. Microsoft and HP settled similar charges in 2001.

Regarding the m130, there has been discussion for some time on Palm message boards that the device might not be able to display as many colors as the company was claiming. However, Somsak said, Palm only recently went back to check and discovered that the device was indeed not performing as promised.

Somsak said the device was designed to offer 64,000 colors but that somehow in the implementation of the design the product did not function as planned.

The m130 was initially priced at $279 but now sells for $249, following price cuts in July.