Palm will lower product prices today with low-cost WiFi PDAs.

Two new PDAs, the Palm TX and the Palm Z22, will debut. These are entry-level models that the company believes will make handheld computing more affordable for a wider variety of customers, said Raj Doshi, product line manager for handhelds. The TX costs £230 with around 100MB of user-accessible flash memory and an integrated WiFi chip, while the Z22 costs $99 with a colour screen and 20MB of user-accessible flash memory.

Palm believes that PDA users tend to stick close to WiFi networks in their home or office, while Treo users are on the road more frequently away from Wi-Fi hotspots, Doshi said.

While Treo users certainly visit their homes and offices on occasion, many analysts believe that the mobile carriers that sell the Treos are more interested in keeping those users connected to the Internet on pricey network connections, rather than free WiFi connections.

PDA's in freefall

PDA shipments have been in a freefall for several years, as mobile phones have become more powerful and capable of handling very basic contact and calendar information.

Todd Kort, principal analyst with Gartner said: "This will be [Palm's] most credible WiFi product to date. But it's kind of late in the game when you've got an OS that is obviously not going to be upgraded," Kort said. The future of the Palm OS is up in the air after developer PalmSource was acquired by Access, and PDA users looking to spend $299 might prefer to buy a product with an OS that will evolve over time, he said.

The TX comes with flash memory, which has become the standard for Palm's products. Flash memory can store data even if the device loses battery power, which has been the source of great frustration for past Palm users, Doshi said. The PDA uses a 312MHz XScale processor from Intel, an expansion card slot that supports the SDIO (secure digital I/O), SD and MMC (multimedia card) formats, and a 320-pixel by 480-pixel screen.

On the software side, the TX includes DataViz's Documents To Go software for creating and editing Microsoft's Word and Excel spreadsheet files, and for reading PowerPoint presentation files. It also works with MobiTV's application for allowing users to watch live television on handheld devices.

Cheaper than a Filofax

The new Z22 PDA is targeted at those individuals who have yet to give up their leather-bound paper organisers, Doshi said. Some of the key features for attracting this group are the flash memory, which will help protect data, and the color screen, which looks much nicer than paper, he said. At £79, the Z22 is also cheaper than buying a paper organiser and refilling it every year with the new calendar.

Palm has a good chance of attracting people who have never used a PDA with the Z22, Kort said. "They are trying to remove the intimidation factor that people associate with a PDA. It's something that is appropriate for students who don't need to connect to WiFi," he said.

Prices include VAT.