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Palm Zire review: Palm Zire

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MSRP: $99.00

The Good Easy connection via mini-USB cable; battery recharges through USB port; separate connector for repowering without a computer; long battery life.

The Bad Scant amount of RAM; slow processor; no expansion slot; lacks backlight.

The Bottom Line Palm has managed to lower the entry-level bar with the inexpensive and ultrabasic Zire.

Visit for details.

5.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

Palm's latest entry into the handheld race is a budget PDA that's earmarked for the tech neophyte. While other manufacturers are adding more memory, larger screens, and faster processors, the Palm Zire has just 2MB of RAM; a small, monochrome screen with no backlight; and a relatively poky, 16MHz processor. Yes, the attractively designed Zire is about as basic as a Palm gets, but if you're looking for a no-frills personal organizer, it will certainly do the job--as long you're not trying to read the screen in a dimly lit place. Taking a page from Apple's design book, the Zire has a white-plastic design à la the iPod. According to Palm, when it comes to PDA design, white is the new black, and with the new color scheme, the Zire seems fresh--or at least different--from its predecessors. The unit's rounded edges; white bezel; and aqua-colored, gel protective cover make the device look simple and easy to use. At 4.4 by 2.9 by 0.6 inches and 3.8 ounces, the Zire is no smaller than other Palms, though it is lighter.

The Zire is no smaller than its Palm siblings.

However, its plastic casing makes it lighter.

The differences between the Zire and its Palm siblings extend beyond cosmetics. Palm has removed the To Do and Note keys and has brought the Contacts and Calendar buttons flush against the scroll controls, a layout that allows for easy, one-handed operation. Also gone is the Calculator key in the upper-right corner of the Graffiti area; it has been replaced by a customizable Favorites button that can be reassigned--as can all controls--through the Preferences menu.

The real innovation here is Palm's abandonment of the proprietary data connector. You now connect the PDA to your PC or Mac via a simple mini-USB cable and without a cradle. This is a positive step for a couple of reasons: you have one fewer item to lug around, and if you lose the cord, you can easily replace it without having to pay Palm $39.

Palm finally ditched its proprietary connector for a mini-USB one.

Though it looks neat, this cover flops around and catches on things.

The same USB connection also recharges the Zire's batteries. However, if you aren't near a computer, you can use the included AC adapter, which plugs into the top of the unit. This Palm's protective cover is irritating; not only does it flop around, it often accidentally activates the Zire when it's in your pocket or your backpack.

To say that the Zire, which also goes by the model number m150, is a no-frills PDA would be an understatement--this model is more like a blast from the past. With just 2MB of RAM, a 16MHz DragonBall EZ processor, and a 2.75-inch, monochrome screen, the Zire is practically on a par with a Palm III in the specs department. In fact, Palm's previous low-end PDA, the m105 has a more generous 8MB of RAM, though its screen and processor are the same as those of the Zire.

The screen lacks a backlight but has high contrast.

Palm Desktop offers more quick links on the left side.

Unlike the m105, however, the Zire lacks a backlight. To be fair, this Palm's high level of contrast makes the screen easy to read, even in dim light. Nevertheless, the lack of a backlight is a major shortcoming in our book.

Does completing all the levels make you a complete blockhead?

Alternate rules: Try to find the mines in the first move.

An age-old puzzle gets a new life on the Zire.
On the software side, the Zire fares a bit better. The unit itself runs Palm OS 4.1--compared to the m105's 3.5.1--and the software CD includes the latest versions of Palm Desktop for the PC and the Mac. Windows users also get Chapura Pocket Mirror for syncing with Outlook. The notable exclusion from this package is Documents To Go, which lets you view and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents on your handheld or exchange them between your PDA and your PC.

Four basic games round out the package: Giraffe helps you learn the Graffiti writing system by making you draw falling letters before they hit the ground; Hard Ball is a classic Breakout clone; and Mine Hunt and Puzzle are two puzzle-based games.

As noted earlier, the Zire is equipped with a 16MHz processor and 2MB of RAM. Considering this model's hardware limitations, it's no surprise that its performance is correspondingly limited. In our informal tests, we found that the device's processor and screen performance were at the low end of the handheld spectrum. Conversely, its battery life was above par.

The Zire isn't much of a picture viewer.
Using a freeware benchmark from Quartus, the unit scored 91 percent--the same as Palm's IIIx, V, and m100 models. By comparison, the Palm m515 scored 154 percent, while the Sony CLIE PEG-NR70V received a whopping 305 percent.

The Zire's screen is a subpar performer. Aside from the fact that the display is monochrome and nonbacklit, it also responds very slowly. If you play even slower games, there's visible streaking and blurring as objects move across the display. But its screen is at least as sharp as those of other monochrome Palm models and has the same resolution of 160x160 pixels.

On the plus side, the screen's humble properties contribute to improving battery life. With no energy-sapping backlight or colors to display, the battery lasts much longer. In our drain tests, it delivered 30 hours, 22 minutes of use before kicking the bucket.

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