Palm's Foleo: Genius or Tech Edsel?

It's either the beginning of the end for Palm or the moment at which the company turned everything around: This week at the "D: All Things Digital" conference in Carlsbad, California, PDA and smart phone pioneer Palm introduced its latest digital device, a mini-laptop-like portable computer called the Foleo that the company describes as a smart phone companion.

"Smart phones will be the most prevalent personal computers on the planet, ultimately able to do everything that desktop computers can do," says Palm founder Jeff Hawkins. "However, there are times when people need a large screen and full-size keyboard. As smart phones get smaller, this need increases. The Foleo completes the picture, creating a mobile-computing system that sets a new standard in simplicity."

Weighing just 2.5 pounds, the Foleo looks like a mini-laptop. It features a clam shell design with a full-size keyboard and 10-inch screen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, instant power-on and off capabilities, and five hours of battery life. What sets the Foleo apart from a true laptop, however, is the way it works: The Foleo is designed to operate alongside a Palm OS or Windows Mobile-based smart phone, typically connected wirelessly, and can be used for those instances in which the small screen of a typical smart phone is problematic. The Foleo includes a built-in email application that synchronizes on the fly with the smart phone; Microsoft Office-compatible word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications; a PDF viewer; a Web browser; and photo-viewing capabilities.

The Foleo is also relatively inexpensive: The device will debut for less than $500 in the United States this summer after a $100 mail-in rebate. Yes, it's possible to find PC-based laptops in that price range, but those systems tend to be much bigger and heavier than the Foleo and offer less battery life.

The question, of course, is whether anyone wants or needs such a solution, and certainly reactions at "D" were muted at best. But Palm says with smart phones quickly becoming the primary computing device for hundreds of millions of people, there's an occasional need for a bigger screen and a system that can seamlessly integrate with customers' existing solutions.

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