With over 3 million units sold, PalmOne's Zire line must be doing something right. Today PalmOne provides us two new additions to this now venerable line of Palm OS PDAs â€“ the Zire 31 and the Zire 72. In this review, I provide some insights to my weeklong experience with a pre-release Zire 31 unit. I've used extensively both a Zire 71 and a Zire 21 and was not a fan of either unit, especially the Zire 21. Judging by the popularity of the Zire line, I must be in the minority. But I call'em like I see'em. So when I received the Zire 31 I was, well, ready to rip apart yet another Zire. Unfortunately for the Anti-Zire Fan Club, their days seem numbered, as the Zire 31 is in my opinion, an outstanding PDA.
Palm Zire 31 in hand
With a suggested retail price of $149, the Zire 31 seems to be clearly aimed at the entry-level market. However, with an SD card expansion slot, color screen, and a very nice suite of fully registered 3rd party software that fits nicely in the 16MB of RAM all powered by a 200MHz ARM-based Intel processor, the Zire 31 has the tools to handle just about any job. True, the screen is a bit grainy with only a 160x160 resolution. And the only wireless connectivity it offers is through a standard infrared port. But for $150, it is capable of doing just about anything I can do with my higher end PDAs (T3 and Garmin iQue 3600). In fact, the Zire 31 offers similar performance to my Tungsten T at half the cost. I did find a few minor problems with Zire 31 design that I will describe later in this review. But for those looking for their first PDA, or even us power users looking for a tough and dependable backup â€“ I strongly recommend the Zire 31.
What you get is what you see in Figure 2. Before getting to this stage, however, I first had to whip out the blowtorch to penetrate the what-seems-to-be standard plastic store display packaging. But once past this, I liked how the Zire 31 comes packaged as the PDA, plus a separate box with all the accesories, software, and documentation as shown. Speaking of documentation, it is pretty sparse and could use some improvement. Other than a quick set-up guide and a limited help file built in to the Zire 31, documentation for the ZIre 31 is completely electronic and accessible only from the Set-up CD or online at PalmOne's web site. Normally this would not be that big of a deal. But no instructions were provided on how to conduct a hard reset, which tend to be unit-specific. Recommendation to PalmOne â€“ beef up the printed documentation. I would also eliminate the installed help file as this won't be of much use with a dead PDA.
Figure 2. Box Contents
In addition to the documentation and installation CD, the Zire 31 comes with the following accessories:
â€¢ Mini-USB to USB HotSync cable
â€¢ AC power adaptor
â€¢ Protective Flip Lid
The Min-USB to USB HotSync cable acts both as a hotsync and charging cable â€“ nice for travelling but also for reduced desktop clutter. The bad news with this design is mini-USB end as opposed to the more common Palm Universal Connector. This limits the amount of accessories, although there are plenty available from the existing Zire line. The AC power adaptor consists of a 1.5" x 1.5" x 2" outlet hogging plug connected to a 5 foot cable that charges the Zire 31 through a side port (Figure 3). Other than the initial charge, I used the HotSync cable to charge my Zire 31. Sure would be nice if they could make these power adaptors smaller...
Figure 3. Charging - AC Power Adaptor
The protective flip lid is nothing spectacular and similar to the ones I've found on earlier Zire models. The flip lid is attached by sliding it into the groove on the back of the Zire 31. Once attached, it covers the SD slot on top and the screen and buttons on the front of the Zire 31 â€“ nothing fancy but functional.
Figure 4. Flip Cover
The stylus is a solid piece of plastic that feels good while writing/tapping (in my normally sized hand). Size-wize, it is similar to the stock stylus found in a Tungsten 3 (Figure 5 â€“ Zire 31 stylus on right). Unfortunately, the stylus does not include a reset pin â€“ more on that later.
Figure 5. Styli - T3 vs Zire 31
The lack of a desktop stand may be of concern for some. But with the HotSync cable plugging into the side (as opposed to the more typical bottom configuration) of the Zire 31, I quickly forgot the need for a desktop stand.
The initial setup of the Zire 31 was quick, simple and flawless. Following the enclosed quick setup guide, I first allowed the PDA to charge for the recommended time of 4 hours. Next, I inserted the Setup CD and quickly installed the Palm Desktop and 3rd-party software. Finally, I performed my initial HotSync and I was ready to go. Total setup time, excluding the initial charging time, was typical and painless - about 30 minutes.
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