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Philips handheld stays the course

The company's newest Windows CE-based handheld eschews the drift toward the mini-notebook size that has become a recent trend.

    Philips Mobile Computing Group has decided to stay the course with its newest Windows CE handheld device.

    With the advent of version 2.0 of Windows CE, companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Casio, and NEC are planning to add some heft to Windows CE devices, as well as color screens and other features reminiscent of such mini-notebooks as the Toshiba Libretto and the Mitsubishi Amity.

    The new Philips Velo 500 will take a different tack, however, in offering a larger black-and-white screen, improved processor performance, and more memory in a handheld device similar in appearance and size to its predecessor, the Velo 1.

    "We felt strongly that the form factor was sacred," says Alan Soucy, general manager of the Mobile Computing Group. "People might want smaller notebooks, but not bigger handheld PCs."

    Soucy says that his division is currently focused on producing handheld devices for several reasons. The main reason is simple economics--most companies don't want to roll out devices costing $1,500-$2,000 on a wide scale, he says. From a practical standpoint, Windows 95-based notebooks are also not desirable for many sales-force-automation and data-collection applications because they lack the "instant on" capability of Windows CE devices, Soucy notes.

    As a result of what Philips says it sees as requirements in the handheld PC market, the company refrained from offering a color screen because of drawbacks that make the devices less useful, according to Soucy. A color screen requires more battery power and can become unreadable in outdoor lighting, he said, and it adds too much cost to the systems with few offsetting benefits.

    The Velo 500 will now offer a 640-by-280-pixel display, meaning that people won't have to scroll from side to side to see a full screen of information--just up and down. Also, Philips has added a 75-MHz, 32-bit MIPs-based processor (compared to the 36.3-MHz processor in the Velo1) and either 16MB or 24MB of memory standard.

    The additional processing power is used, for instance, to drive a 28.8-kbps software-based modem. (The Velo 1 featured a 19.2-kbps modem.) In conjunction with a built-in phone jack, the Velo can dial up without the use of an additional PC Card modem, required by other Windows CE devices. Soucy claims that the use of a PC Card modem in some cases reduces the battery life of a handheld PC to 10 minutes, while the Velo should have several hours of use even when using the modem.

    The Velo 500 will be priced at $749 for the 24MB version and $639 for the 16MB version, both of which come with a docking station, adapter, and rechargeable battery pack. The Velo 1 with 4MB of memory will have its price reduced to about $399. The Velo 500s will be available in the first quarter of 1998.