http://www.palm.com/us/products/mobilecompanion/foleo/"With its 10-inch screen and full-size keyboard, the Palm Foleo mobile companion connects wirelessly with your smartphone to help you do more on the go. Unfold it, press a button, and it's on instantly�while just one touch brings your email to the big screen. Use your Foleo to view attachments, type longer emails, or to get a bigger look at web pages and photos you'd normally view on your smartphone. And with up to five hours of battery life packed into such a compact design, you'll do big things wherever you go."
Here's the scenario that Palm has created this product for: you have a Palm smartphone (a Pocket PC) and on it you have all the applications you need to stay productive on the go. The problem is that your device has a small screen, and a small keyboard - so while that's fine for short email messages and basic triage on the go, it's not practical for tackling a big work load. The Palm Foleo is designed to replace a laptop, to do more, faster, with a bigger screen (10" wide-screen) and a keyboard. Battery life is apparently five hours, and the Foleo has built-in WiFi. It uses the Palm as a modem if you're outside of WiFi range, and uses Bluetooth to do a one-button sync with the device so all your email and data is the same on both devices. It has a connection port for VGA out to a projector for doing presentations, and Documents To Go has been updated to allow better functionality with Office documents. It has a scroll wheel and a nub-mouse. Other specifications are unknown: no word on memory card slots, CPU, USB ports, local storage capacity, whether Flash is supported in the browser (big mistake if it isn't), and there's no mention of an IM client, or anything else beyond the basic productivity pitch. There is a photo viewer, a file manager, a PDF viewer, a terminal application (command prompt?) and of course a Web browser.
So that's what the Foleo is. Now here's my take on it.
I like seeing companies break new ground, and the Foleo is a bit different than anything I've seen before. Sure, we've seen small and light clamshell devices with keyboards - back in 1996 we called them Handheld PCs and it was Microsoft's first foray into the realm of mobile computing. Back then, they were too expensive and too limited in functionality to ever become popular. Now here's Palm, a little over a decade later, pitching essentially the same thing. There are a few key differences: the introductory price of $499 USD is decent (shame on them for doing a $100 mail-in rebate though) but if it goes much higher than that they'll start to lose interested buyers. The way that the Foleo links up with a Treo is interesting and ultimately bridges the gap between being in a location with WiFi and being in the middle of nowhere but still having a cellular signal.
The idea of having a device with a bigger keyboard and screen, enabling you to do more work, is a valid one. Most of us call those laptops, but as a big fan of small and light laptops, there's no laptop on the market with a 10" screen and five hours of battery life that costs $499 USD. I'm just finishing up my review of an LG C1 Tablet PC and it sells for around $2500 USD. Yes, you can buy a laptop for around $500 now, but laptops in that price range are thick, heavy, will likely only last two hours on a charge, and adding Bluetooth to replicate the functionality of the Foleo plus Treo adds to the cost.
In some ways though, it seems like the Foleo is an admission from Palm that mobile devices can't be used in all the scenarios we need. For instance, check out this quote from the Palm site:
"After your last meeting of the day, you open up your Gmail account to find an invite to a restaurant opening. You get directions using Google Maps, which are easy to read on the big screen, and send an email out to a few friends. Subject: It's been a good day. Let's celebrate."
The core scenarios there are checking Gmail, looking up a restaurant, getting directions, and sending an email with those directions. Aren't those scenarios covered off fairly well with something like the Windows Live Search client?
There are some things that would make me interested in buying a Foleo: if it has a USB port and can be charged via USB, that means no bulky power adaptor and travelling ultra-light becomes viable (USB adaptor + USB AC power adaptor). If it can work with other devices beyond the Treo (Jeff Hawkins said that was a goal), that also appeals to me because right now the Treo isn't the best device for my needs. They say five hours of battery life, but that probably means three to four hours under normal circumstances: if they can hit five hours battery life under heavy use, that would be superb. And if they open up the platform to allow other sorts of applications to be installed - say, a basic photo editor - I could see myself using this device in a variety of scenarios where I might not want to bring my laptop. I'd worry a lot less about damaging/losing a $500 Foleo than I would a $3000 ultra-portable laptop.
One thing Palm may not have thought about is that there may be a market of non-Treo owning people that would want to buy this product sole on it's own merits: when I was in my last year of college I used my Velo 1 HPC to take notes in class, and it was extremely useful. Laptops have come a long way since then, and many students already take laptops to class, but again the functionality and pricing sweet spot of $500 makes this a compelling alternative for some people. Only time will tell, but I think the Foleo is an interesting foray for Palm that may bear fruit.
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He likes the Foleo more than most people it seems!