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CeBIT comes to America

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After the recent merger announcement, I thought we’d never hear anything new from Handspring again. Boy, was I wrong. Handspring is announcing their brand new Treo communicator, a combined cell phone and PDA, at a brand new trade show today. Both the gadget and the show promise to be very hot.

InsertArt(1935035)UP UNTIL THIS YEAR, the show used to be called PC Expo. Over the years attendance has been dwindling. Enter the people who put on CeBIT trade shows all over the world. Now you can add CeBIT America at New York City’s Javits Convention Center.

According to the producers, CeBIT is the world’s largest information and communications technology trade fair. The flagship event, CeBIT Hannover, runs for eight days each March in Hannover, Germany. CeBIT America joins an annual roster of international CeBIT events that includes CeBIT Asia (Shanghai, China), CeBIT Australia (Sydney), CeBIT Bilisim Eurasia (Istanbul, Turkey) and CeBIT Home Electronics (Shanghai).

Members of the press got a preview Tuesday night of some of the most interesting items being presented at the show. The biggest news seems to be from Handspring. Although their merger with Palm won’t be completed until the fall, they do have a new item they’d like you to know about. And what a cool device it is.

Handspring’s Treo 600 communicator has more features, is smaller and is easier to use. In the few minutes I had to play with it, it looks like serious competition to every other cellular phone/PDA combination to date — real or imagined. When it’s sold this fall, expect the 600 to run on the Palm OS 5, have a super-fast processor, a new and smaller — but very nimble — QWERTY keyboard, a built-in digital camera on the back, a new browser and improved software features, a SD/MMC card slot and much-improved battery life. All in all, what I saw was a terrific device that can easily be used with one hand — my measuring stick for a useful phone/PDA combination.

The new Handspring uses small SD expansion cards - now available in sizes up to 1 GB. But even SD cards might be too large for future cellular phones. Enter the miniSD with 60 percent smaller volume. SanDisk is showing this thumbnail-sized memory card in sizes ranging from 16 to 64 MB, with 128 and 256 MB promised for later this year. There’s even an adapter to allow you to use the new miniSD in any regular-sized SD card slot.


As you might guess, with last week’s announcement of a final standard for 802.11g wireless networking there are a number of firms showing off their new 802.11g access points and related accessories. 802.11g is a combination of the 802.11b (11Mbps) and the faster (54Mbps) but incompatible 802.11a standards into one compatible package.

Something caught my eye from my friends at Buffalo Technology. They’re showing the first 802.11g wireless USB adapter and something they’re calling an Ethernet Media Converter which offers instant wireless connectivity to any device with an available Ethernet port. Once configured, I was told, it will also act as a tiny repeater to extend the wireless range in your home or office.

802.11g is also being added to a new breed of notebook/laptop computers. One of the first out of the gate is HP Compaq’s nc4000 business notebook. 3.5 pounds, up to a 1.6GHz Pentium-M processor, 256MB of DDR SDRAM, 12.1-inch screen, USB 2.0, S-video and TV outputs and much more. They’re also showing the nx7000 business notebook with a 15.4-inch screen; 40, 60 or 80 GB hard drives; JBL pro speakers and lots more. Both laptops have suggested retail prices starting at $1,699.

NEC is proudly presenting their new Versa LitePad Tablet PC and it just might be the first device to get me interested in tablet computing: not because of any breakthroughs, but because it’s really tablet sized. We’re talking 0.6 inches thick and only 2.2 pounds. It has a 10.4-inch screen, 933MHz Pentium III, 256MB of memory and a 20GB drive in a package the same size and nearly the same weight as a standard yellow writing pad. You’ll have to hold one to believe it.

NEC is also showing their MobilePro 900 Handheld PC. I thought the old Windows CE was dead, but the 1.8-pound 900 runs on the Windows Handheld PC 200 operating system and is now faster than ever with a 400 MHz XScale processor inside. Applications open and close in a snap compared to some of the older CE devices I still own. Overall, it’s got an 8.1-inch color screen (640 by 240 or half-VGA); 64MB of memory; PC Card and Compact Flash slots; and much more. Still loved for business applications, NEC told me that later this year they’re planning on an upgraded version of the OS and even better performance.

I’m headed back to the show floor to see what else there is to tell you. More in Thursday’s dispatch.