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Sony tries again with Clie handheld

The consumer electronics giant will begin shipping its second-generation Clie handheld, capable of playing digital audio and video files, next month.

Sony is getting its second wind in the race for the handheld market.

The consumer electronics giant announced Tuesday it will begin shipping its second-generation Clie device, the PEG N710C, early next month. The $499 device will be able to play digital audio and video files and will have a 320-by-320-pixel color screen.

As previously reported by CNET, details and photographs of the new model were inadvertently posted on Sony's Web site before the official launch.

The first version of the Clie disappointed many analysts and followers of the PDA (personal digital assistant) market who expected more features from a Sony device. However, many of the capabilities expected in the first-generation device are included in the new Clie, which should help Sony's efforts in the handheld market.

Earlier this month, Fujio Nishida, president of Sony Electronics, acknowledged the shortcomings of the first Clie device. "It didn't have color and was a little pricey. We are bringing out a better product," he said.

The lack of enthusiasm in the market for the Clie was evident by the device's poor sales. Recent figures from research firm NPD Intelect estimated that the Clie's market share was in the low single-digit range, placing it far behind other PDAs based on the Palm OS, such as Handspring's Visor and Palm's own devices.

Nonetheless, the addition of audio playback and the higher-than-average screen resolution should set the Clie apart from its Palm OS-based competitors.

The new Clie will be able to play both MP3 audio files and those in Sony's digital format, ATRAC 3. The high-resolution color screen will also improve video playback.

"With its multimedia features, the Clie defines a new segment for the handheld market, which can only help to mature the entire market," IDC analyst Alex Slawsby said.

In its most recent market update, market researcher IDC estimated that worldwide shipments of PDAs will reach just over 30 million annually by 2004.

Last month, Palm and Handspring introduced new slim models, the m500 series and the Visor Edge, respectively.

The Clie will use version 3.5.2S of the Palm OS, which supports USB. The device will also use a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor and will come with 8MB of memory. A lithium-ion polymer battery will power the Clie. The handheld will weigh 5.7 ounces and measure 2.88 inches wide, 4.75 inches tall and 0.69 inch thick.

The Clie will use Sony's Memory Stick media for expansion capabilities. There are over 5,000 developers creating applications for the Memory Stick, according to Sony. Company representatives expect digital camera and global-positioning system modules in 2002.

The Clie has been available in Japan for about a month.'s Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.