TECHXNY - Handheld devices clamour for attention

Expanding the capabilities of handheld computers and enriching the handheld computer experience took front stage for vendors like Palm, Handspring, and HandEra here at the TechXNY trade show.

A parade of handheld software and hardware add-ons and peripherals could be seen for the first time at the show. Although many of the products were developed by the PDA vendors themselves, a majority of the items were being offered by third-party manufacturers like SnapOn Technologies and Pharos Systems.

The idea behind all the add-on technology is to make PDA use easier, more feature-rich, and more fun, said a SnapOn spokesperson.

SnapOn had on display two unique peripherals for Handspring Visor PDAs. The SnapOn SnapNType attaches to the HotSynch port of the Visor, adding a 39 key miniature keyboard designed for thumb typing.

The company also displayed its SnapNPlay device, which connects to a Visor PDA in the same way, but offers an eight-direction gaming pad with two "fire" buttons. An optional AAA battery triggers a vibration mechanism in the SnapNPlay every time a shot is fired during a game, adding a new dimension to handheld gaming.

Both SnapOn devices will be available in September. The SnapNPlay will retail for $US39, the SnapNType for $US49, according to a SnapOn spokesperson.

Software company Pharos was at the show demonstrating its StreetNav navigation software for devices running the Windows CE or Pocket PC operating systems, which includes PDAs from Casio, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq. With a simple software install, Pharos' StreetNav gives users detailed, street-by-street driving instructions and route guidance. It retails for $US89.

Palm officials displayed a huge variety of PDA accessories at the trade show. Everything from leopard skin faceplate covers to Palm m500 portable keyboard systems were available to test drive. Palm expansion tools from third-party manufacturers were also on hand, including attachable business card scanners from Corex Technologies, and an Earthmate GPS (global positioning system) from DeLorme.

Handspring peripheral manufacturer Targus was at the show demonstrating its Total Recall Digital Voice Recorder. The recorder attaches to the Handspring Visor PDA and provides as much as 4MB or 1.5 hours of voice recording time. Users can file voice memos or other recording directly into the Visor PDA using the Targus device, which retails for $US99, according to Targus officials.

HandEra, formerly TRG Products, displayed its HandEra 330 PDA for the first time at the show. The PDA offers 25 per cent more viewing room than a Palm PDA when the "graffiti" pad, used to enter text, is hidden. The HandEra 330 runs the Palm operating system but offers five more fonts than the Palm, according to a HandEra spokesperson. Designed to compete directly with PDAs from Palm, Handspring, Compaq, and others, the HandEra 330 retails for $US349.

The Sanyo Keitaide-Music PDA was at the show. Jointly designed by Sanyo, Hitachi, and Fujitsu, the Keitaide-Music not only functions as a general purpose cellular phone and PDA but also give users the option of adding a small, nickel-sized digital camera that can record as much as 64MB of color digital photography. With a color display and removable 64MB music cards, the Keitaide-Music PDA also acts as a personal Karaoke sing-alone machine. While currently only available in Japan, the Keitaide-Music PDA should arrive in the United States eventually, with a price of less than $US200, according to a Hitachi spokesperson.

At its Future Technologies display, Toshiba took show goers to the outer realm of handheld computing, with prototypes of tiny optical scanners, cameras, audio cards ,and GPS devices, each no bigger than their PCI card interface. Prototype mobile data projectors, portable servers, 1.8-inch hard drives, and thin lithium-ion batteries only 69x61-mm wide and 3.1-mm thick that deliver 3.6 volts of power were also on display.

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