Palm-Killer? Could Well Be

Casio's new, under $300, color Cassiopeia BE-300 Pocket Manager! It's not a Pocket PC, but it runs Windows CE software

The new Cassiopeia BE-300 Pocket Manager is Casio's frontal attack on Palm Computing, which dominates in the $200–$300 PDA marketplace. Based on our examination of a pre-production unit, we think Casio has a winner. This unit had the final hardware and late beta versions of the built-in software. We did not have access to Casio's proprietary synchronization and installation software.

The Pocket Manager is, in a sense, a hybrid. It is a palm-sized device aimed at the general business user. It uses the Windows CE 3.0 operating system, but not the Pocket PC applications and interface. Casio applied its own proven PIM applications to this new PDA and is partnering with veteran Windows CE developers, including bSquare, Pumatech, Stellent, Inc., and others, to create proprietary built-in applications.

The under-$300 price-point was a primary goal in the development of the product. Compared to a standard Pocket PC, some compromises were made on the hardware. In addition, the built-in software is not quite as complete and robust as Pocket PC software. Nevertheless, Casio did a remarkable job in creating an easy-to-use yet powerful suite of applications on a platform built for expandability. In addition, Casio launched "myCasio.com," a support Web site for all Cassiopeia users, with many useful free and subscription services (see sidebar).

Hardware and expandability

The Pocket Manager's screen, which is protected by a removable plastic flip top, contains about 75% of the viewable area of a standard Pocket PC. The device is about as thick as the Compaq iPAQ, HP Jornada, and Casio EM-500 Pocket PCs, but smaller and lighter.

The top of the Pocket Manager is slightly thicker than the rest of the body to accommodate a Type II CompactFlash card slot. This slot will enable it to use wireless network cards, LAN cards and Bluetooth cards, and more. Casio plans on making the necessary software drivers available for these CompactFlash I/O cards. Most commonly, the slot will be used to add file storage capacity. The "Type II" specification means that it can accept standard CompactFlash cards as well as the IBM 1 gigabyte "Microdrive," a tiny rotating-disk hard drive in the CompactFlash format. The Microdrive would add plenty of room for storing data, music and videos.

Casio plans to offer a PC Card expansion "jacket," which will piggyback onto the Pocket Manager similarly to the way the Compaq iPAQ Expansion Packs work. That way, the Pocket Manager will be able to accommodate additional storage cards, wireless cards, and more.

The hardware controls and ports are at the bottom of the unit. The serial port (with USB client support), the headphone and the AC jacks are along the bottom edge of the Pocket Manager. Since the hardware is similar to other Casio Pocket PCs, Casio accessories such as chargers, sync cradles, connectivity cables, the Stowaway keyboard, the serial modem, and the CF camera card will work with the Pocket Manager.

Below the screen reside four smaller buttons, which form a V around the game-style cursor control button. The left button brings up the main application menu and the right button turns the unit on and off. The other two buttons activate "OK" and "ESC". For example, if you are entering a new contact, press "OK" to save the contact, and "ESC" to cancel and delete it. Touch-sensitive icons, located at the bottom of the screen, launch seven applications: Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, Mail, Internet Browser, and Settings. These icons can be mapped to other applications, although our prototype didn't contain the software to do so.

Pocket PC users will miss the infrared port, the voice record feature, and the external speakers. The alarm (not working on our prototype) buzzes. I found the stereo quality good using the headphones.

Flash storage permanent

One of the true strengths of the Pocket Manager, and one I wish Pocket PC manufacturers would duplicate, is that all data, applications, and the operating system are stored in Flash ROM memory there is no RAM available for file storage. This benefits the user in a number of ways.

 

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