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Panasonic gets tough with handhelds

The consumer electronics giant unveils its first handheld computer, which is designed to withstand the shock of a fall and to resist moisture, dust and scratches.

Panasonic is extending the concept of rugged computing to handhelds.

Panasonic announced on Monday its first handheld computer, the Toughbook 01, which is designed to complement its notebook line of the same name. The consumer electronics maker has been selling into a niche in the notebook market by focusing on durable laptops that can withstand the shock of a fall and can resist moisture, dust and scratches.

The company is not looking to take on the bigger names in the handheld market, but rather to offer a small device that can function in rugged conditions such as a rainstorm.

"We have no intention of taking on the Palms and Handsprings of the world," a Panasonic representative said. "Our customers were asking for a handheld, and we felt it was better to have one than not."

By offering a rugged handheld, Panasonic is hoping to sell more notebooks to corporations and agencies looking for laptops and handhelds from a single company. Panasonic does not plan to offer the Toughbook 01 to consumers and will only take orders for more than 500 units.

Last year, the consumer electronics giant sold more than 100,000 of its Toughbook notebooks. The notebooks have been popular with law enforcement agencies, and the company is hoping to push its handheld in the same market. The company will also target the other public safety agencies, the federal government, the military and utility companies.

The device will begin shipping in the fourth quarter and will cost $999.

Unlike other handheld manufacturers, such as Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic will be using Microsoft's Windows CE 3.0, not Pocket PC. Casio has taken a similar route with its Cassiopeia BE-300.

The Toughbook 01 weighs 1 pound and measures 1.6 inches by 3.9 inches by 6.8 inches. It comes with a 206MHz Intel StrongARM-SA 1110 processor and 32MB of memory. The handheld also features a 3.5-inch active-matrix display with a resolution of 320 pixels by 240 pixels. The Toughbook 01 supports a Secure Digital slot. It also offers integrated wireless capabilities and software for a GPS (Global Positioning System) add-on device.

The Toughbook 01 features a touch screen and a keyboard similar to the one in Research In Motion's BlackBerry.