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As smart phones blur with PDAs, and PDAs in turn blur with laptops, what's a Tablet (writes Rob Bamforth, of Bloor Research)?

Sharp Corporation has introduced two new models to add to its Zaurus Linux based organisers. In reality the SL-C750 and SL-C760 are two versions of the same unit, differing only in on-board memory, battery life and weight. (Press release with pics and spec here.)

This unit is somewhat different to the earlier models in that it uses the 'clamshell' form factor, famously used by several generations of Psion organisers, and a couple of products elsewhere. This provides a full 640 x 480 VGA landscape-oriented screen, and the extra width allows a mini keyboard on the lower half like a laptop. However, you can also twist the screen, close the clamshell and use it in portrait orientation like a PDA.

Weighing in at just under 9 ounces for an 8-hour battery life, and measuring a shirt-pocket-able 3.3 inches across, the SL-C760 fits in the same usage space as the other major corporate PDAs from Palm, Sony, Toshiba and HP.

The underlying operating system platform is based on the OpenPDA with Linux and Java2 Micro Edition (J2ME), based on an Intel XScale processor. Of course, a PDA user rarely starts from the question "What's the Operating System?". However the OpenPDA implementations of both Linux and Java are solid, and it's not necessary to have respective gurus on hand - it just works like any other PDA.

Software bundled with the Zaurus for business use has been improved over previous versions. Email attachments of 2MB can be accepted, and dealt with by Sharp's HancomMobileSheet or HancomMobileWord if they are Excel or Word files. PowerPoint presentations too can be played back, and an optional graphics card is available to give SVGA output. Compact flash cards are available from 3rd parties to give the wireless LAN or mobile data network connection.

The SL-C750 is being introduced from 24th May, and the SL-C760 from June 21st.

So, what's the catch? Sadly, they are being introduced initially only in Japan. Sharp plans to produce around 350,000 units per year though, so I'm sure the odd one will crop up elsewhere.

Is there really a market for a device somewhere between a laptop and a PDA? The Psion Series 7 - Netbook looked a good bet in this space, and perhaps was let down in the end by being as bulky as a laptop, but less well integrated to the de facto desktop PC.

Palm has bounced back with the Tungsten range, which bundled with Documents to Go supports Microsoft Office files better than PocketPC devices, and can now sport an add-on card to provide PowerPoint display to a projector. As smartphones begin to encroach on the traditional calendar+contacts market of the PDA, perhaps the PDA in turn can now encroach on the laptop market?

The new Zaurus (Zaurii?), despite only being available in Japan, helps to push the PDA into the laptop user space. It's not the same, but with a wireless or GPRS network connection, is it enough?

One thing's for sure, those wanting to access corporate data on the move can now choose from a variety of solutions from smartphones to lug-able laptops.

So which is the best? Your choice - and it's getting wider. © IT-Analysis.com

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