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Verizon gets smart with new phones

The company beats Sprint to market with the latest highly touted version of the wireless phone, a combination Palm handheld and cell phone from Kyocera set to sell Monday.

Verizon Wireless has beaten Sprint to market with the latest highly touted wireless phone model, a combination Palm handheld and cell phone from Kyocera that will start selling in most of its stores on Monday.

The phone is expected to retail for $499 with a one-year service contract.

The phone will be sold in most of the Verizon Wireless stores, except for some in Texas, Florida and some parts of Louisiana. Those stores should be stocked with the phones by week's end.

Analysts say now will be the true test of whether Verizon can sell a combination PDA-cell phone that costs more than a basic cell phone and low-end PDA bought separately. It will also be an early test for a larger trend that combines data-based devices with voice phones.

Merging a handheld and a cell phone has become popular. Handspring unveiled its VisorPhone add-on cartridge in September and began selling the device in December.

In November, Microsoft and Sagem announced a Pocket PC device capable of handling voice calls. In addition, Palm and Motorola are working together on a new type of integrated PDA-phone to debut in 2002.

But sources say Verizon considered Sprint its biggest and most imminent threat because it was reportedly locked in the same type of deal with the makers of the Kyocera.

Although it's been reported that Sprint and Kyocera had inked a deal, Sprint spokesman Dan Wollensky refused comment on the details of the pact. He said the company will carry phones with the Palm operating system, but didn't say when they will be released.