Palm Puts Itself Back on Track

Tungsten C, Zire get high marks.

Palms Zire 71
Palm Inc. has been the No. 1 player in the handheld device space for quite a while now, but during the last couple of years, its product releases have had eWEEK Labs wondering whether the company has put itself on a track toward eventual obscurity.

First, Palm seemed content to leave development of much-needed new features such as memory card support, multimedia capabilities and sharper screen resolutions to licensees such as Sony Corp. and HandEra Inc.

Then, after whetting appetites with Palm OS 5—a new, more capable, ARM- processor-based platform—Palm botched the delivery of Palm OS 5 by pairing it with the much-too-costly (albeit attractive) Tungsten T.

However, with Palms announcement last month of two new Palm OS 5-based devices, the $299 Zire 71 and the $499 Tungsten C, the company has begun moving back in the right direction.

The Tungsten C is pricey, but with integrated 802.11b wireless networking and a Palm-first 64MB of RAM built in, the device packs enough functionality to justify its cost. (See eWEEK Labs April 28 review of the Tungsten C at links.)

Palms other new handheld, the Zire 71, is the most impressive Palm handheld weve tested to date. Heres why:

First, at $299, the Zire 71s price is right. Even at this price, however, the Zire 71 boasts the best of Palms current technology. The Zire sports a very readable, 16-bit, 320-by-320-pixel, transflective display. We wish, however, that it were possible to shut off the Zires backlight to save power because this sort of display works very well without a backlight when decent ambient light is available.

The Zire runs Palm OS 5.2.1 and is powered by a Texas Instruments Inc. OMAP310 processor running at 144MHz, a combo that delivers snappy performance, particularly with multimedia applications, such as playing MP3s with the units included RealOne player.

Like the Tungsten T, the Zire 71 ships with 16MB of RAM, which users can supplement with Secure Digital cards.

The Zire 71 does lack the Tungsten Ts integrated Bluetooth technology, but it makes up in part for this Bluetooth-lessness with an integrated camera, which Palm has implemented well in this device.

The front and back halves of the Zire 71 slide apart about an inch to reveal the cameras lens and a button for snapping 640-by-480-pixel images—nothing that would replace a stand-alone digital camera but enough detail for casually taken or Web-destined image.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at