PalmOne Zire 72

The ideal consumer PDA?

Wireless connectivity

Anyone wanting to pair up their Zire with a mobile phone will now be spared the cost of a Bluetooth SD Card - PalmOne has built the wireless technology into the 72, addressing my main concern with the 71. The company has also taken some of the pain out of the setting up a wireless link by bundling a Bluetooth wizard that builds on its earlier PhoneLink app. Pairing a compatible phone with the 72 for multimedia messaging and mobile Internet access is just a few clicks away.

And once Bluetooth is activated, you now get an icon to tell you so in the launcher's menu bar, but it's not interactive so can't be used to quickly switch the radio on and off.

I've already mentioned the updated - but not much improved - VersaMail, but PalmOne has also upgraded its WebPro browser, to version 3.5, which now displays a thumbnail of the site you're accessing. Dragging the square cursor around the screen allows you to select which parts of the page are displayed on the 72's 320 x 320 transflective display, saving all that scrolling around as you work towards the bit of the page you're most interested in.

Bluetooth has been a part of PalmOne's Tungsten T line since the first model was released. So has voice recording. Just as the 72 brings Bluetooth to the Zire line, so it brings voice memos. Like the Tungsten T series, the 72 sports a separate voice recorder button on its left-hand side, ready for activation dictaphone-style.

Performance

To test the 72, I used a variety of benchmark apps: Laurent Duveau's Speedy 3.4, HotPaw's yCPU and Kinoma Player 2.0, which has its own performance testing option.

The 72 clearly outpaces my ageing Tungsten T, with the suite completing in 0.86s to the T's 3.21s. Speedy comprises three individual tests: calculation, memory and graphics. What took the T 1.50, 0.49 and 1.22s to complete took the 72 0.49, 0.12 and 0.25s to finish, a significant speed gain all round.

xCPU confirmed the big difference between the 72's processor, memory and screen performance and the T's

Kinoma Player provides a more real-world test. Kinoma's results with our 1.4MB, 25.6s test movie played out of system memory as fast as possible yielded 86.48fps for the T but a massive 487.88fps for the 72.

I wouldn't like to say faster processors are no longer a necessity, but it's hard to imagine anyone who would be disappointed with the 72's speed. It's limitations are now not CPU speed but Bluetooth and mobile phone network bandwidth. Video capture and playback performance are good - again, the limitation's not performance but simply the screen size.

Battery life does remain an issue, however. PalmOne's choice of processor, Intel's XScale PXA270 incorporates a Wireless SpeedStep, a version of the chip giant's power conservation technology for its notebook processors. But the big drain on a modern PDA's battery remains the colour screen and its power-hungry backlight. The Bluetooth radio doesn't help much either.

How much operating time the 72's 950mAh - up from the 71's 900mAh cell - yields you between charges will depend very much on how often you use your PDA. Checking your diary and contact details now and then shouldn't prove too much of a drain, but start using those multimedia features in earnest - which, after all, is what the device is for - and you can easily find yourself recharging every day. Intensive aming may only give you three or fours' play.

There's no cradle supplied with the 72 - instead, it connects straight to a host PC's USB port through its own USB mini-port. Alas, it doesn't support recharging the battery this way - a disappointment for anyone who accidentally leaves their power adaptor at home. However, PalmOne does include a rather natty camera-style case in the package, though the PDA fits into it sideways, which means you end up putting your fingers all over the screen to get it out.

Verdict

The Zire 72 is a big improvement on its predecessor that's no mere spec. tweak. With Bluetooth, the PDA's messaging and Internet access finally become usable, and the digicam upgrade makes the machine a worthy alternative to disposable film cameras. It's by no means a pro's device, but it's a great way to record those special moments.

At the same time, the software improvements PalmSource and PalmOne have made to the core OS and the bundled apps make organising and using those snapshots much more straightforward and more pleasurable.

Not so MP3 playback which is hissy - even when you're not playing anything back. I use the very same app (same version too) to play MP3s on my Tungsten T and there's no background hiss, so it's clearly a Zire 72 problem. For a device pitched as a multimedia PDA this is inexcusable - even much cheaper players can provide better sound quality than this - and the 72 loses marks for PalmOne's audio blunder.

The battery life is disappointing too - but that's the nature of the beast. Modern colour displays eat up power more than any other component. If you don't like that, you'll just have to go back to an old, greyscale job. If you are willing to put up with regular rechargings, you'll also find the Zire 72 fast and feature-laden. ®

PalmOne Zire 72
 
Rating 80%
 
Pros — Great look and feel
— Good software/hardware integration
— Excellent 1.2 megapixel digicam
 
Cons — Poorly designed expansion slot
— Email not integrated into Messaging app
— Poor sound quality
 
Price $299/£220
 
More info The Zire 72 website

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