Psion revives Netbook but drops EPOC for WinCE

Pro model boosts speeds, feeds

SGI logo hardware close-up

Reg Kit Watch Psion Teklogix has dropped the familiar EPOC operating system in favour of Windows CE.NET 4.2 for an updated version of our old mobile computing favourite, the Netbook, once also known as the Psion Series 7.

The new release, the Netbook Pro, is at least a significant hardware upgrade. In place of the original 190MHz Intel StrongARM SA-1100 processor, there's a spanking new 400MHz Intel PXA255. The memory's been upped from 32MB to 128MB, too, though its internal expansion capability has been lost.

The Netbook's 7.7in 640 x 480 passive matrix display has been replaced with an 800 x 600 TFT model. The sound has been updated from a 12-bit system to the AC'97 codec, backed at long last with microphone and speaker sockets.

Psion has installed PC Card, CompactFlash and SD IO slots, and added a mini USB port to the original Netbook's infra-red and serial interfaces. The various card-slots allow users to installed fixed Ethernet, 802.11, Bluetooth and GSM/GPRS connectivity. It also provides a way to increase the device's storage capacity.

Psion has retained the Netbook's slimline clamshell case with its full keyboard, adding just a couple of millimetres to the size: 23.5 x 18.4 x 3.5cm. It actually reduced the weight, from 1150g to 1100g.

It's these portability characteristics that always made the Netbook a firm Reg favourite. That and its full web and e-mail support, which made it an ideal platform for hacks on the move and filing stories from a variety of locations.

Psion Teklogix has more corporate roles envisaged for the Netbook Pro, in particular workforce automation and the dreaded mobile CRM market. That focus drove the operating system change. Since the original Netbook was released, Symbian has pushed it OS firmly down the smartphone route and away from its mobile computing heritage.

According to Netbook Pro Product Manager Harvey Roberts, the company looked at a variety OS options, including Linux, before settling on CE for its closer links with enterprise customers' back-end systems. Psion Teklogix separately licensed Insignia's JEM-CE Java Virtual Machine to beef up the product's Java support - a weakness of CE, Roberts conceded.

The company also implemented some power management technology of its own, allowing the machine to retain its eight hours plus battery life. Adding in a WLAN card may lower that, but Roberts was adamant that even with comms cards, users should expect a full business day's usage on a single charge.

One advantage of the shift to Windows CE is a broader range of apps that tie in more closely with those workers will be used to from their desktops. The old Netbook had a fine set of Office-compatible apps and a full PIM suite, but CE adds better multimedia features.

The Netbook Pro will be available in North America and Europe at the end of October from Psion Teklogix' sales offices, distributors and value-added resellers.

The company isn't targeting individual buyers, but one-off sales shouldn't be impossible. The list price is £950 in the UK, $1500 in the US.

More expensive than a laptop, but for enterprises the gain is a much lower TCO, said Roberts, thanks to its role as a "task-specific business tool". ®

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