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Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager

Something more than a PDA?

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There's a 416MHz Intel XScale processor inside the LifeDrive, but Palm has admitted in the past it underclocks its processors. The Orange SPV M500 has the same CPU, but I found the LifeDrive ran much more slowly. It got positively painful at times. The UI is responsive enough, but running applications or getting date from the hard drive was always laggy.

Launching Contacts after a warm reset was so quick on the above-mentioned Tungsten E I could barely measure it. The same process took over two seconds on the LifeDrive. Other, more complex apps were likewise much slower to load on the LifeDrive, though there didn't seem much difference between loading from the Flash memory and from the hard drive. Apps that have already been run load more quickly but still not as quickly as they did on the 32MB, 126MHz Tungsten E. More generally, I encountered plenty of Please Wait... messages - too many, in fact.

Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager

Palm's Life Drive spec sheet coyly fails to mention what capacity the device's battery offers. Running movies isn't too bad. I encoded ten minutes' (41.9MB) of Doctor Who, recorded onto an SD card using Neuros' MPEG 4 Recorder device, then copied to the LifeDrive's hard disk. Despite being an MPEG 4 .asf file, Palm's Media app wouldn't play it, but the open source Core Pocket Media Player came to the rescue, albeit without sound. Looping the video yielded just under 3h 20m play time, with the display set to 50 per cent brightness. That's plenty of time to watch one, possibly two movies on your LifeDrive, provided your host computer has the power to rip and reformat a film in a reasonable timeframe. And the software too - Palm doesn't provide you with any help here.

Using the Wi-Fi adaptor drains the battery more rapidly, but you'll still get plenty of surfing and email time on a single charge. Running Blazer to view a variety of sites in a half-hour period reduced the battery's charge by around 20 per cent. That assumes you maintain a connection. Using the LifeDrive on a more casual basis - doing other things, but pausing occasionally to check my email or a web site, and having a quick peek at some of the photos I'd transferred across - ate through the battery capacity.

The screen's the killer, but there's no escaping that. As long as you're happy recharging your LifeDrive every evening, you'll not do badly out of the battery. Alas, iPod-style, the battery is not removable, so you won't be able to slap another one.

Verdict

The LifeDrive is a bold attempt to keep the PDA alive in a world dominated by iPods, multimedia smart phones and portable video players. It's a good attempt, too, and while the device has its flaws, there's no doubt it makes a fine PDA. I enjoyed using it as such.

But, according to Palm, it's not a PDA. Yet the 4GB LifeDrive lacks the capacity to be the mobile Home folder it so desperately wants to be. It can only hold a sub-set of the music, videos, photos and other documents you hold dear. Sure, 4GB is better than the T5's 160MB of storage space, but since one device is a PDA and the other isn't, we shouldn't be comparing them this way.

Until the LifeDrive family is truly able to operate without a host computer, by offering a higher capacity and better device connectivity - you can't connect the device to a camera's USB port out of the box or to a DVD player's output - it's going to remain a PDA. It's a good one, but arguably part of a dying breed. ®

Review by
The Register

Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager
 
Rating 75%
 
Pros Good size; nice screen; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; improved computer connectivity tools; Pocket Tunes.
 
Cons It's slooww; limited camera card support; no movie conversion software; LifeDrive Manager is Windows only.
 
Price £329/$499
 
More info The Palm LifeDrive site

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