Review posted October 4, 2003, by Lisa
Gade, Editor in Chief
One year after introducing the original Zire,
Palm has released an improved version of this entry level device
called the Zire 21. The Zire 21 sells for $99, and is available
in department stores along with consumer electronics outlets (online
and bricks & mortar). The target audience is first-time and
casual PDA users who want to replace their post-it notes and daytimers,
but don't want to spend a great deal of money.
Though the Zire 21 looks identical to the Zire,
it packs much more power under the hood, and runs the latest Palm
operating system. The 21 retains the 160 x 160 pixel grayscale
display, which is easy on battery life, but hard on the eyes.
The Zire 21 comes in a relatively compact plastic
package, and includes a CD that has Palm Desktop Software for Windows
and Mac, Pocket Mirror (for syncing to MS Outlook) and .pdf manuals.
You'll also get a USB cable (not cradle) for syncing, a charger,
a stylus and a somewhat translucent rubbery blue flip cover that
actually looks nice on the unit.
Design and Ergonomics
The Zire 21 is a very small and attractive device.
It has a glossy white front face, while the sides and back are
gray. The design is clean, and the side and bottom curves make
it fit nicely in hand. It's very sturdy, and the display is made
of plastic rather than glass, making it relatively child-safe.
While most Palm OS and Pocket PC PDAs have 4
front application buttons, the Zire 21 has only two: one for Date
Book and one for Addresses. As with most all PDAs, you can reassign
these buttons to other applications if you wish. Up and down buttons
are located in between the application buttons, and the power button
is on the front to the left of these buttons. Some games make use
of all 4 application buttons, and those obviously won't work with
the Zire 21. The Zire 21, like the Tungsten E and Tungsten
T3, has a keylock feature that you can enable to prevent button
presses from turning the unit on, and has Graffiti 2, which allows
you to write using natural characters either in the Grafitti area
or anywhere on the screen if you wish.
For $99, this unit packs an amazing amount of
power. It has a 126 MHz TI OMAP 311 ARM family processor, which
is the same as that used in the upscale Tungsten
E. Since Palm OS 5 requires an ARM processor, this means the
Zire 21 can and does run the latest Palm OS: 5.2.1. It has 8 megs
of RAM with 7.2 available to the user, which should be adequate
for entry and basic level users who want only to install a few
eBooks, a game or two and perhaps an Office suite in addition to
calendar and contact data. There is no SD expansion slot, so you
won't be able to add memory or networking cards. If you plan to
install lots of 3rd party software or have an urge to use a PDA
for Net access, keep this limitation in mind.
The Zire 21 has a 160 x 160 pixel grayscale display.
It does not have backlighting, which means you'll need to use it
in reasonably well-lit environments and won't be able to see the
screen in the dark. The low res grayscale screen seems out of place
on an otherwise powerful PDA. I'd love to see an entry level Zire
that has a color display at the same resolution. That said, if
you only use the device to look up addresses and appointments,
color isn't terribly necessary. Also, grayscale displays, though
rare these days on PDAs, do consume significantly less power than
color ones, so the battery life on the Zire 21 is quite good as
a result. If you intend to read eBooks for hours and can afford
to spend a bit more, do consider one of the many PDAs that have
color high res screens— they'll be much easier on your eyes!
The Zire 21 has a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery
that's not user replaceable. Though the unit has a reasonably fast
processor (the faster the processor, the more power-hungry it is),
the Zire 21 does have very good battery life. You should get at
least 5 days on a charge using the PDA for address and calendar
lookups and document viewing/editing.
The Zire 21's charging port and sync port are
at the top of the unit. The Zire has a mini-USB connector and comes
with a mini-USB to USB sync cable.
Since there isn't a cradle with a HotSync button,
you'll initiate a HotSync by pressing the silk screen Star button.
Like all Palm brand PDAs, syncing works well. Since this is a USB-only
device, you will need to be running Windows 98 or newer if you're
a PC user. Mac users can use OS 9 or OS X. You can of course instead
sync via the IR port if your computer has an IR port.
A great starter PDA if you're just entering the
world of handheld computers. Pro: Fast processor, Palm OS 5.2.1,
enough memory to store your PIM data and some eBooks and 3rd party
apps. Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery. Con: low res grayscale
display, no backlighting, no expansion slot to add more memory.
x 160 pixels. 16 shades of gray and no backlighting.
MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 311 ARM family processor.
8 megs of RAM, with 7.2 available to the user. 2
megs non-flash upgradeable ROM for OS.
x 2.9 x 0.6 in., 3.8 oz.
in speaker for alarms.
Rechargeable Lithium Ion
OS 5.2.1 and the usual suite of Palm applications,
including Address Book, Date Book, Clock, To Do List,
Memo Pad, Calculator. 3rd party software included:
Handmark MobileDB, Handmark PDA Money, Handmark MagicDogs
card games, powerOne Calculator and Palm Reader.
Palm Desktop 4.01 for Windows and Mac included.