New Palm Wireless Woos Workplace

In an attempt to woo professionals, Palm released a new “always-on” wireless device on Monday that lets users send and receive e-mail and tap into a company’s database.

The device, named the i705, costs $450 and is available online and in retail stores. The price for wireless service ranges from a basic plan, including e-mail, which is $20 per month, to unlimited access to the Internet, e-mail and other applications for $40 a month.

Unlike the Palm VII, another wireless Internet device made by the company, the i705 is silver, measures in at approximately 5-by-3 inches and tips the scale at 5.9 ounces.

Also unlike the Palm VII, which the company says it will eventually phase out, the device contains a Cingular Wireless radio and built-in antenna.

Cingular’s Mobitex wireless service covers the entire United States, except for North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.

The network transfers data at up to 8 kilobits per second, which means a message can take anywhere between two and 15 seconds to arrive at another device, according to Cingular spokesman John Kampfe.

While Palm (PALM) insists it isn’t tuning out consumers who are more likely to nab its lower-end and cheaper m100 handheld, the i705 was designed with a heavy emphasis on e-mail and corporate Intranet access to snag professional users.

Users can receive and send e-mail and instant messages from practically any e-mail account, including Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL – as long as they configure it on the website. The device alerts users when new messages arrive by beeping, vibrating or flashing a small red light.

All messages are securely sealed with encryption –- a plus for corporations that want their employees to use the devices.

While analysts said the new Palm will give Research In Motion – producer of the popular Blackberry e-mail device that is often touted by business people –- a run for its money, they are sorely disappointed it doesn’t have a unified mailbox to store messages from different e-mail accounts.

“I think they’ve done a good job of closing the gap on RIM,” said Todd Kort, analyst for Gartner Dataquest. “Basically, they have an always-on, secure wireless e-mail access. The only problem is you don’t have a unified mailbox. In other words, if you have a RIM Blackberry, and you go on vacation to Alaska and someone sends you an e-mail to your e-mail account in San Francisco, that e-mail goes to your Blackberry too. (On the Palm i705) you get your e-mail through the service.

As another perk to high-end users, the device also contains a Secure Digital expansion card slot to run multimedia applications, including digital imaging and music.

However, to the chagrin of fashion-conscious gear heads, the screen is still black and white with a resolution of 160 by 160 pixels. Another sore spot with analysts is the device comes with only 8 megabytes of memory.

“It’s a slight problem,” Kort said of the monochrome screen. “On the one hand, for a data device you won’t have too much data you’re going to receive in color. It’s not too big a problem. On the other hand, if you are already using some kind of color handheld device, it is a little bit of a downer to have to go back to black and white.”

Palm said it purposely released a monochrome device with a monochrome screen that wouldn’t suck up battery life quickly and add to the cost of the device. The company said it wanted to assure business users they could rely on the device for long stretches of time.

“It’s a very text-oriented device,” said Scott Lincke, director of wireless products for Palm.

Overall, Kort gives the device a thumbs up – a much needed boost to a company that’s experienced a myriad of financial woes lately. Despite the gadget’s shortcomings, it’s a reasonably priced, practical tool for its target audience –- the mobile professional.

While the device carries a $449 price tag, it comes bundled with about $100 worth of software, including the ability to read e-books, view photos and video clips and keep Microsoft Word, Excel documents and PowerPoint presentations.

For those heavy users who dread inputing information by stylus and Graffiti, the company is selling a new nifty keyboard ($59) that slides onto the device so it looks like a pocket calculator with alphanumeric keys.

“On the whole I think it’s a good effort and I think they’ll do pretty well in it,” Kort said. “It also gives Palm some entrée into the corporate market which they’ve really been lacking.”

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