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Rex handheld poised for resurrection

Xircom plans to unveil the $150 Rex 6000, which builds on the 1997 original by adding a touch screen and improved software for syncing data with a PC.

Rex, a handheld organizer in the shape of a credit card, is attempting a comeback.

On Monday, Xircom plans to announce the $150 Rex 6000, which builds on the original by adding a touch screen for easier input of information, as well as improved software aimed at making it easier to sync data with a PC.

The original Rex made a splashy debut at the 1997 Comdex trade show but was met with sluggish sales. Xircom bought the Rex line last year from Franklin Electronic Publishers for $13.25 million.

"There were a couple of things people didn't like," said Christian Bubenheim, general manager of the Rex unit at Xircom. For example, he said, it was "really problematic" for people to input data into the old Rex.

While earlier models required using cumbersome buttons to input information, the new Rex allows people to type via an on-screen keyboard and a stylus. Like earlier models, the Rex 6000 can share data with a computer either through a cable or by being put directly into the PC Card slot of a notebook computer.

Although the Rex is seen as an alternative to larger handheld computers that use either the Palm or Pocket PC operating systems, Bubenheim said the Rex is aimed at a different market: those for whom small size is key. The Rex has the same basic features as larger handhelds but lacks their expandability and plethora of third-party software.

Along with features such as a calendar and address book, the Rex allows people to download some Internet content from the portal. Initially, the information will be basic, such as news, weather and stock quotes provided by iSyndicate. However, Bubenheim said, the company has a license to a powerful engine to translate Web content for Rex's small screen.

The unit will be available from online stores and a few local retailers in December, with broader distribution next year. Bubenheim said that the company will ship "multiple tens of thousands" of the units initially, but added that the launch will be limited because of a shortage of flash memory and other components. The Rex 6000 comes with 2MB of flash memory.

"As everybody, we are confined by components," Bubenheim said. "We didn't want to open too many channels and not fulfill the demand."

Along with the distribution through, and some smaller, traditional retailers in the United States, Xircom is selling Rex in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and Singapore. Citizen, which designs the hardware and manufactures the unit, has the rights to sell the device in Japan.

Xircom is also working with Citizen and Handspring on the version of the Rex that will plug into the Visor handheld's Springboard expansion slot, Bubenheim said. He confirmed that the product is still in the discussion stages while all three companies try to decide whether they can deliver a product with enough features at the right price.