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Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager

Something more than a PDA?

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Review So what exactly is a Mobile Manager? To Palm, it's an entirely new category of portable device, but it's hard to conclude that it's anything more than a PDA with more storage. Palm needs to create a new device type, of course. Despite more than half a decade of Palm trying to convince consumers that a PDA is more than an electronic organiser, that's still how most people view them. And if you're going to put a hard drive into a PDA, you may as well try and make it sound like something new, something special. But the fact remains: the LifeDrive is a Tungsten T5 with a greater, 4GB storage capacity.

Palm LifeDrive Mobile ManagerThat's not to say there aren't improvements - gone, for example, is the ropey RealOne MP3 player, replaced by the Ogg-enabled, iTunes-styled Pocket Tunes from NormSoft - but beyond the quantity of data you can hold on the thing, there's little in the way of new functionality on the device itself.

Voice recording makes a come-back. Added to the original Tungsten, it was subsequently dropped, but with almost every other media player and PDA allowing their users to record spoken memos, Palm obviously decided it was prudent to bring the facility back.

Bluetooth has been part of the Tungsten line since the first model. The LifeDrive is no exception, but Palm has built Wi-Fi in too. The handheld has an 802.11b adaptor backed up with some easy to use access software activated by clicking the signal strength icon in the task/status bar. The code scans the 2.4GHz band for access points and computer-to-computer networks. Select one and it will connect if it can. The LifeDrive can cope with old-style WEP encryption and the newer WPA security standard in its Pre-Shared Key (PSK) form.

How long the handheld will stay connected to the base-station is up to you. The default is three minutes, but you can change that to five, ten or 15 minutes, but no longer. Given what extended Wi-Fi usage does to the LifeDrive's battery, that's probably for the best.

That said, the LifeDrive's aluminium and plastic enclosure doesn't make for the best wireless reception. I've yet to find a spot in my three-storey Victorian flat where my PowerBook can't pick up a signal from my access point, but the LifeDrive found more than a few. Even then, despite being left untouched, it would lose the signal and be unable to reacquire it.

Still, Wi-Fi access speeds are a real pleasure after connecting to the Internet using a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone - still possible with the LifeDrive, which now lists a much greater number of supported handsets than past Palms - and the Blazer browser and VersaMail email apps come into their own.

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