PalmOne unveils handheld with 4GB hard drive

Going where no other handheld has gone before, PalmOne unveiled today the LifeDrive Mobile Manager, a device that includes a 1-inch, 4G byte hard drive. LifeDrive also includes the capability to synchronize entire directories of data, pictures and video from desktop to device and back.

With its large storage capacity, and connectivity through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a USB 2.0 cable, the US$499 handheld will appeal both to business and consumer users, say most industry analysts.

The two most prominent features not in the device are a keyboard and cellular capability. The device weighs 6.8 ounces.

For wide area connectivity users would have to use a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone with the LifeDrive, which can be somewhat problematic depending on how easy the software is to set up, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. However, Enderle pointed out that users are trending toward a preference for small cell phones rather than larger all-in-one devices that do include cellular connectivity.

The ability to easily synch and store a large amount of enterprise data is a strong plus, said David Linsalata, a research analyst for mobile devices at IDC.

"What is really useful for the enterprise is not having to lose the folder structure," Linsalata added.

The device can also be used like a USB drive for transferring files between the LifeDrive and any other device.

Another enterprise feature that IT mobile managers may appreciate is the LifeDrive's ability to synch easily with Exchange 2003, said Stephane Maes, director of product management for handhelds at palmOne.

Support for Exchange ActiveSync is built into the handheld. "The IT manager basically flips a switch and that gives users access to Exchange Server," said Maes.

On the client side, a user just puts in user name, password and Exchange Server address.

LifeDrive, like other Palm devices, also gives users access to Word, PowerPoint and Excel files using DataViz's Documents to Go application. In the June time frame DataViz will offer a free upgrade for viewing Adobe Acrobat files as well, said Maes.

Beside the enterprise, palmOne may have Apple's iPod in its sites, according to Enderle. "The LifeDrive does things the iPod doesn't do well and does what the iPod does reasonably well," Enderle said.

The device includes on-board support for MP3 files for both music and Podcasts and the palmOne Media application for viewing photos and video.

The 4GB hard drive, 3.85-GBs of which is usable, can hold 1,200 office documents, 6,000 e-mails, 100 photos, 300 songs, 2.5 hours of video, 50 voice mails in addition to 10,000 contacts and 10,000 appointments, according to palmOne estimates.

The LifeDrive device is in stores now in limited quantities and will ship in volume next month.

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