Sony adds wireless to new handhelds

The consumer electronics maker announced its latest handhelds, which include built-in wireless capabilities and a slew of new components made in-house.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Sony Electronics introduced new handhelds Friday that emphasize wireless communications, and said it will increasingly use home-grown components.

The consumer electronics maker hosted a press conference here Friday at which it introduced two new Clie handhelds, the PEG-UX40 and the PEG-UX50, with built-in wireless connectivity as well as more components that were manufactured in-house. The devices will be available in Japan starting early August and the United States in early September.

The PEG-UX40 will cost $600 and come with built-in Bluetooth technology for wireless connections to other portable devices, such as cell phones and notebooks. The $700 PEG-UX50 will come with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology for connecting to wireless networks and sharing resources, such as broadband access. Both devices use version 5.2 of the Palm operating system and feature a new design, which resembles a miniature notebook with a screen that swivels around 180 degrees.

"We're creating a new mindset of what a PDA is and what a PDA is not," said Mark Viken, senior vice president of information technology products at Sony Electronics.

The devices are the first in the Clie line to come with built-in wireless technology. It won't be the last, as the company aims to increasingly allow consumers to access Web-based content and communicate via the Internet in future devices. The new handhelds give Sony a broad range of devices, from entry-level, inexpensive PDAs to multimedia devices and now to communications devices.

"We see beyond the 'tool' aspect of the handheld market," Masanobu Yoshida, president of handheld computing at Sony, said in a release.

The new handhelds come with an integrated digital camera, voice recorder, digital audio player, Memory Stick expansion slot and a color screen with a resolution of 480 pixels by 320 pixels. The screen has one of the highest resolutions for a handheld currently in the market.

"At $700, they're clearly not going for the mass market, but it may help to push prices for other Sony devices down," said Todd Kort, an analyst with research firm Gartner Dataquest.

The market for handhelds has been on the decline of late, with worldwide shipments falling 21 percent to 2.45 million units in the first quarter, according to research firm IDC. Demand in the business and consumer markets has cooled despite new devices and lower prices.

In the first quarter, Sony lost its No. 2 market share position to Hewlett-Packard. HP has about 18 percent of the market, and Sony has

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Sony introduces next-generation Clies
Mark Viken, senior vice president, information technology products division, Sony Electronics
just more than 16 percent. Palm maintains its No. 1 position in the market, with 36 percent.

The company is aiming to improve its position while also reducing the cost of production by manufacturing many of the key components used in the device itself, according to Viken.

"The battery, screen, CCD and chip all come from Sony," said Viken. A CCD (charge-coupled device) sensor is one of the main parts in a digital camera. The battery is made of a lithium-ion polymer, and the chip is the Sony CXD2230GA.

The Sony processor used in the new devices is called the "Handheld Engine" and is an ARM-based chip, which automatically adjusts its clock speed to meet the needs of the device, improving battery life while not sacrificing performance, according to Sony. The chip tops out at 123MHz and includes a graphics engine, camera interface and Memory Stick interface.

The chip is manufactured in the same Nagasaki plant where Sony is manufacturing the chip that will power the upcoming Sony PlayStation 3 game console.

The chip will remain in Clie devices that focus on communications but eventually it may be used in other products, such as other Clies or digital and audio players, according to Yoshida. The company may also look to make the chip for other manufacturers, but it will focus on Sony products first, Yoshida added.