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Palm Zire 72 - digital photo-camera and MP3-player with a PDA built in
Time goes by, many things change, but something remains the same for many years. Nokia keeps its leading positions on the mobile phone market, despite of serious problems and low sales in the 1Q 2004. The world leader on the PDA market, PalmOne, has been also losing its market share dramatically. In the 1Q 2004 PalmOne took 30.5% of the PDA market. The company sold by 10% handhelds less than in the same period (January-March) last year (according to Gartner, Inc). Step by step HP is approaching to the leader with 21.2%. In Europe palmOne has already lost to HP. In such situation when the leader is hard up, it is interesting to watch his reaction. Following his actions we can understand whether we have the former "№1", or someone else would wear the "yellow T-shirt". PalmOne adequately responses with its Palm Zire 31 and Palm Zire 72. Both models will no doubt boost company's sales this quarter.
With the orientation to the consumer product the company managed to create a successful Zire line of low-end handhelds - since the first model in the series there have been sold over 3 million units. "The business strategy of the Zire sub-brand proved viable", said Todd Badley, PalmOne's CEO. As a matter of fact Palm Zire 71that featured an integrated camera and a fairly good price had been the sales hit in the US for a long time (Americans traditionally prefer Palm OS). Advertising and other marketing materials haven't ever mentioned a PDA - they simply offered an MP3-player with an integrated camera and a good organizer, a happy move. The slogan for the model we review today sounds as follows: "Take pictures. Play MP3s. Organize life." Differing by just one index point the Zire 72 has distanced greatly from the Zire 71. New model doesn't follow the Zire 71, but represents a mixture of Palm Zire 71 and Palm Tungsten E supplied with the one-megapixel camera and the support of Bluetooth.
Pay attention to the fact that PalmOne was the first PDA maker that built in the one-megapixel camera into its handheld (we don't take into account Sony NZ90, as it belongs to other weight category). Besides the Zire 72 is the first product based on new processor Intel PXA270. In all, we have a very interesting device according to the "paper". And what happens in reality? Let's don't hurry, here's a detailed review.
The Zire 72 has quite large dimensions for a handheld with a single expansion slot (120x75x17 mm), it's that thick because of the built-in camera. However due to its rounded design it doesn't look too big compared with junior models. For example, watch it together with the smallest Pocket PC:
On the whole the Zire 72 looks nice, it has its own design with smooth and rounded lines and suitable colors. According to the polls I've held among my acquaintances many like the Zire 72, especially girls. 136 g of weight are typical for Palm OS PDAs - it doesn't feel weighty in jacket's pocket.
The standard kit includes a black textile case. It hasn't a belt clip (that's a disadvantage), but a wrist strap is attached to it. At first you think it's a strange solution, but then remember that many compact cameras come with similar cases, then OK. Remember the Zire 72 isn't a handheld, but an MP3-player with the digital camera and PDA capabilities. By the way, as for mp3 the case doesn't prevent you from listening to the music, as it leaves the headphones jack open.
Below the screen there is the Graffiti zone, under which are located application buttons and the D-pad. The joystick is comfortable in gaming, there is just a single remark, you should press the central button of the D-pad harder to activate it. There may be problems while using the camera - this very button acts as a shutter, however you get used to it within a day. Two buttons to the left of the joystick launch PIM-utilities - Calendar and Contacts. When you push any of two buttons to the right a camera or mp3-player gets activated.
On the left side there is a voice recorder button (for the first time the Zire line has a handheld with a voice recorder, even Palm Tungsten missed it). On the left top there is a LED indicator displaying the reminder and the external power. The right top locates the silo for the plastic stylus. The stylus features an average size and weight, monolith black forms and is easy in work.
The charger plug and mini USB connector are placed at the bottom of the handheld. The upper panel carries a standard headphones jack (3.5 mm, you don't need an adapter) and the power button. The power button is close to the headphones jack, thus when the headphones are connected, it's difficult to press this button, unless you arch your finger (however it's a cavil and not a shortcoming). Then come the infrared port and SD/MMC expansion slot supporting SDIO (i.e. you can plug not only flash cards, but also other peripheral devices). Learn more about interfaces in the corresponding part of this review. Well, as an intermediate total we can say: the assemble quality is high - that's typical for all recent PalmOne handhelds, the handheld has its own manner in design, for a budget PDA it has too many control elements (the voice recorder button) - that's a plus.
The screen is an average one for a Palm OS device with a 320x320 pixel resolution, 65K colors and 3" (54x54 mm) diagonal. Compared to the low-end model by Sony Zire 72's screen is brighter and has richer colors. Under the direct sunlight the image fades away, but the text remains readable.
However it doesn't render the quality of Palm Tungsten T3 or even Palm Tungsten E. There are two reasons for it. Firstly, the backlight is too bright and you can hardly notice any difference between the maximum and the minimum levels (so in the dark the eyes get tired). Secondly, when you see at the screen at different angles the colors get partially inverted, the smooth color change is lost. You can notice the effect on the start-up screen when you watch photos. This is revealed with the program LCD analyzer 1.3:
You can come across such effect in many PDAs, but in this case it is stronger expressed. We won't consider this a serious drawback, as it isn't that noticeable and doesn't disturb a normal work with the PDA. Moreover while reading books the text stays readable at any angle, from any point.
Palm Zire 72 is the first representative of the PDA and smartphone range with an integrated 1-megapixel camera (next come Asus A730, Asus A8100, Nokia 7610, iPaq Gable...). These models will force out VGA cameras that haven't settled down on PDAs, except for Sony handhelds.
The maximum camera resolution makes up 1280-960 pixels, also available the following resolutions: 640x480, 320x240, 160x120. Though the picture quality doesn't reach that of simple digital photo cameras (infinite focus, color noise, no optical zooming, no flash), Zire 72's camera is still the best against other cameras on PDAs and smartphones (we don't take into account Sony NZ90 of cause). The camera is launched following 2.5 seconds after you press a special button (if the PDA is off), then you can snap pictures. The "Enter" button on the joystick acts as the shutter. After you press it, the camera needs more than a second to take the picture, that shortcoming was inherited from Palm Zire 71.
The best resolution quality can be seen on the picture made from the TFT-LCD display:
A good quality pictures are taken under the daylight.
The camera isn't designed for a macro shooting - the pictures are blurred. The pictures indoors do not show a good quality either - they are dark, with a color noise.
The camera goes with rich settings. You can set: the resolution, white balance, low light mode, effects (B&W, Sepia, Blue), preview mode, data stamp, digital zoom (2x - maximum). You can also make the shutter sound off. You'd better switch off the digital zoom, it doesn't prove good in use. Extra settings involve contrast, brightness, saturation and sharpness.
You can record and store video clips only on a memory card. The maximum video file length depends on the free memory available on the card. The maximum resolution makes up 320x240 pixels, you can also set 160x120 pixels. The clip is recorded with a good sound quality. But again the better result is achieved outdoors in the daylight and at an average distance. Indoors under the artificial illumination video files clips are too dark and affected by the noise. See the video examples snapped at a sunny day in May:
The Zire 72 carries a non-removable Li-Ion 950 mAh battery onboard. The main drawback of the model is a short battery life. New processor has added nothing to improve the battery life. In the mp3 mode with the screen off it played music files from the card for 6 hours 30 minutes showing 10% of the power, then the system has switch off the power from the SD/MMC slot to spare energy. That's one of the lowest figures for PDA. In the "mp3 and book reading" mode with the maximum backlight and Bluetooth on the battery got drained to 10% after 2 hours 20 minutes. Then it kept on working in the reading mode with the minimum backlight for an hour (!), in all - 3 hours 20 minutes. As a matter of fact it performed worse than the Zire 71.
Processor and memory
Palm Zire 72 is the first handheld computer powered by the new processor Intel PXA270 (the code name - Bulverde) at 312 MHz, the minimum frequency for the new series. The processor stands out for the graphical co-processor (Intel 2700G) and the Wireless Intel SpeedStep technology that automatically regulates processor's speed (from 104 MHz to 312 MHz in this case). According to the press release the new processor secures a longer battery life, up to 1.5 times. As for the Zire 72, you won't notice it, the engineers might have hurried and evidently have left something not optimized or turned. The synthetic tests revealed no difference in the productivity between the new processor and the PXA255 (PXA26x):
In real conditions all applications worked fast. Neither tested games, nor complicated documents made the PDA slow down. You won't need much productivity with a 320x320 pixel screen resolution and not heavy applications. In case with the increased frequency there won't be a noticeable gain, the battery life will get shorter and the price will be higher. This relates to Palm OS 5 driven devices. We think Sony makes it right taking into account the battery life instead of MHz. A good example that supports the fact is Sony TH55, the champion among all PDAs with the battery life.
The Zire 72 can be called the first budget Palm with an integrated Bluetooth, on the Pocket PC market there is also a single budget solution with Bluetooth - HP iPaq 1940. Let's discuss the Bluetooth work.
There were no problems connecting the handheld with a mobile phone or a desktop PC. The Bluetooth settings are poor - it's impossible to tune the security and the encoding. You can set only the visible mode, the Bluetooth networking when the Zire 72 is off and switch on/off Bluetooth.
I'd thank PalmOne for an easy Bluetooth manager, now you can set the network with a handset or PC within a minute.
Bluetooth HotSync. quick settings, a plain synchronization. There is a serious drawback here - the synchronization speed is too low, 115 kilobit/sec (because of COM-port emulation). The current limitation characterizes all Palm driven PDAs with Bluetooth. Note that Pocket PC handhelds run a much faster synchronization.
File transfer via Bluetooth. It's possible to receive any files that are compatible with the operating system - photos, video (in the format of the camera), .prc and .pdb files. It's very simple to install a program to the PDA - just send it via Bluetooth. Unfortunately you won't succeed in sending an arbitrary file - the system won't accept it, it's also impossible to create a folder to receive files, for example, to allot it on the SD card. You can send the photos taken, video clips and installed application and data bases. The transfer speed is limited by some 100 kilobit per second.
PIM files transfer via Bluetooth. The Zire 72 has no problems at sending/receiving contacts (with the attached photo!), calendar events, tasks and text notes. There are no problems here. You can exchange virtual visit cards.
Number dialup, SMS, MMS via Bluetooth. You can dial a number directly from a PDA contact. For the purpose you can use the Bluetooth headset link (thus there is no need in taking the phone out of your pocket). The same way is with SMS, it's very important to keep the distance not far than 10 meters from the PDA.
Internet access via GPRS. I had no problems to enter the Internet. The connection wizard is very helpful here. Unfortunately, GPRS preinstalled settings do not include Russian operators, you should set it manually.
Bluetooth LAN. You can get connected with a wireless access point to enter the Internet and check your mail.
Palm Zire 72 can boast of the best for today Bluetooth implementation for Palm OS driven PDAs. However it is still far from the Pocket PC variant. It relates to the networking speed, the number of supported profiles, poor settings (the safety settings, in particular). In all, it's better so far, but there is left much to be done.
Mini-USB. Like the rest budget Palm handhelds in the Zire series the Zire 72 lacks a universal connector to plug peripheral devices (a cradle, keyboard etc.). The standard mini-USB connector is designed for the synchronization with a desktop PC.
SD/MMC. If you want to enjoy every PDA capabilities, you'd better buy a memory card to play MP3 and record video. In addition to memory cards use the slot to plug peripheral equipment.
The Zire 72 is powered by Palm OS 5.2.8. This operating system cosmetically differs from that in Palm Tungsten T3 and Palm Tungsten E. It provides a direct synchronization with MS Outlook without any go-betweens. PIM applications have been changed in a way. Now they resemble the Pocket PC analogs.
Remember the standard launcher, it's standard: the top status bar displays the time, battery charge level, Bluetooth icon (if Bluetooth is on). The user can choose one of 35 color schemes. The main part of the screen is covered with application icons, you can launch any application from here by tapping the stylus or with the joystick. But you are still free to install an alternative task manager.
Quick Tour. This is an application for newcomers providing a PDA tour and telling about application buttons and the Graffiti zone.
Bluetooth. According to the title the application is aimed to manage Bluetooth functions. The details are mentioned above.
Calc. That's a common calculator..
Calendar. It keeps the schedule and the task list. The day schedule screen resembles the Today screen for Pocket PC: it displays today's events and the list of uncompleted tasks. The calendar gets easily synchronized with MS Outlook, so you keep events on PC and view or edit them on PDA.
Camera. Read about it in the corresponding part of the review.
Card Info. The utility just displays the card information.
Contacts. It carries 16 fields, some of them can be renamed, for example you can assign 4 fields for mobile phone numbers. You can enter birth dates using 4 optional fields. Besides you can also add 9 extra fields and attach a photo (choose a ready image or snap the photo) or a text note to the contact. From the contact you can make a call, send an SMS or an e-mail.
Dialer. It dials the number from the PDA.
Expense. The utility keeps track of your personal finance. You can enter expenses by dates and categories.
HotSync. It's a PC synchronization application with the synchronization log. It displays the time and the date of the last synchronization.
Media. It views photos and video clips.
Memos. This application is designed to keep text memos dividing them by categories. Memos can be synchronized MS Outlook.
Messages. This utility helps you to create and edit SMS and MMS, get connected with mobile phones via Bluetooth. Unfortunately, it works only with the SMS stored on the SIM and doesn't recognize Russian in the SMS text. A very easy work is organized with MMS, you can edit graphic images using the minimum tools.
Note Pad. The program keeps your hand-written notes, which can be sorted by categories. Settings are poor: you cannot set the line color.
Real One. It's a built-in mp3 player. It can switch the screen off and play files in the background mode. It features all necessary things for a comfortable work except for a graphic equalizer. In all, the sound in headphones is clean and loud enough.
Tasks. It manages tasks featuring categories, task priority, complete status and the deadline. All the tasks get easily synchronized with MS Outlook.
Voice Memo. It stands for a voice notes. For the first time in the budget Zire series there has appeared a voice recorder. The sound quality is high, and the microphone is sensible enough - you can recognize whispered words within a 0.5 meters distance. It's possible to record notes directly to the memory card.
Web Pro. It's an Internet browser.
World Clock. The application displays world time and runs the alarm clock.
At the moment the new model by PalmOne is listed for $300 in the US and $370 in Russia. During its life cycle the price would go down not rapidly, to $250-260. However in the middle of the cycle the company would evidently enlarge the standard kit with bonuses at the same price (for example, free memory card or other accessory) to promote sales. Now the Zire 72 in Russia is overpriced - with such price the model starts competing with Palm Tungsten T3.
Currently the Zire 72 has no rivals on the Palm OS or Pocket PC markets. The camera is unique for the low-end PDA sector. The Zire 72 turns to be the first handheld equipped with new processor Intel PXA270. For the first time in the history of low-end Palms the model has Bluetooth adapter that is implemented good. The device features nice design and a high assembly quality. There has appeared an integrated voice recorder previously missing in the Zire line. The only serious shortcoming is that the model has a short battery life. No doubt, the Zire 72 is the sales hit for the first months.
Published - 01 July 2005
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