Jewish World Review May 2, 2003 / 30 Nissan 5763

Palm's objects of D-Zire

By Mark Kellner | Those folks at Palm Computing just keep cranking out the handheld devices, it seems. Well, at least they do every six months or so, and last week the firm offered two new products: a $299 Zire 71 that includes a built-in camera, and a $549 Tungsten C handheld, designed for business users, that incorporates a built-in keyboard and built-in 802.11b wireless networking, the latter also known as Wi-Fi.

The Zire 71 is a consumer-oriented device, even though it may have some uses in business. Unlike the Tungsten series of Palm computers, the Zire is more square in appearance, and lacks the business oriented features, including communications that the other range incorporates. The Zire 71 has 16 MB of internal memory, along with a SecureDigital (stet), or SD, card slot for extra storage. SD cards are currently available up to 256 MB from SanDisk, and on March 13 that firm announced development of 512MB and 1 Gigabyte cards, which will be in stores later this year.

According to SanDisk, the 1GB SD card can store up to 30 hours of digitally compressed music, more than 320 minutes of MPEG-4 compressed video or more than 1,000 high-resolution digital images. Since the Zire 71's camera stores lower-resolution (640-by-480 pixel) images, the number of pictures that could be stored might be substantially higher.

Having such storage options is important since the Zire 71 also features a built-in RealOne (stet) audio player for MP3 songs and other audio files, as well as an Audible software player for audio books and magazines. Thus, in a shirt-pocket-sized device, a user can have a camera, a music player, a talking book player and, oh, yes, a PDA too.

That's a whole lot of power for a tiny device, and in performance the Zire 71 accomplishes its tasks well. The snapshots are probably best for e-mail or a family Web site, as opposed to a newsmagazine's cover. But a realtor "showing" houses to an out-of-town client, someone hoping to have their heirloom evaluated on a TV antiques program, or even a person selling cast-offs on eBay (stet) could do far worse than this device's picture-taking capability.

The audio players work just fine with the supplied stereo headphones, although I'd probably want to have charging/docking cradles at home and at work to keep the lithium-ion battery topped off. That's not a slam at the Zire 71, but rather recognition that such applications are power intensive.

The SD slot is a clincher for me; having the ability to store photos or data or music - or all three - on a single, postage-stamp-sized card, is a plus. I'd like to see either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networking available, but SD cards with such features are said to be in the works.

The Tungsten C, on the other hand, has the SD card slot, but also 64 MB of RAM built in. I could carry quite a bit in terms of documents and data into a meeting, and then turn around and check my e-mail using the built-in Wi-Fi connection. There's a built-in "thumb-board" for typing, and an optional, $99 keyboard offers real touch-typing. Like the Zire, and like other Tungsten units, the C has an SD card slot as well.

Along with the extra RAM, the Tungsten C's Wi-Fi capability makes this a good enterprise computing tool. Those users of wireless networks with a "WEP" (or, wireless encryption protocol) key will need to have that key programmed into the device, but once accomplished, all should work well.

The new color screen of the Tungsten C - it's "transflective," meaning it works well indoors and outdoors - is worth comment. Characters and images are both displayed with sharpness and clarity. While the small screen isn't really suited to writing, say, a history of the Roman Empire, it's certainly more than adequate for handling e-mail or modifying a document on the road.

I've said before that handheld devices such as these can often supplant a full-sized notebook computer on road trips; these two new ones, and particularly the Tungsten C, are providing even more capability than was seen a year or two ago for the same price. Each bears investigation by potential buyers, and details are online at

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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