Sony unveils camera-equipped, clamshell Clie PDA

Sony Corp. took the wraps off two new versions of its Clie personal digital assistant (PDA) on Monday packed with new features, some not seen to date on any Palm-OS based PDAs.

The PEG-NR70 and NR70V depart from the design of Sony's previous Clie PDAs and those from other manufacturers. The clamshell design folds open to reveal a 320-pixel-by-480-pixel, 3.8-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) on the upper half, and a QWERTY keyboard on the lower half. The PDA can be used in this form or, for a more classic feel, the display can be rotated around 180 degrees and folded back down so that it is now on the outside of the case.

In normal use, some of that extra screen real estate is taken up with the text input software. This can either be a software version of the Palm graffiti pad or an on-screen keyboard. At other times, such as when the Clie's image-viewer software is running, this input software can be cleared to allow the full screen to be used.

To the new design, Sony has added a faster processor, the 66MHz version of the DragonBall, and on the NR70V a digital still camera, the only difference between the two models. The camera has a 100,000-pixel CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor), perfectly adequate for taking simple shots but unlikely to take the place of dedicated digital cameras, which typically have CCD (Charge Coupled Device) sensors with between 10 and 40 times the resolution.

The devices run Version 4.1 of the Palm operating system, and carry additional software including a JPEG image view, an audio player which can read MP3 and ATRAC3 digital music files, a viewer for Word and Excel files and the gMovie video player software.

To Palm or Sony watchers, the new Sony PDA may seem familiar. It has been seen before, although only briefly, when it was previewed during a keynote at the Palmsource 2002 conference although at the time no details of the device were released.

The company also announced a long-awaited Bluetooth module, the PEGA-MSB1, which connects to the PDAs' Memory Stick slot.

Tokyo-based Sony plans to put the PEG-NR70 on sale in Japan from March 23 and the camera-equipped PEG-NR70V on sale from April 13. The former is expected to retail for around ¥50,000 (US$388) and the latter for around ¥60,000. The Bluetooth module will go on sale on March 23 for around ¥20,000. Plans for launch of the PDA and Bluetooth module overseas have not yet been finalized.

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