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Everex climbs mini-notebook mountain

The company will debut its first Windows CE-based mini-notebook along with an upgraded palm-size information manager.

Everex is set to debut its first Windows CE-based mini-notebook next week at the Comdex trade show along with an upgraded palm-size information manager that offers more memory capacity.

The market for so-called "PC companion" ultraportable devices is still as diminutive as the device themselves, and few manufacturers have begun shipping them yet. These Windows CE-based devices are about the size of a shrunken laptop. Most weigh in at 3 pounds or less, but offer much longer battery life and nearly instant boot-up. They also include a fairly sizeable keyboard.

Hewlett-Packard is one of the few PC makers that has jumped into the fray for these "Jupiter" devices so far, although devices from other top-tier vendors are on the horizon.

IBM is expected to join the market before the end of a year with a Windows CE notebook that would compete against HP's recently released $999 Journada in terms of size and features.

"The Jupiter class is going to feel its weight in the second generation of the operating system, and the second round of hardware next fall. Everex has decided that it's an important market, and they want to get experience before the market takes off next year," said Dr. Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights.

Everex will also next week show off its upgraded Freestyle "palm-size" PC, which will have 16MB of memory, compared to the previous version's 8MB. In contrast, the Philips Nino has 8MB of memory and the Casio E-10 has 4MB of memory standard. Everex's advantage, however, won't last long.

"All these handheld devices, from Palm-sized PCs to PalmPilots, are going to see increased memory. The technology allows us at the same price point to offer more functionality," such as databases that wouldn't fit on earlier designs, said Purdy.

The additional memory could lead to broader acceptance of the devices eventually, but analysts caution that the operating system and available applications must be improved.

"The initial OS and core applications, as Microsoft often does, [are put] out there to whet the appetite, and for the market to learn about them. The second and third generation get much higher in usability. Perhaps when that occurs, the enterprise will start building applications," said Purdy.

For Everex in particular, the challenge is twofold--the company needs to improve the quality of the Freestyle device as well, Purdy noted.

While a number of Microsoft's Windows CE partners will be displaying their take on the Palm-size PC at Comdex, which typically use a stylus for data input on a liquid crystal display (LCD), the competition will be out in force as well.

3Com's Palm Computing division will be in attendance, showing its Palm III PalmPilot personal digital assistant, and may also be showing its upcoming Palm IV, code-named Razor, to some customers in closed door sessions.

The company hopes to build on its momentum, having today said that more than 1 million of the devices have been sold this year alone. PalmPilots accounts for more than 70 percent of U.S. sales of handheld computers, the company added. (See related story).