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palmOne Zire 31

(Discontinued, replaced by the Palm Z22)

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Review posted April 28, 2004 (updated April 2005) by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

You've come a long way, palmOne! A few years ago the popular Palm m130 sold for $279. Now we have the Zire 31, with better specs, including a higher resolution display, MP3 player and a faster processor for only $129. The Zire 31 is the most affordable color PDA to hit the market and packs a lot of features in for a low price. This is the perfect entry level unit for those of you who have limited budgets, are first time buyers or aren't sure if you want to make a significant financial commitment to a PDA just yet.

The Zire 31 comes in a relatively compact plastic package, and includes a CD that has Palm Desktop Software for Windows and Mac, and .pdf manuals. You'll also get a mini-USB cable for syncing, a charger, a stylus and a rubbery blue flip cover.

Palm Zire 31
back of Palm Zire 31

 

Design and Ergonomics

The Zire 31 is compact and attractive. It's the same size as the black & white Zire and Zire 21 models, and only a few tenths of an ounce heavier. It will easily fit in your pocket or purse. The front face is a semi-matte sky blue metallic color and the side and back are gloss white. The unit's curved edges feel good in the hand and the plastic casing is sturdy.

Like the original Zire and Zire 21, it has two buttons which launch Calendar and Contacts (you can reassign the buttons to other apps) because palmOne believes that entry level units shouldn't have a myriad of confusing buttons. The Zire 31 has a full-fledged 5-way directional pad, which should please gamers. It has a keylock feature that you can enable to prevent accidental button presses from turning the unit on, and has Graffiti 2, which allows you to write using natural characters either in the Graffiti area below the display or anywhere on the screen if you wish.

The power button is located on the front face to the left of the Calendar button and the sync and charge ports are on the left side under a white rubber cover (most PDAs have their sync and charge ports on the bottom edge and no cover). The standard stereo headphone jack and SD slot are on the top edge of the unit. The stylus silo is also located on the top and the Zire 31 comes with a good-sized plastic stylus.

Horsepower

For $129, this unit packs an amazing amount of power. It has a 200 MHz Intel XScale processor, which is the same as that used in some higher end Sony Clié Palm OS PDAs sold in the last year . The unit runs Palm OS Garnet (5.2.8) which is the most recent version of OS 5 as of April 2004. While the older entry level Zires had relatively little memory and no expansion slot to add more, the Zire 31 has 16 megs of RAM with 14 available to the user, and an SD slot supporting SDIO. 14 megs of RAM is adequate for those who wish to install eBooks, a few games and an Office suite in addition to calendar and contact data. The SD expansion slot allows you to use SD and MMC storage cards where you can install files and programs, and it supports SDIO which means it can use SD networking cards when Palm OS drivers are available.

 

 

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Display

The Zire 31 has a 160 x 160 pixel STN color display that has thousands of colors. PalmOne won't state exactly how many colors, but to my eye it looks very similar to the 12 bit 4,096 color display found on the Palm m130. Unlike the Zire and Zire 21, it does have backlighting, so you'll be able to see the screen in dimly lit or dark locations. The Zire 31 has two brightness settings (low and high), and a contrast slider. While not nearly as good as the transflective display found on more expensive PDAs, the screen is very easy to see and read. It's got excellent contrast, brightness and good color saturation for an STN display. STN stands for super twisted nematic, and is reminiscent of older laptop displays. Photos look OK on the Zire 31 but not as vibrant as the Palm Tungsten E's display.

Software

Even though the Zire 31 is a budget unit, it comes with palmOne's enhanced PIM (Personal Information Management: Contacts, Calendar, Memos and Tasks) applications also found on the palmOne Zire 72, Tungsten E and Tungsten T3. The Contacts app supports multiple addresses (home, work, other) per record, phone, fax and mobile numbers, birthday, web site, and 4 custom fields. The Calendar has an Agenda view that's very similar to the Pocket PC Today Screen and shows upcoming appointments, current tasks and unread email messages. In addition it has day, week, month and year views. You can color code appointments by category and the colors will display in day, week and month view.

The Windows version of Palm Desktop is enhanced to support image syncing. On the left side of the screen alongside with the Date, Address and etc. icons you'll see a Photos icon. Clicking on this icon will bring up large thumbnails of images stored on your Palm that have been synced to the desktop. You can also view and sync photos to and from SD cards. Photos offers some basic image editing functionality as well.

MP3, Multimedia and Gaming

The Zire 31 can play MP3 music and has a standard stereo 3.5mm headphone jack. It comes with RealOne for Palm OS which offers playlists and standard controls such as volume, play, stop, fast forward. RealOne has a background playback feature so you can listen to tunes while using the PDA for other tasks, and an auto screen power off if you wish to conserve battery power while using the 31 as a pocket player. Sound quality through headphones is good and the volume is quite loud.

I installed the free Kinoma Player 2 and played a few movies trailers and short films on the Zire 31 and it played back smoothly. Certainly the processing power is more than adequate for video playback, and the only limiting factor is the low resolution 160 x 160 STN display. The same can be said of games: even demanding games play well on the 31, but you will be limited to low resolution color games, which isn't as much fun as gaming on a 320 x 320 pixel display like the Sony CliéTJ27 or palmOne Tungsten E. Then again, this is the least expensive color PDA on the market today.

Agenda screen shot

Above: the Agenda view in Calendar

Power

The Zire 31 has a 900 mAh rechargeable Lithium Ion battery that's not user replaceable. That's a good size battery for a unit with the 31's features and it should last you a few days on a charge when using PIM apps, viewing photos and working with MS Office documents. If you play lots of intensive games or watch videos for hours, you will get shorter runtimes.

Syncing

The Zire 31's charging port and sync port are on the left side of the unit. The 31 has a mini-USB connector and comes with a mini-USB to USB sync cable and a US charger.

Since there isn't a cradle with a HotSync button, you'll initiate a HotSync by pressing the silk screen HotSync button or by pressing the HotSync icon in the program launcher on screen. 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.

Comparing the Palm Tungsten E to the Zire 31

If you're on a tight budget, then the Zire 31 is a great choice and is quite affordable. If you're one of those shoppers who is considering spending a bit more and you're wondering what $50 additional will get you, then read on. The palmOne Tungsten E adds a high res display, Documents To Go Standard Edition to the basic Zire 31 feature list. The Tungsten E has a 320 x 320 transflective display that is impressive compared to the Zire 31's display and it too has an MP3 player. It does have a somewhat slower 126 MHz processor.

Conclusion

A great starter PDA if you're just entering the world of handheld computers. Pro: Fast processor, color display, Palm OS 5.2.8, enough memory to store your PIM data, eBooks and 3rd party apps. Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery with good battery life. Con: low res 160 x 160 pixel display, battery is not user replaceable.

Web Site: www.palm.com

List Price: $119

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: 160 x 160 pixels. Backlit color display capable of displaying thousands of colors.

Performance: 200 MHz Intel processor. 16 megs of RAM, with 14 available to the user. Non-flash upgradeable ROM for OS.

Size: 4.4" x 2.9" x 0.6", 4.1 oz.

Battery: Rechargeable 900 mAh Lithium Ion. Not user replaceable.

Audio: Built in speaker, MP3 playback and standard stereo 3.5mm headphone jack.

Software: Palm OS 5.2.8 and Palm applications including Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Memos, Note Pad (allows you to draw and doodle), World Clock and Photos, Calculator. 3rd party software included: Handmark MobileDB, Handmark PDA Money, Handmark Solitaire, powerOne Calculator, Audible, Addit (for buying and downloading Palm OS software) and Palm Reader. Palm Desktop 4 for Windows and Mac included. Windows version enhanced to support photo and video syncing and has a Quick Install tool. Windows users can sync to MS Outlook or Palm Desktop.

Modem/Wireless: None included.

 

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