Many Palm fans were disappointed by the original Zire, a monochrome unit that offered a measly 2MB of memory and was targeted at soccer moms. But Palm aficionados will be a lot more satisfied with the impressive Zire 71, which has a sweet screen, a built-in camera, MP3 support, and a Secure Digital (SD) expansion slot, all for a reasonable $299. The question is, should you choose to carry it over Sony's current midrange CLIE offerings? The answer: Yes. We actually thought the original Zire was fairly slick-looking except for the so-last-decade monochrome screen. The 71 has that same stylized look, but it's adorned with a blue instead of a white motif, with a touch of Apple influence in the mix. Just as important, this handheld simply feels solid in your hand--there's nothing chintzy about the unit, which weighs in at 5.3 ounces. That's not superlight, but this Zire is relatively compact (4.5 by 2.9 by 0.7 inches), especially for one that features a built-in camera.
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|The Zire 71 is pretty much the same size as the original Zire.|
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|The device is still slim in a supine position.|
Thankfully, Palm has equipped the Zire 71 with a high-resolution, 320x320-pixel, transflective 65,000-color display, which was so sorely lacking in some of its early color units and that left them a step behind the color CLIEs. The company's also gone with a new joysticklike navigational button, which takes a little getting used to, but we grew to like it. There's no side scroll wheel; in fact, there are no buttons on the sides of the unit, so you don't have to worry about inadvertently pressing one.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the design is the integration of the camera. To activate it, you simply slide the blue-colored portion of the device upward to reveal the shutter-release button (the lens is on the back of the handheld). We can't say how the mechanism will hold up over several months of usage, but again, the unit appears to be well built and fairly rugged.
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|New additions: The Zire replaced the scroll buttons with a joystick.|
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|This baby loves to recuperate in its cradle.|
The 71 comes with a somewhat attractive black protective carrying case and a cradle. As noted, unlike the original Zire, this model has an SD slot at the top of the device, as well as a stereo headphone jack and a tiny mono speaker on the back of the unit. The lithium-polymer rechargeable battery is not removable, but users will be able to add accessories via the Palm Universal Connector. Rumor has it that a compatible sled with Wi-Fi capabilities is in the works.
Top o' the Zire: The device has both an SD slot and a headphone jack.
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|Peekaboo: The built-in camera hides behind a sliding panel.|
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|Case closed: Protect your Palm with this faux leather jacket.|
The built-in camera takes images with a maximum resolution of 640x480 pixels. While the pictures can't compare to the 2-megapixel shots that Sony's high-end NZ90 snaps, they're acceptable for e-mailing or viewing on the device. With nothing else installed on the unit, the built-in memory can store up to 200 photos, but if you plan on using the 71's multimedia capabilities, you'll need to invest in at least a 64MB memory card.
If you have a Windows machine, you can use the Quick Install application to load the Zire with music files, video clips, and applications. Palm also supports Mac connectivity, but the applicable version of Quick Install isn't available yet. Even so, the installation scheme on Macs isn't too arduous. While the 144MHz OMAP processor may not be the fastest available in Palm-based handhelds, it keeps things moving along smoothly. Palm included a couple of movie trailers that we ran using Kinoma Video Player. All in all, we were pleased with the playback results, though the video was highly compressed and a tad choppy; users shouldn't expect broadcast quality. The sound for the Men in Black II trailer was solid, and the only gripe we had about MP3 playback was that the device wasn't quite loud enough for listening in noisy environments, such as the New York City subway. Again, the 65,000-color, 320x320-pixel screen is impressive, offering a bright, sharp image down to the smallest icons.
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|The Zire's new transflective screen outshines all earlier Palm displays.|
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|The Zire 71 snaps decent pictures, depending on your subject.|
As far as the camera goes, the only real issue is keeping your subjects--and your own hand--still while shooting; this unit just doesn't do well with movement. It also helps to shoot in well-lit areas, though we were able to get plenty of decent shots indoors, even without a flash. To reiterate, expect to e-mail images or show them off on the device itself, not print them out for display in the family photo album.
Battery life was respectable. Palm says you can get up to 5 hours of MP3 playback or a week's worth of "normal" use from one full charge; our tests indicate these numbers are on the spot. With the screen brightness set at the halfway point, the Zire played video for a decent 5 hours, 6 minutes on one charge. And when playing MP3s with the backlight off, the unit held up for nearly 12 hours before the music stopped.