Palm Inc. has introduced a handheld computer with a new look and low price intended to attract more first-time customers. Starting at just $99, the Zire handheld is the most affordable and lightest personal digital assistant from Palm yet.

This latest handheld computer is designed with fewer buttons, and its polished white face and silver back resemble the trendy color of Apple Computer’s iMac. The Zire features the same software programs that come pre-loaded on other Palm handhelds, including the Date Book, Address Book, Note Pad, and To Do List. On the downside, it contains only two megabytes of memory, which Palm officials say is more than sufficient for first-time users. The device can store approximately 6,000 addresses, five years of appointments, and an array of downloadable software programs.

The Zire plugs into a standard electrical outlet to recharge, and a single charge reportedly provides weeks of battery life. It comes with a small USB port and Hotsync cable to connect to either a PC or Mac, instead of a Hotsync cradle.

According to Palm spokeswoman Kathleen Dixon, the Zire is best suited for teachers or students on the go who haven’t adopted handheld technology yet. It doesn’t have keyboard capability, but it is ideal for assessment, appointment, and homework tracking.

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