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A Review of PalmOne’s Zire 72 and 31

by Wei-Meng Lee
01/17/2005

Recently, palmOne has been churning out new models of its popular handhelds. They have three main product ranges:

  • Zire handhelds: Targeted at the widest range of users, with three different models: the Zire 21, Zire 31, and Zire 72. The Zire 21 is of entry-level quality and sports a monochrome display. The Zire 31 and Zire 72 are more geared towards users who want a color screen and expandability. The Zire 72 also includes a built-in camera.
  • Tungsten handhelds: Targeted more at business users, the Tungsten series has three models: the Tungsten E, Tungsten T3, and Tungsten C. The Tungsten E is the entry-level model; the Tungsten T3 comes with Bluetooth capability, and the Tungsten C has Wi-Fi built-in and includes a keyboard.
  • Treo Smartphone: This is the Smartphone from palmOne that also comes with a built-in keyboard.

I was interested to see how the latest models stacked up against each other and selected two particular models to evaluate in this article. I have gone for two Zire models, the 31 and 72, since they are priced for two different groups of users. The Zire 31 costs $149, and is clearly targeted at first-time users of PDAs who would nevertheless like to have a color screen.

The Zire 72 is priced at $299, twice as much as the Zire 31. It has Bluetooth built in, as well as a 1.2MB camera. This should appeal to more sophisticated users who want to take pictures with their handhelds and will probably use them to get connected through their Bluetooth-enabled cellular phones.

Zire 72

The Zire 72 is an upgraded model of the Zire 71, with an improved camera, faster processor, and a larger memory.

The Zire 72 uses the newer 312MHz Intel PXA270 processor and runs PalmOS 5.2.8. It has a 16-bit, 320 by 320 high-resolution transflective TFT color display that supports 65,000 colors. In terms of memory, it has 8MB of masked ROM and 32MB of SDRAM, 24MB of which is accessible by the user.

Figure 1. The Zire 72 Figure 1. The Zire 72

The Zire 72 has a built-in 1.2MB camera with 2x digital zoom, capable of a maximum resolution of 1280 by 960. It can also capture video at 320 by 240 resolution. Figure 2 shows the camera located at the back of the Zire 72. The wire mesh conceals the speaker.

Figure 2. The speaker and the camera on the back of the Zire 72

The camera software in the Zire 72 supports different special effects: Normal, Sepia, Black and White, and Blue. To test the camera, I used it to take a snapshot of my room under normal lighting conditions (the device has no flash). Figures 3 to 6 show four photos taken with the camera at 1280 by 960 resolution with different special effects.

Figure 3. Normal effect (305K)
Figure 4. Sepia effect (226 KB) Figure 4. Sepia effect (226K)
Figure 5. Black and White effect (202 KB) Figure 5. Black and White effect (202K)
Figure 6. Blue effect (226 KB) Figure 6. Blue effect (226K)

The image quality is acceptable, but definitely is in no way comparable to images taken by a digital camera.

Figure 7. Setting up Bluetooth devices in now a breeze with the Zire 72 Figure 7. Setting up Bluetooth devices in now a breeze with the Zire 72

On the networking side, the Zire 72 comes with built-in Bluetooth support, which makes it easy for you to pair up with a Bluetooth-enabled cellular phone for GPRS Internet access and sending SMS/email messages from your PDA. It comes with a user-friendly utility to set up Bluetooth devices, shown in Figure 7. I find the Bluetooth capability useful when I need to send photos taken on the Zire 72 to my desktop. While the Zire 72 comes with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi is not a standard item (but can be added by purchasing a wireless SD card).

In terms of expansion options, the Zire 72 supports MMC (Multi-Media Card), SD and SDIO (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. The expansion slots of the Zire 72 Figure 8. The expansion slots of the Zire 72

To test the responsiveness of video playback, I copied a 22MB Windows Media file to the Zire 72 (see Figure 9). The playback was smooth and the sound quality good.

Figure 9. Playing a video on the Zire 72 Figure 9. Playing a video on the Zire 72

The bundled RealOne Player (see Figure 10) included with the Zire 72 doubles as an MP3 player. Just buy an SD memory card, and you have a portable music player with great sound quality.

Figure 10. The RealOne player on the Zire 72 Figure 10. The RealOne player on the Zire 72

The Zire 72 comes with the following software:

  • palmOne Quick Install (Windows only)
  • palmOne Media Desktop Extension (Windows only)
  • Synchronization with Microsoft Outlook (Windows only)
  • NotePad, VoiceMemo, and Expense (Expense is Windows only)
  • Mac users get a Send to Handheld droplet that allows for the easy installation of photos, videos, and MP3s using the Hotsync process.
  • Software Essentials CD
  • Documents To Go Standard Edition
  • palmOne VersaMail
  • palmOne Web Pro
  • palmOne Messages (SMS/MMS)
  • Acrobat Reader
  • Solitaire
  • Palm Reader
  • powerOne Personal Calculator
  • Java Virtual Machine (Internet download and valid email address required, Windows only)
  • Audible Player for palmOne handhelds (Windows only; requires a software download from the Internet to your computer and a separate subscription to purchase audio books from Audible)
  • Bluetooth, Calculator, Calendar, Camera
  • Card Info, Contacts, Dialer, Expense, Memos
  • Media, Note Pad, Prefs, Quick Tour, Real One
  • Mobile Player, Tasks, Voice Memo, World Clock

Zire 31

When I next reviewed the Zire 31 ($149), my first reaction was influenced by the quality of the screen (see Figure 11), which was less than ideal compared to the better screen of the Zire 72. In contrast to the Zire 72, the Zire 31's screen is a STN (Super Twisted Nematic) display with resolution of 160 by 160. The 8-bit display supports 4,000 colors. While the color screen is acceptable to me, it will not allow you to play games, which need a higher resolution screen.

Figure 11. The Zire 31 Figure 11. The Zire 31

The Zire 31 also runs Palm OS 5.2.8 and has 16MB of RAM (of which 14MB is accessible). It has a speedy 200MHz Intel ARM-based processor and has no wireless connectivity built in, except for the infrared port. It does, however, have an SDIO expansion slot (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. The expansion slot of the Zire 31 Figure 12. The expansion slot of the Zire 31

Note that the Zire 31 has only two buttons, compared to four on the Zire 72 (see Figure 13). However, both the Zire 31 and 72 have a five-way directional pad, which is useful to gamers.

Figure 13. Comparing the buttons of the Zire 31 (left) and the Zire 72 (right) Figure 13. Comparing the buttons of the Zire 31 (left) and the Zire 72 (right)

The Zire 31 comes with the following applications:

  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • World Clock
  • Memos
  • Tasks
  • Calculator
  • Expense1
  • Prefs
  • Note Pad
  • RealOne™ Mobile Player3
  • palmOne™ Photos
  • Audible
  • Handmark™ Splash Money® and Mobile DB™
  • powerOne™ Calculator
  • Palm™ Reader
  • AddIt
  • Solitaire

Like the Zire 72, the Zire 31 includes the RealOne player, allowing you to play MP3s on your PDA.

Summary

Overall, my impression of the Zire 72 is good. The speedy Intel XScale processor makes the PDA responsive, and the Bluetooth setup utility makes setting up Bluetooth devices a breeze. However, the camera quality is only acceptable, but this is understandably so. The Zire 31's main disadvantage is its low-resolution screen. Long periods of usage will make you want to perform an organ transplant on the Zire 31.

Both the Zire 31 and 72 performed well as music players, but video is definitely out on the Zire 31. In terms of processing power, the Zire 31 performs reasonably well due to its fast Intel processor. Which one would I choose if I were to buy a Palm-OS-based PDA? I would definitely go for the Zire 72, but if all you want is a simple PDA to keep track of your contacts, the Zire 31 is a good choice.

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Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) http://weimenglee.blogspot.com is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions http://www.developerlearningsolutions.com, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.


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