Sony hopes a new microchip that will deliver more power with less battery drain will also give new life to handheld computers. The new Clie models coming next month boast 16 hours of continuous playback of music-or five hours of video-without stopping. Users can go wireless with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. These units aren't cheap ($599 to $699), but they're a sign of the times. Clies are the Macs of the handheld world, offering a little more flash for a higher price. The new Clies arrive as PDA sales have fallen off-and many people choose to buy cheaper models like Palm's Zire rather than something fancier.
Sony uses the buzzword "personal entertainment communicator" for these devices, the pitch being that the PDA is not just a glorified office organizer; it's more like a pocket-sized laptop. It even comes with a tiny keyboard and an optimized Web browser, along with something Sony calls a "sniffer" that can detect an accessible Wi-Fi wireless connection.
The new chip, called the Handheld Engine, replaces the familiar Intel processors in new Clies. It monitors operation speed and raises or reduces battery-power flow when necessary.
A new Sony feature is an automatic backup that saves the day when the battery finally does give out. Before shutdown, it copies data to a separate memory pack for easy retrieval after the PDA recharges.