Dell to showcase first handheld

Dell Computer Corp., the market leader in desktop PCs, is set to announce its entry into the handheld market at Comdex Las Vegas on Nov. 18.

Whether or not it can duplicate its desktop success remains to be seen, but its sights are clearly set on knocking out market leader Hewlett-Packard Co.'s iPaq, which runs Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC 2002 operating system.

Two versions of Dell's Axim X5, priced at US$299 and $199, are also based on Pocket PC 2002 Professional operating system. The price points undercut the least expensive iPaq 3830 model which sells for $359.

Eager to point out the differences, Dell executives are encouraging a comparison between the two devices.

The $299 (after a $50 rebate) Axim X5 will include a 400MHz Intel Corp. StrongArm processor, 64MB of SDRAM, and both a CF 2 (Compact Flash) and SD (Secure Digital) expansion slots. The $199 Axim X5, price after rebate, uses the 300MHz StrongArm processor and 32MB of RAM.

Meanwhile, the $350 iPaq includes a 206MHz StrongArm processor and 32MB of SDRAM and only an integrated SD slot. The iPaq 3870 sells for $650 and includes 64MB of RAM and integrated Bluetooth.

The Axim X5 does not include any built-in wireless capability.

HP can be expected to introduce lower priced models, according to Jack Gold, vice president at Meta Group Inc. in Boston.

While Gold said HP "will not sit still" on pricing, he also believes that a future enterprise scenario will likely see purchasing agents getting the hardware from Dell and the services from HP. "That's how they do it today," said Gold.

Dell has limited expertise in putting Exchange on servers. "They [Dell] are not known as a high end Exchange installer from a software services group perspective," Gold added.

After price, the single most significant difference between the 6.9-ounce Axim X5 and the iPaq which is about 10 grams lighter, is probably the ability of the Axim X5 to recharge the battery without the need to dock or cradle the entire handheld device.

The removable battery has its own slot in the cradle which gives a mobile worker the ability to use a second battery while the first recharges. The lower cost Axim X5 does not include a cradle, only a rechargeable AC adapter.

Both Axim units measures 5 inches by 3.2 inches by 0.7 inches thick and have a 3.5-inch TFT display, as opposed to the iPaq's 3.8-inch display

Reflecting on the recent slowdown in handheld sales, Dell's Macon said that Microsoft has not done a good job in marketing its Pocket PC to consumers. Dell believes it will sell as many as 140,000 units from an initial ship date of Nov. 25 through Jan. 1.

Macon also admitted that from a "one stop shop" perspective it was time that Dell offered a handheld device.

Dell is also offering two batteries, a 3,400 milliamps battery lasting 25-26 hours and a 1,440 milliamps lasting 8-10 hours.

In fall 2003, Dell will offer a model with integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with a hardware-software switch between the two, said Macon.

Dell is also investigating methods of factory integration as it now does on desktops, such as burning in a corporate image before units are shipped to the customer.

"Whether we do it or not is a pragmatic decision and we will review it on a case-by-case basis. We are currently doing it for Exxon," said Macon.

Dell will include next business day advance exchange with one day turnaround as part of the basic price and a second year upgrade for $75 while Compaq charges $50 for the first year and $100 for the second.

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