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Rex handheld won't go home with holiday shoppers

Xircom, which recently began shipping a new version of the credit card-sized personal digital assistant this month, has stopped its launch until next year.

Rex, the tiny electronic organizer that had been poised for a comeback, is back in the doghouse.

Xircom, the maker of the credit card-sized personal digital assistant, began filling pre-orders of the Rex on Dec. 4 but then halted shipments on Dec. 15 because of problems with the device, a company executive confirmed Wednesday.

Xircom was caught by surprise when some of the first buyers reported slow synching with computers using a PC Card slot, said Christian Bubenheim, general manager of the Rex unit.

The company hopes by early January to have a fix for the problem and a date for when shipping will resume.

"To avoid customer dissatisfaction we have to stop shipment," Bubenheim said.

Bubenheim said only a few thousand of the handhelds were shipped before the problem was discovered. Those units are not being recalled, although the company is giving Rex buyers the option to return the units if they encounter problems.

In November, Xircom said it was reincarnating the Rex. The company bought the Rex line last year from Franklin Electronic Publishers for $13.25 million.

The new version is designed to build on the original by making it easier to enter information on the device and by allowing its owner to download some Internet content from the portal.

The original Rex, which also could plug directly into the PC Card slot of a laptop, made a splashy debut at the 1997 Comdex trade show but was met with sluggish sales.

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, the company says 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.

Xircom has also said it is working with Citizen and Handspring on a version of the Rex that would plug into the Visor handheld's Springboard expansion slot, although the product has been stuck in the discussion stages as the companies decide whether there is enough of a market for such a device.