palmOne Zire 72 Review

by Reads (87,107)

One year ago, PalmOne–then Palm Solutions Group–released the Zire 71, a mid-range consumer model that hit it big. Now they’re back with an update that adds a 1.2 megapixel camera and integrated Bluetooth wireless, introducing the new Zire 72.

Review Outline

Design

The very first thing I noticed about the Zire 72 after freeing it from its blister-pack was the overall design changes compared to the Zire 71. Gone is the large, rounded case resembling the entry-level Zire models. The 72 is slimmer, sleeker, and has gotten a brilliantly eye-catching redesign. While still following somewhat the silver and blue color pattern of its predecessor, the 72 has altered both the colors and design to great effect. The plasticy sky-blue of the 71 has been been replaced by a truly gorgeous metalic royal blue that is a perfect example of my all-time favorite color. It’s just such a rich and beautiful color that it seems to glow. The smudgy chrome-colored plastic that marred the back of the 71 has been reduced and replaced with a plastic less apt to take fingerprints, though it still suffers from it a little. The blue plastic has a ‘rubberized’ feel that gives the 72 a nice non-slip grip, and just feels good in the hand. The blend of design elements means that the 72 doesn’t greatly resemble any of PalmOne’s other models, nor does it look particularly ‘out there’ or like anything else–it’s distinctive without being strange.

Overview

The use of the blue frame and silver highlights really draws the eye and holds it–it’s flashy with class, which is not easy to achieve. Someone in PalmOne’s design lab deserves a raise. To summarize, the Zire 72 is very, very pretty. I see no reason why business users and private users shouldn’t feel equally comfortable carrying and displaying it.

Along the top is all the usual fun stuff–from left to right is the stylus quill, headphone jack, power button, IR port (unseen, but lurking there nonetheless), SD card slot, and power LED (upper right; we’ll talk about that in a minute).

The 72’s stylus is pure light plastic, and fairly cheap, but not so much that it’s unusable. The barrel has a textured non-slip grip, and is all cast in a single piece with nothing to unscrew. It doesn’t have a reset pin, but thankfully one is not needed. PalmOne has finally woken up and made it possible to hit the reset button with the stylus tip, elimainating the tedious twist-twist-flip-poke-flip-reassemble juggling act of a soft reset. Hurrah for PalmOne! It only took them three years. The barrel of the stylus is the same size as the one used in the PalmOne Tungsten line, and PalmOne will sell replacement styluses that work on the 72 or any of the Tungstens, needing only a replacement quill (which will be included with the styluses).

I’m not too fond of the power button. Like so many of PalmOne’s power buttons lately, it is top-mounted, which I’ve never thought is a terribly good place for a power button. Also it is smallish, and somewhat hard to press due to its size and flatness. I still miss the power button of my old (old old old) Palm m505, with its good placement, distinctive click, and good key travel. That, along with a two-color LED for displaying the charge status, would be most welcome on PalmOne’s part.

The SD slot is basically the same as on most PalmOne models. It sits in a little depression in the plastic top, and has a spring-loaded door that closes when a card isn’t present to prevent dirt and other contaminents from getting into the inner workings of the machine.

In the top left corner of the case, sharing space with the silkscreened PalmOne logo, is a tiny crystal clear bit of plastic. This is the 72’s power light. Whenever the 72 is connected to an external AC power adapter, this will light up green. While this is a nice thought that has been overlooked in recent PalmOne models, it would be nicer if the light changed colors–amber, say, to indicate charging, and green to represent a full charge. The LED also flashes to notify the user of alarms.

Top to bottom: palmOne Zire 72, Dell Axim X3i, Dell AXIM X5 Advanced

The left side of the 72 is featureless save for the voice recorder button. By default, pressing this turns the Zire on and brings up the voice notes program. At that point, pressing and holding it will record a note, and releasing it stops the recording. It’s a very nice and elegant design. The button is well-placed and responsive, the recording of decent quality, and the whole system easy to use. Of course, if you don’t have any need of voice recording, you can always re-map the recorder button to another application.

The right side of the 72 is taken up entirely by the open-sided stylus silo.

The 72’s predecessor, the Zire 71, was something of an experiment in terms of its directional controller. While almost all handhelds have a 5-way directional pad, the 71 had a 5-way miniature joystick. An interesting concept for games, perhaps, but ultimately I agree with Palm’s decision to drop it in favor of a standard directional pad on the 72. The joystick ended up being less comfortable for non-gaming use than a traditional pad, as well as being easily activated when bumped. All in all the pad on the 72 is good, though not great–it could use a little more key travel and tactile response, particularly in the Up, Left, and Right directions. The Action button is seperate from the directional ring, and is good enough for its job. Again, a little more key travel wouldn’t hurt.

The front application buttons are a tiny bit mixed. They produce a very satisfactory ‘click’, but they’re a little too flush to the case for my taste. It’s not always easy to find them with your fingertips. Still, they’re not bad at all compared to some, and are more than suitable for the purpose of application launching. Gaming would be a little more touchy, but that’s as much due to the ‘vertical pairs’ arrangement they’re placed in as it is to the key travel. As you may notice, the left two are by default mapped to the usual Calender and Contacts applications, however the two buttons on the right launch the Camera applet, and RealOne Mobile Player. These assignments can be changed of course, though the default setup isn’t bad for a consumer unit.

The bottom of the Zire 72 is nothing surprising, merely disappointing. Instead of the PalmOne “Universal” Connector, the 72 has a mini-USB plug and AC adapter jack for syncing and charging, respectively. For shame, PalmOne. For the amount of money that people are paying for the 72, they deserve to be able to use the existing base of PUC cradles, cables, and peripherals.

On the back of the case, at the top, the plastic casing gives way to something a little unusual–aluminum mesh. Yes, you heard me. It’s a very unusual design element for a handheld, but it is what it is. The quite-rigid mesh covers the top rear of the case, surrounding the camera lens, and houses both the internal speaker and the microphone. The camera lens itself bears no focal length information, so one can only guess at the ideal range, which I would put at about 5 feet. I would guess the lens is the same 3.6mm as the 71. Unfortunately, the only protection afforded to the camera lens is its recessed niche, and the layer of clear plastic placed over the actual sensor. No lens cover, nothing. Not a great design.

Placed dead center is the large grey-on-grey sticker that has all the 72’s approvals and certifications listed on it. Down and to the right, you’ll see the reset button, better than ever since it doesn’t need a pin anymore, and beside it the imprinted PalmOne logo.

Review continued on Page 2

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