PalmOne Zire 72

The ideal consumer PDA?

PalmOne Zire 72'Integration' appears to have been a watchword of the Zire 72 development team. The old Photos application has been re-titled Media and updated to allow it to play back video. Media also includes a desktop component for creating PC-hosted albums and compressing video into a form suitable for playback on the PDA. Unlike Kinoma Producer, the formerly bundled software it replaces, Media's desktop code is Windows only. Mac users may be satisfied with a desktop applet that simplifies transfering files over to the handheld, but since that's easy enough to do with PalmOne's own Desktop software, I rather doubt they will be. Worse, the .ASF video files created by the Zire 72 appear incompatible with the Mac versions of QuickTime Player and Windows Media Player. Windows users with WMP 9 should have no problems playing the files back, however.

In addition to integrating video playback, Media now allows you to add or remove photos from categories using a single button that calls up a thumbnail gallery of all your pictures from which you can select or deselect the shots in each album with a single click.

Media handles images larger than 320 x 320 rather better than its predecessor did. As before, they're initially scaled down to that size, but click on the new zoom icon and the pic is displayed at its native resolution. Tapping and dragging with the stylus lets you scroll around the pic. Photos can be rotated and have text and line art added - the latter neatly rendered with anti-aliasing.

Incidentally, Palm OS 5.2.8 now allows you to add a backdrop to application launcher categories, each selected from the PDA's image repository and with a user-defined level of contrast, or 'fade', as the OS puts it.

PalmOne Zire 72 Shot
Click for a full-size shot taken by the Zire 72

Messages, another new app, handles both text and multimedia messaging. Again, it makes use of the digicam directly. Unfortunately, it doesn't look after your email, and I hope this omission will be rectified in a future release. Right now, email on the Zire 72 is handled by PalmOne's venerable VersaMail, updated to version 2.7, installed separately off the bundled CD.

Under the hood

PalmOne has upped the Zire's processor speed from 144MHz to 312MHz, switching from Texas Instruments' old OMAP 310 to Intel's brand new XScale PXA270 in the process. The 270 includes Wireless MMX, the set of multimedia-oriented instructions taken from the desktop Pentium family, which bodes well for digital data processing on the Zire, and is possibly one of the reasons why it's running Palm OS 5.2.8 rather than the anticipated and more common 5.2.1.

The 270 also features integrated digicam support, saving the need for separate image processing chips, which in turn allows PalmOne to cut its costs. The Intel chip can handle a four megapixel digicam, so PalmOne has room to expand this aspect of the Zire 72 at a future time.

PalmOne Zire 72For now, the company has doubled the Zire's memory to 32MB, 24MB of which is available to the user. With the bundled apps in ROM, that leaves plenty of space for PIM data, photos and further applications, though the SD IO slot provides scope for further expansion. You'll need a card if you plan to play MP3s or record video - with no bundled memory card, recording video will not work out of the box.

Incidentally, the top of the 72 curves up at the front, making it difficult to insert and remove cards properly. Cards have to pushed quite a way in before they will lock in place.

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