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Revamped Tungsten hangs on to data

New PalmOne handheld doubles as flash drive and retains data even when the battery runs down.

PalmOne on Monday introduced a handheld computer that holds on to data even when the battery runs down, as part of a revamping of its mobile-device lineup.

As earlier reported, the Tungsten T5 will include nonvolatile memory to make sure the data will not be lost. The feature adds flexibility to the $400 gadget--the latest in PalmOne's line of business handhelds--and increases its reliability as a storage device.

Additionally, on Oct. 25, PalmOne will continue its highly anticipated product realignment with the introduction of the Treo 650, an update to its smart-phone family that will have a high-resolution screen and a higher-end processor, according to sources. PalmOne representatives declined to comment.

With the releases, PalmOne is looking to increase its market leadership over Hewlett-Packard and others in the gradually shrinking handheld market. It has also set the pace for the emerging smart-phone industry by successfully combining phone and organizer capabilities, something rivals such as Nokia have yet to match.

While the Milpitas, Calif.-based company has been making strides in both markets, expectations are high. A good example came earlier this month, when PalmOne posted a profit, exhibited strong revenue growth and beat analysts' expectations--but still saw its stock fall because its guidance for the next quarter didn't match Wall Street estimates.

Despite this, PalmOne has been pumping out devices. It shipped about 981,000 handhelds and phones in its latest quarter, which ended Aug. 27. That breaks down to 273,000 Treo 600 phones and 708,000 handhelds. The company has shipped about 661,000 total Treo 600 units. The average selling price for handhelds was $183.

Members of handheld enthusiast sites such as Brighthand and TreoCentral have been speculating greatly about the look and details of the expected PalmOne additions.

The Tungsten T3 took a $50 price cut to $349.

The new Tungsten T5, which was modeled on the popular, entry-level Tungsten E business device, uses a 416MHz Intel XScale processor and comes with 256MB of memory (215MB for storage). The gadget also includes Bluetooth connectivity and a Secure Digital expansion slot. It will use version 5.4 of PalmSource's Garnet operating system. The device also includes new software applications, enabling a consumer to more easily transfer files from a PC to the handheld. It's set for widespread availability Nov. 3.

The device "also doubles as a flash drive, allowing people to carry their work from the office to home and back, without carrying a laptop," Ken Wirt, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for PalmOne, said in a statement.

The new features may not be as sexy as adding Wi-Fi connectivity, said Kevin Burden, an analyst at research company IDC, but they solve a significant problem that PalmOne rivals haven't fixed and offer a useful new feature.

"Use of nonvolatile memory solves an inherent problem, which is the loss of data when the (device's) battery drains out," Burden said. "This is a problem that Microsoft hasn't resolved, and this is an OS issue...This is a very businesslike function and something their core audience can use. The novelty of Wi-Fi will wear off when people realize they can't surf the Web the way they want with a small screen."

The Treo 650, set for release later this month, will become PalmOne's top-of-the-range smart phone. It will have a case similar to that of its Treo 600 predecessor, but with slightly more rounded edges and a new keyboard with flatter keys, sources said. It will feature a high-resolution screen of 320 pixels by 320 pixels and a built-in 1.3-megapixel digital camera. Inside, it will have a high-end Intel XScale processor, a removable battery and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

PalmOne has said one factor in its decision to use the Garnet operating system is its compatibility with the Mac operating system and the community of consumers using it. PalmSource is not expected to create a Mac version of its Palm Desktop for Cobalt--so far, it has developed a Windows version only.

The present top-model Treo 600 will continue to ship but will carry a lower price, PalmOne has said, as part of its effort to create a family of phone devices.