November 17, 1997 6:00 PM PST

Sony previews mini-notebook

LAS VEGAS--Look closely at the Sony booth and you still might not see the company?s newest offering--a mini-notebook less than an inch thick and weighing under three pounds, a product that could drive mini-notebooks into the mainstream.

Sony wants to put its stamp on this emerging market with the PCG-505,

The Sony PCG-505
the newest of the Vaio notebooks introduced today in Japan. The diminutive device comes with a 133-MHz Pentium MMX processor, a 1GB hard drive, 32MB of memory, and a 10.4-inch active matrix display. It's currently priced at around $2,500.

Other unique features of Sony?s stylish notebook is a stylus for inputting handwriting on a touchpad, which typically functions as a mouse pad. Conceivably, one push of a button could launch a frequently used program.

The mini-notebook is being displayed only to the inquisitive at the company?s booth at Comdex, but Sony officials says the notebooks should be on U.S. store shelves by mid-1998.

Mini-notebooks, though smaller than standard notebooks such as IBM's ThinkPad 560 or Compaq's Armada 7300, are larger and more powerful than current Windows CE-based handhelds. Mini-notebooks run the standard Windows 95 operating system, incorporate hard disk drives, and use Pentium processors.

A number of mini-notebooks have been introduced of late. Hitachi announced one following product launches by Toshiba and Mitsubishi.

So far, Sony?s device has one of the larger screens, although the keyboard is still smallish (albeit not as cramped as smaller mini-notebooks).

Cramped keyboards have been one of the major reasons that these devices haven't gained a large following to date. Most industry analysts still don?t think mini-notebooks will constitute more than ten percent of the overall market, but companies are rolling out devices regardless.

Besides consumer disinterest, mini-notebooks also face increased competition from Windows CE devices. Newer models from NEC and Casio are slated to come in a slightly larger package in order to provide bigger keyboards, larger screens, and more processing power. Importantly, the price should not go up significantly, keeping these devices at about half the price of mini-notebooks.

"Windows CE is still a proprietary operating system," countered Naoya Suzuki, a product manager for Sony. "I use some Windows applications on the desktop, but with Windows CE, I need new software [programs]. This [notebook] is the functional equivalent of a desktop," he said.

 

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