Psion switches to Windows CE for Netbook upgrade

Resellers say they’re intrigued by Psion Teklogix Inc.’s $2,000 Netbook Pro mini-laptop, an improved version its Netbook computer which will start shipping at the end of the month.

Like the original, it’s targeted at salesmen and field workers who need a light device with a keyboard and a

moderate-sized screen.

However, the Netbook Pro runs on the Windows CE operating system, which Psion hopes will give it wider appeal.

“”We believe we’ve created a device that will be very appealing to the enterprise because it combines the virtues of a laptop and a PDA,”” said Dan Schachtler, Psion Teklogix’s director of product management.

The 1,100 gram (2.95 lb.) unit was designed in Britain and Canada, where Psion’s Teklogix mobile device division is headquartered. Psion PLC bought Teklogix in 2000.

There are been significant upgrades in power over the earlier model: The Netbook Pro is powered by a 400 Mhz Intel ARM processor, versus 190 Mhz for the Netbook. It also has a larger, 8.5-inch colour SVGA screen (the Netbook had a 7.7-inch VGA screen), 128 MB of SDRRAM for memory, an SVGA touch screen, standard modem and a USB 1.1 port.

Storage and wireless capabilities are handled by PC Card, Secure Digital and Compact Flash slots.

One of the biggest differences is in the operating system. While the Netbook ran on Symbian’s EPOC, the Netbook Pro uses Windows CE .Net edition, making it easier for businesses to extend existing applications or develop new ones, said Schachtler. Psion is also offering a free software development kit to buyers.

The OS is in flash memory for virtually instant boot-up.

The screen hinges several centimeters in from the unit’s rubberized back, allowing a user to hold it with one hand. Psion says the keyboard – which doesn’t have function or separate calculator keys – is almost full size.

Distribution will be through resellers of Psion’s line of wireless handhelds, often found in warehouses for asset management and in the field, as well as wireless software integrators such as Sona Innovations Inc. of Toronto.

Sona has reworked an asset tracker and field service applications it has written for smaller handhelds to work on the Netbook and sees great potential. John Bush, the company’s president, said a Canadian engineering firm he wouldn’t identify is piloting the device and one of its applications.

“”We’ve actually re-opened up some opportunities because of the Netbook Pro,”” he said, noting a customer who’s staff use full-sized laptops is considering the smaller device.

Applications Solutions Inc., a Markham, Ont. which develops supply chain solutions, thinks the Netbook Pro could be an addition to its product line. Sheldon Sacks, the firm’s vice-president of sales, said the laptop could handle its Crescendo business intelligence software for managers.

“”We like the size, the display and its capabilities.””

“”The value proposition of the platform is solid,”” said personal and mobile computing analyst Rob Enderle, head of the Enderle Group of San Jose, Calif. He noted that NEC makes a similar sized unit, the MobilePro 9000. “”It’s always looked good on paper.

Psion’s challenge will be to get its hardware resellers and software integrators to do the selling, he said.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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