Handhelds with no strings attached

This week at PC Expo here, NovAtel announced a wireless modem module for the Handspring Visor that offers internet access and email. It will be bundled this fall with the OmniSky wireless service and will be available from NovAtel for $US369 for use with your own CDPD carrier.

In addition to modems, GeoDiscovery demonstrated its global positioning system module for wireless location services, due to ship this fall. Also scheduled to ship this fall is a wireless messaging module for e-mail, from Glenayre. These Visor modules may cut the wires on your favorite personal digital assistant, but with prices around $US300 each, plus a monthly service charge, you might want to make sure you'll use it.

Like Palm, Handspring has wireless in its agenda.

"Handhelds are the future of personal computing and internet access," says Jeff Hawkins, Handspring's founder and chief product officer, speaking at a PC Expo keynote on Tuesday. "Networks [for handhelds] will happen, and they will be wireless."

With its Springboard expansion slot, the Handspring Visor offers a plug-and-play slot for adding hardware to the Palm-OS-based personal digital assistant. Most of the modules scheduled for release this fall add wireless functionality.

The first CDPD wireless modem module for the Visor is the NovAtel Minstrel S. Like NovAtel's Minstrel modem for the Palm V, it bundles AvantGo for internet browsing and OneTouch from JP Systems for email. Available in the third quarter starting at $US369, the Minstrel S offers speeds of about 19.2 kbps, which is faster than the 9.6 kbps Palm.Net offers Palm VII users.

NovAtel also is developing an S2 version with 2MB of memory, and an S4 version with 4MB. NovAtel will sell the modem directly on its site, where you can select a carrier such as AT&T Wireless, GoAmerica, or Verizon. All of them offer a fixed rate for unlimited data access, or you can buy a service bundle from OmniSky or other carriers, and save a little money on the hardware. Prices vary for the service.

"AT&T only charges $US25 a month for service, but you're limited to AT&T's network," says Mona Klausing, manager of marketing and media relations at NovAtel Wireless. "OmniSky charges $US40 but discounts the hardware to $US299."

Also, Palm announced on Tuesday its Palm Mobile Internet Kit, a software product that will let users of Palm III and Palm V series handhelds connect wirelessly to the internet via a mobile phone or Palm-compatible modem. The PDA connects to the modem or mobile phone either through infrared or a cable. You can use any internet service provider and can use either a CDMA or GSM phone, so the service works worldwide, unlike Palm.Net for the Palm VII.

The Palm Mobile Internet Kit is scheduled to be available later this year for less than $US50. With it, you will be able to access Web clipping applications at Palm.Net that were previously available only to users of the Palm VII (or to users of other Palm models by using an add-on). The kit will not work with the Palm IIIe or earlier units that do not support Palm OS 3.5 (or the Handspring Visor).

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