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Palm Zire 71 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mohd Nazley Mohd Fadhley   
May 18, 2003 at 04:29 PM
After almost 5 years of using monochrome PDAs (three models in all and all of them are Palm™ Powered), I recently 'upgraded' from my HandEra330 to a colour Palm handheld .... The Zire71. At RM1,128.00 I think it is worth every sen.

Why the Zire71?

Well, I had a tough time choosing between a Tungsten T and the Zire71. I had to decide whether I need a bluetooth device or one with a built-in camera.

In the end the Zire71 won the "battle" because of two criteria, the built-in camera and the excellent display. I was using a HandEra330 with the Kodak Palmpix Camera, so the upgrade would mean I'd lose the "camera" capability. Hence, to be able to keep my status quo (i.e. PDA & Camera), the Zire71 was the best choice. And yes, the speaker is almost as loud as the one onb my HandEra. Great for wake-up alarm in the mouning. Furthermore, the Zire71's display is really "awesome" .... In my opinion, the best screen on a Palm™ PDA ever.

I know, the Zire71 is 'bluetoothless' but I can still get things done using the "old" Infra-red technology, albeit a little cumbersome. Most importantly, I can get my work done.


General Comments

The first thing that really caught my attention is the Zire71's display, bright and crisp. This screen quality really impressed me that made me say to myself "Hey, it's time to get a colour PDA", and I did! At minimum brightness, the Zire 71 is comparable with Tungsten T display at 50% brightness. Mind you the comparison is not scientific but merely a physical comparison by sight. it is a pity I don't have a snapshot of the two devices side by side to put up in this review.

I am so used to the Palm III form factor, that thickness of the Zire71 doesn't really bother me. Yes, it is thick compared to the m-series Palm and also the newer Tungsten range. The Zire71 is almost as thick as the Palm III's.

The Zire71's design is reminiscent to the Nokia 7650 mobile phone. Sliding the front part of the PDA exposes the camera lens..., which I think contributes to the Zire71's thickness (I'll go more into the built-in camera later).



Frankly I was skeptical of built quality of the Zire71 because of the moving parts but Palm proved me wrong. The Zire71 has a solid build, with no creaks at the corners and if I were not told that this device has a built in camera, I wouldn't have known that the front part could slide up!

The Zire71 however failed my "shake" test ... a light shake gives out a rattling sound. The four hard buttons fitting is a little loose. When I used a scotch tape to keep the buttons in place, the rattling sound disappears.

The front part of the Zire71 is made of plastic while the back, that protects the camera lens is made of smooth metal. It looks elegant and all but it makes handling the device with an extra sweaty palm (no pun intended) a little dangerous … especially when sliding the camera.

The stylus really sucks ... just a piece of plastic. I might as well use my finger to tap the screen. It even doesn't have a reset pin incorporated into it. I use my 3-way-Lamy stylus to tap the screen. The only consolation regarding the stylus is that it stores firmly in its silo and not easy to accidentally drop it.

A 3-in-1 Device

Palm designed the Zire 71 to be a 3-in-1 device
... A PDA
... A Camera
... A Media Player

OK, this time around, I'll do this review in a different manner. I will be looking at the device as a multi-function (coulld we call it a multi-media?) device and comment based on each function ...


As a PDA


With specifications as follows, the Zire 71 is a Tungsten|T without the camera:-
  • Dimensions and Weight: 4.5 x 2.9 x 0.67 in. / 5.3 oz.
  • Texas Instruments 144Mhz OMAP310 (ARM) processor
  • Palm OS software v5.2.1
  • 16MB RAM (13MB actual storage capacity)
  • 16-Bit Transflective TFT color LCD 65,000+ colors, 320x320 Pixel
  • HotSync USB cradle, Infrared
  • SD / MMC card slot, Universal connector
  • Built in camera, max. 640 x 480 Resolution
  • 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, mono speaker
  • Rechargeable lithium polymer 900mAh battery

The Zire 71 is positioned as a "consumer" PDA hence there are no productivity software that comes bundled with the unit. Office suites like Documents to and QuickOffice are not bundled with the unit. You have to purchase the softwares if you require to work with wordprocessor and spreadsheets. No great loss but you need to fork out roughly USD40.00 to purchase the softwares. I am already a QuickOffice user, so it is just a matter of transferring the applications to the Zire 71.

Other PIM applications, just like before, are very intuituve, easy to master and integrates with communication softwares for SMS and Versa Mail email client. I personally use Snapper Mail and QuickOffice which works very well together, converting Word and Excel file attachments.

With the communication tools included, ther Zire71 would really packed a punch if it has built-in bluetooth capability. At this moment, you need to get a mobile phone with an IR port to send emails and SMSes. I thought, a work around to this problem is to get the Bluetooth SD card but was told later that the card would not work on an OS5 machine, what a bummer!! So, we will have to wait for Palm™ or other third party developer to write a driver for Palm OS5 machines.

Other applications included is PalmReader for you to use the Zire71 as an ebook reader. Again besause of the screen quailty, reading on the Zire 71 is a pleasure.

As a Camera

The built in camera is great, even though it is only a 0.3 Megapixel (that’s VGA resolution or 640x480 pixels) Taking photos in very low lighting is a lot better than the Kodak PalmPix. The “sliding” mechanism on the Zire71 protects the lens of the camera unlike the Sony-Ericsson P800 and the Nokia 3650 which is exposed, unprotected.

Snapping pictures is enjoyable… slide…point…shoot… and it does not consume that much power. I tried snapping 22 photos, and all are saved in my SD card, my battery indicator hardly moved. I started using the Zire71 fully charged and after so many “mugshots”, the battery level went down two percent, quite decent if you ask me.

Picture quality is at par with my PalmPix (also takes VGA pix). For comparison, below, the photo on the left is taken by my Zire71 and the right by HandEra330 and PalmPix combo.



The photos taken are stored in either RAM or SD card, your choice, and saved in Jpeg format. This makes it really easy to share photos with other PDA users, just beam the jpeg photos. What I like best is that I can snap a picture, and send it via email using Snapper Mail. A 640x480 resolution photo is about 50KB in size and took me around 1 minute 50 seconds to send the photo as email attachment on 9.6K GSM connection .... not bad eh!

The Palm Desktop comes with a conduit to sync the photos taken from PDA to PC. Very easy to use.


As Media Player

I would not personally use my Zire71 to listen to MP3 music all day simply because I would like to conserve the power to actually do real work. This baby plays MP3 and comes bundled with RealOne MP3 palyer, but I prefer to use a third party MP3 Player, called Aeroplayer by Aerodrome Software (www.aerodromesoftware.com). The Aeropalyer is mose customisable and allows you to listen to music and switching off the display, conserving precious power.


Left: screenshot of RealOne MP3 Player . Right: screenshot of Aeroplayer (with Star Trek Skin)

I installed an entire album of “Chicago Greatest Hits” into the SD card and tried listening to the whole 12 songs using Aeroplayer and the display off. Very satisfying indeed and I was quite pleased to see that the entire album only set me back 20% of the power.

The Zire71 has a weakness over the Tungsten|T in this area, the Zire71 lacks a separate Digital Sound Processor or DSP to play the MP3 music. It depends on its main processor to play the MP3 and this degrade the sound quality when you are working on another application whilst listening to music. There's static like sound or cracking sound when tapping on the screen or changing appication. I woould think the DSP issue is the reason for this.

Movies anyone? ...



I installed the Kinoma Player that came with the Zire71 and downloaded the Spiderman movie trailer and the Men In Black II trailer. I find the palyback is a little jerky, pixelated and lack sound quality. I wonder why MP3 music quality is great while the sound from Kinoma palyer is below par. Could it be the Kinoma palyer limitation itself? or the Zire's processor could not handle both Video and Audio at the same time.

Playing the 2 minute trailer really drains the battery ... very quickly mind you. I would not recommend watching videos on the Zire71. To me the Kinoma Player is just for show off ... the WOW! factor.

The Zire71 comes with the audio capability, so I expected a set of earphones included in the box, and was dissapointed to learn that it doesn't come with one. Why? It is just like buying a Walkman without a headphone ... pertty useless I would say. I had to buy the earphone separately.


Conclusion

I think this is Palm's best attempt so far to create a multi-media capable PDA. I would have given it full marks if not fot the fact it is not bluetooth enabled. Palm's strategy in introducing this model with all the specification leaves me wondering if a new Tungsten T is in its development workshop ....

Pros:
  • 3-in-1 PDA
  • Excellent display
  • Value for money


Cons:
  • Lousy stylus
  • loose rattling buttons
  • no separate DSP


Tapping off

Mohd Nazley Fadhley
Last Updated ( Oct 30, 2005 at 09:29 AM )