Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager
Something more than a PDA?
The LifeDrive's other enhancements take place at the host-PC end. The T5 added the ability to operate as an external drive, and the LifeDrive builds on that with folder-level synchronisation. Both Mac and Windows users can transfer files between their computers and the LifeDrive using the latter's Drive Mode utility. However, only Windows users can use LifeDrive Manager (LDM), Palm's new sync tool. Unlike HotSync, LDM operates at the file and folder level, automating the transfer of Office documents, songs, photos, videos and so on whenever the LifeDrive is connected to the host. Files can be copied over once, with photos and videos reformatted on the fly to fit the handheld's display. Or you can mark files to ensure what's on the PC always matches what's on handheld.
Because LDM operates at the folder lever, if you get it to 'watch', say, My Music, any MP3s added there will be automatically transferred to the LifeDrive next time you connect it to your PC, space permitting.
LDM - and, indeed, Drive Mode - only install to the hard drive or an SD card if you have one fitted, not to the device's 64MB of Flash memory. Palm's documentation quietly notes that some apps may not run from the drive, but at least you can copy the offending file(s) over to the Flash using the Palm OS, which is version 5.4.8, by the way.
Speaking of SD cards, the LifeDrive joins the long list of device with hard-to-use slots. Palm's done a better job before, but here it has allowed your fingers no extra room beyond the edge of the casing to push the card in, either to lock it on place or eject it. What it has done, for the first time, is add a lock to the power key. Slide it one way to turn the device on and off, and the other to ensure that accidentally pressed buttons have no effect. This is good for power conservation, and for folks who will use their LifeDrive as a pocket music player.
The LifeDrive ships with another new app, Camera Companion, designed to provide digital photographers with an easy way to transfer pictures. Alas, it's limited by the LifeDrive's choice of card slot, so it's useless if your digicam uses one of the numerous other formats.
Some reviewers have criticised the LifeDrive's girth, but it's actually little bigger than the old Tungsten E I happen to have to hand, and is narrower than the T5. It's thicker, mind, but Palm could have shaved two or three millimetres off with a better screen bevel and button cluster design. There's no question it's bigger than an iPod, but not by much and the iPod has a much smaller display. At 190g, it doesn't weight much more than the 60GB iPod either. Compared to a Sony PlayStation Portable, the LifeDrive is positively compact.
The screen is the same 320 x 480, 65536-colour job found on the T5. It's a nice display, with bright colours and good viewing angles. This time there's a button on the side to activate the screen rotation - the icon has gone from the task bar, presumably to make room for the Wi-Fi tool.