Brighthand Reviews the palmOne Zire 72

by Reads (290,579)

The Zire 72 is an updated version of palmOne’s popular Zire 71. The new model has a better built-in camera than its predecessor, a faster processor, and more memory.

It is palmOne’s first mid-range handheld to include Bluetooth short-range wireless networking.

Form

According to palmOne, the Zire 72’s design is a mixture of professional and fun elements. To be honest, this model doesn’t look all that professional to me. But you can see the pictures and decide for yourself if you’d be willing to pull this model out in the boardroom.

At 4.6 inches tall, 3.0 inches wide, and 0.7 inches thick (12 cm x 7.5 cm x 1.7 cm), the Zire 72 is comparable to some of its competitors, the Dell Axim X3 and the Toshiba e400. The latest palmOne model weighs 4.8 ounces (136 g).

Screen The Zire 72 has a 320-by-320-pixel screen that displays 16-bit color. That means it has an average screen for a Palm OS device, but a better one than you can get on most Pocket PCs. The higher resolution screen means text looks clearer and, if you are willing to reduce the size of the font, you can get more information on a page.

This display looks its best indoors, but is still quite readable outdoors and even in direct sunlight.

This model doesn’t have a retractable text entry area, as some higher-priced Palm OS models do. Instead, text is entered with Graffiti 2 on a small area below the screen dedicated to this.

Buttons I know the buttons don’t sound all that important, but they are how you’ll do much of your interacting with your handheld.

The Zire 72’s are big and comfortable to use. It also has a 5-way Directional Pad (D-pad) that lets you do a lot of tasks on your handheld one handed. The D-pad is also great for playing games.

Function

palmOne is aware that the main reason many people buy a PDA is so they can more easily carry around the personal information that is stored in Microsoft Outlook on their PC. Therefore, the contents of the Zire 72’s primary Personal Information Management (PIM) apps — Calendar, Contacts, Memos, and Tasks — can be easily synchronized with their Outlook equivalents.

If you aren’t an Outlook user, you can use the Palm Desktop to display your personal information on your computer. There are versions of this for both Windows and Mac.

palmOne has recently made a number of improvements to the PIM apps, like a new agenda view that displays appointments, tasks, and emails. This is similar to the Pocket PC’s Today screen. Memos and notes can be much longer than before, and the Contacts application allows much more information to be stored, including multiple addresses.

Bluetooth

One of the biggest things that sets the Zire 72 apart from its predecessor is the inclusion of Bluetooth wireless networking. This allows the Zire 72 to use a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone as a wireless modem. With this combination, you can check your email, send SMS messages, and even do a bit of Web surfing from almost anywhere.

There are a lot of smartphones coming onto the market these days that will allow you to do the same things, but the Zire 72 offers a much better screen, plus entering text is much easier.

In the bad old days, getting your mobile phone and your handheld to work together was like trying to get a golden retriever and squirrel to cooperate. This certainly isn’t the case with the Zire 72. Honestly, palmOne has made this about as simple as possible. There’s a program that asks what country you’re in, who your wireless service provider is (Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) and what model of phone you are using. Once you have provided those three pieces of information, the rest of the process is automatic. I was connected with my AT&T Wireless account in less than 30 seconds. No fooling.

Web Browser As you can connect to the Internet with the Zire 72 with a mobile phone as the modem, it comes with a Web browser, Palm Web Pro. This is a full-featured browser that compares well with the competition.

It operates in three modes. One, called Handheld View, reformats Web pages so that they fit neatly on the handheld’s screen. Another option is the Normal View, which displays pages basically as they would look on a desktop or laptop. You then have to scroll around on the page, as most sites are wider and longer than the screen. The final option is Mini View, in which Web pages are shrunk down until they fit on the Zire 72’s screen and you can choose to enlarge any part of the page.

You should be aware that when you are in Handheld View, the browser is using a proxy service. This speeds up your Web surfing, but isn’t secure at all.

Email The Zire 72 also comes with VersaMail 2.7, the latest version of Palm’s email application. This has almost as many features as my desktop email app. It can get email from multiple accounts, allows you to work with attachments, has filters, and lots more.

Other Internet access isn’t the only use for Bluetooth. In Contacts, the Zire 72’s address book, you can look someone up, and then have the phone number automatically be dialed for you. Of course, this requires that your phone be Bluetooth-enabled.

You can even use it to wirelessly HotSync the Zire 72, as long as your PC has Bluetooth.

Camera

Because there’s a camera built into the Zire 72, if you have your handheld with you, you’re always ready to snap a picture. This is great for snapping candid pictures of your family and friends.

However, your expectations for this camera shouldn’t be high. Picture quality isn’t good enough that I would use it as my only camera on a vacation. However, I would take it along so I could snap a picture or two to email to my friends as a personalized postcard. The Zire 72 even comes with software that will let you draw and write on your pictures before you email them.

If you are going to do this, hopefully you’re going someplace well lit, as the Zire 72 has no flash.

Using this camera is extremely easy. You push the Camera Button on the front of the Zire 72, which launches the camera application. The screen acts as the viewfinder and pushing the D-pad is the shutter.

This new model’s camera can take higher resolution pictures than the Zire 71 would, which is convenient if you intend to print some of them out.

Unlike its predecessor, the Zire 72 can capture videos as well as still images. These have to stored on an SD card, while regular pictures can be saved to either a card or the handheld’s RAM.

No matter where images and videos are stored, they are automatically copied to your desktop computer whenever you HotSync.

The Zire 72 can also display images and videos not taken with its camera. These can be in a variety of formats and are installed from the Palm Desktop.

Audio

The Zire 72 comes with RealOne Player 1.1, an application that allows you to play MP3 files on your handheld.

This can be done through the built-in speaker, but you’re most likely going to want to use a pair of headphones. Unfortunately, the Zire 72 doesn’t come with headphones, but it has a standard-size jack on its top, so you can easily buy a pair and use them with this handheld.

You can play songs in the background while you are using other applications. Or you can turn the screen off and use the Zire 72 like a standalone MP3 player. Turning off the screen greatly increases the battery life.

There’s one important thing you need to be aware of about the Zire 72: all your audio files must be stored on a removable memory card. They can’t go into RAM. And if you plan of listening to lots of music, either get a really big card, or lots of little ones. Typical MP3 files take up about about 3 MB to 5 MB each, so a 64 MB card can hold about one CD’s worth of music.

There’s a version of the Real One Player that will let you buy and play music from the RealPlayer online music store, but that’s not the version that ships with the Zire 72. Of course, you can get a free copy of this from Real Media, if this is something you’d like to do.

Voice Recorder The Zire 72 is the first mid-range palmOne model to come with a voice recorder.

This has some features I think you’ll appreciate. You can record a message and then set it to play at a certain time. This means your handheld can, for example, say “Go get your dry cleaning” instead of just beeping at you. You can also organize your recordings into categories and mark them private.

Microsoft Office

Create New File The Zire 72 comes with Documents To Go, which allows you to view and edit Microsoft Office files. These can either be transferred from your desktop or come to you through email.

However, you should be aware that Documents to Go might have some problems with documents you get by email. Files that arrive this way are in a format that this application doesn’t completely support, and therefore some types of formatting will be stripped out.

However, if your documents or spreadsheets are transferred from your PC via HotSync, all formatting in the original document will be preserved. You can make any changes you want, and these will be reflected in the files on your desktop.

Under the Hood

The Zire 72 runs Palm OS Garnet (5.2.8), essentially the same version of the operating system palmOne has used on all its models for the last year.

It uses a 312 MHz Intel XScale processor. This chip is from Intel’s brand new PXA270 series, which makes the Palm 72 the first model to use one of these processors, which use power more efficiently.

This is definitely a faster processor than its predecessor. I tested it with Speedy 3.3, a benchmarking application, and the Zire 72 scored about three times higher than the Zire 71 did.

The Zire 72 includes 32 MB of RAM, but only 25 MB of this is available to you for storing applications and files. Incidentally, if you are comparing this device to other handhelds, don’t make the mistake of directly comparing the amounts of memory in Palm OS and Pocket PC models. the Palm OS handles memory in a more efficient manner, so a smaller amount of memory goes farther.

Still, 25 MB isn’t a huge amount. It’s likely you’ll end up buying an SD card to handle the overflow. But, as I already mentioned, you’ll need one to use some of the Zire 72’s multimedia capabilities anyway.

Battery Life In my tests, I found that the Zire 72 lasted for about 3.5 hours of intermittent use over several days before it needed to be recharged. While I could wish for longer, studies have shown that the average user has his or her handheld on for about 30 minutes a day. So if you’re roughly average, the Zire 72 should be able to go close to a week between recharges.

If you are using a Zire 72 as an MP3 player, you can turn off the screen and increase the battery life. When I tested it, the Zire 72 was able to play music for 5.5 straight hours before the battery was completely drained.

Peripherals

The Zire 72 does not come with a cradle. Instead, it depends on a USB cable for HotSyncing and a power cable. These plug into the bottom of the handheld.

To cut costs, palmOne chose to not use its so-called Universal Connector on this model. This means that a lot of peripherals designed for this company’s handhelds can’t be used with the Zire 72, including cradles.

This model doesn’t include a flip cover, although I wish it did. Instead, it has a black, plastic case. This is nice looking and seems like it would afford your Zire 72 a good amount of protection. However, it adds quite a bit of bulk to the device. If you are the kind of person who carries your handheld in your pocket, you’re going to want to buy a smaller case.

The stylus is just a basic, no-frills piece of black plastic, but at least it is of a generous size. Several other handheld companies have begun shipping very thin styli as a way to reduce the size of their devices.

Value

The list price for the Zire 72 is $299, which is the same price its predecessor debuted at. At this price, it stands up well to other mid-range handhelds. None of the others have this model’s combination of fast processor, Bluetooth, high-resolution screen, and a built-in camera.

Conclusion

With the Zire 72, palmOne has managed to make a device that will appeal to both consumers and business users. It offers most of the features most people want at a reasonable price. Of course, no one model can be right for everyone, but the Zire 72 will definitely have a broad audience and will continue the success of the Zire line.


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