Preview: Palm Foleo

£599
Price when reviewed

With smartphones getting ever smarter and notebooks ever smaller, it seems certain that at some point the two are going to collide. To take a different view would, surely, be madness. But Palm is attempting to shake up the industry just as it did a decade ago when it produced the first PalmPilot.

This time, its breakthrough product is the Foleo. Designed to accompany a smartphone rather than replace it, the Foleo boasts a 10in screen and a full-sized keyboard to make it easy to read and respond to emails. As the video above shows, you simply press a button on the Foleo to wirelessly synchronise all the data.

Using the bundled DataViz software package, it’s also capable of opening and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents (including email attachments). You can view PDFs too. Business users will particularly appreciate the VGA output, allowing you to present your PowerPoint masterpiece to a dumbstruck audience.

The other big feature is web browsing. Using either a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone or a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can browse the internet at 1,024 x 768 – providing the connection is fast enough and your data deal not too prohibitive, that’s a huge improvement over the standard smartphone browsing experience.

One major advantage the Foleo holds over notebooks is that it’s instant-on, and with a weight of just over 1kg and a five-hour battery life that could persuade many professionals to leave their notebooks in the office.

Indeed, Palm is hoping the Foleo could have the potential to be its own device, with a life entirely away from a mobile phone. Since it uses a Linux-based operating system, it’s not entirely inconceivable that third-party developers could start porting their products over to the Foleo. Palm has already announced a software development kit.

As it stands, support is limited to Treos and Windows Mobile phones, but it should be relatively simple for Symbian support to be added. There’s out-of-the-box support for Palm’s email system, Outlook Mobile and VersaMail – as such, businesses can keep fully in touch with their corporate email.

So far, this is a US-only product, due to be shipped in mid-June, and there’s no confirmed release date for the UK. The price is likely to be around the ï300 mark: it will sell for $599 in the US, with an initial $100 mail-in rebate bringing the true price down to $499.

The difficulty with the Foleo, as with any new form factor, is persuading people that they really need it. Microsoft’s Ultra Mobile PC initiative is still struggling to take off, and though its philosophy – stuffing a full computer into a device that can be flung into a bag – is very different, its target audience is essentially the same.

And the Foleo lacks features which many people will find key. The web browser, based on Opera, does support Flash but won’t play Flash video (so no YouTube and no watching videos on PC Pro’s website either). There’s no built-in music or video player. And the lack of storage – just 256MB as standard – will fall well short of most people’s expectations, even though they can supplement it via a CompactFlash and SD card.

What we really like is the price. At £300-400, it’s very much in the range previously occupied by Palm’s Series 5mx, and all gadget lovers who still hanker after a PDA with a keyboard will no doubt be heading over to www.palm.com/uk daily to check for any updates. We can also see it suiting vertical markets – many journalists, for instance, will love it.

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