Monday, July 16, 2007

Palm's Foleo - "mobile companion" or simply a laptop?

Palm has advertised the Foleo as a "mobile companion" for itinerant workers needing only email, document prep, and PowerPoint capabilities.

The company says it is a "revolutionary product category". When Palm released Foleo last month, it breathlessly billed the Foleo as the first of a "new class" of products likely to go down in history as Palm's best-selling ever -- more popular than the Treo smartphone, and more popular than the original "Palm Pilot."

Foleo is running Linux-based appliance-like operating system. The Foleo weighs at just over 2 pounds, but it doesn't feel all that heavy, much easier to carry around than an average laptop. The customized, Linux-based interface is very simple and very responsive. There's actually no application launcher or "home screen," just an application menu that you pop down by using a dedicated "Apps" key; you navigate around using a little eraser-head-like touchpoint device in the middle of the keyboard. Click near the top of the screen, and application menus appear. It's all the laptop experience you like, with none of the annoying slowdowns you hate. If Palm plays their cards right, yes, they could replace laptops in a lot of situations.

Palm Foleo and Palm Treo, notice the difference?

That is what I've learned so far:
  • Battery life "according to Q/A, not marketing," under constant use with WiFi on and the screen set to the default (65 percent) brightness is an honest five hours.
  • It has a real bash shell, because bash's built-ins reduce process loading (forking) at boot time, for faster start-up.
  • The magnetically latched case is grippy rubber with undulations -- very easy to carry.
  • The keyboard conforms to the smaller ISO standard, with 18mm pitch.
  • All apps run all the time, and only run maximized to full-screen. Switching between them (via a hardware key) is instantaneous.
  • Optional "phone in range" authentication accepts the presence of user's phone within Bluetooth range as the password.
  • The Opera browser looks pretty good on the 10.2-inch, 1024 x 600 display (external VGA resolution is normal XGA (1024 x 768)
  • Fonts (on the prototype we saw) were okay, but could do with some sub-pixel rendering and something like Red Hat's outstanding (and free) Liberation fonts
  • Video out (for PowerPoints) is mini-VGA -- don't lose that dongle.

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