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Palm Zire 72

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

Building on the remarkable success of the Zire 71 released a year ago, the Palm Zire 72 is all things that the 71 was and more. For the same original list price as the Zire 71 you get a much better 1.2 megapixel camera, 32 megs of RAM, Bluetooth, Documents To Go and a faster processor. It's the first device to use Intel's new "Bulverde" XScale PXA270 processor running at 312 MHz. Like the palmOne Tungsten T3 and Tungsten E, the Zire 72 has enhanced PIM applications too. Not bad! Consider the Zire 72 as an evolutionary device: palmOne enhanced the Zire 71 rather than reinventing it. As the phrase goes, it if ain't broke don't fix it, and the Zire 71 has been much too popular to mess with.

Palm Zire 72

Palm Zire 72

 

Design and Ergonomics

The Zire has a deep blue metallic finish on the front and the back looks like polished stainless steel. Gone is the Zire 71's slider which revealed the camera; the Zire 72 has a fixed camera lens located near the top edge of the unit's backside that's always exposed and ready to go. The area that houses the camera lens has a small hump, so the top 1" of the Zire is an 1/8th" thicker. A large mesh grill surrounds the camera and an ample speaker is located underneath. The Zire 72 is also available in a "Special Edition" silver color for the same price as the standard blue model.

While the Zire 71 had a joystick navigator, the 72 has a rounded rectangular directional pad with a center action button. Four application buttons flank the d-pad and are assigned to Calendar, Contacts, Camera and MP3 playback. As always, you can re-assign these buttons to other applications. The voice recorder button is located on the left side, and pressing the button launches the Voice Memo application but does not automatically begin recording. Thus even if the button is accidentally pressed while bouncing around in your pocket or purse, it won't start recording accidentally. The Zire has keylock which you can turn on to prevent accidental button presses from turning on the unit. The power button, standard 3.5mm headphone jack and SD slot are located on the top edge, while the comfortably large black plastic stylus slides into a slot on the right side. On the bottom edge you'll find the power connector and a standard mini USB port for syncing.

Horsepower and Expansion

The Zire 72 is the first PDA to use Intel's new PXA270 processor at 312 MHz. That's currently the top speed for this processor (faster versions will be ready later this year), and it's supposed to outperform previous state-of-the-art Intel ARM family processors running at 400 MHz due to its significantly enhanced multimedia processing capabilities. Since multimedia (gaming and video playback particularly) are generally the most taxing tasks we throw at PDAs, the PXA270 performs well. Indeed the Zire 72 is a fast machine and performs all tasks quickly, including video playback. Games are a pleasure to play, and even intensive games like Warfare Inc. and Hellfire play perfectly. The unit runs Palm OS Garnet (5.2.8) and has 32 megs of RAM, 24 of which are available to the user.

The PXA270 is more battery-friendly using less power than previous ARM family (which includes XScale) chips. Like PC notebook Pentium processors, it uses Intel SpeedStep Technology to scale back the processor when demand isn't high.

The Zire 72 has an SD slot that accepts SD, MMC and SDIO cards. It does not have the Palm Universal Connector, so you won't be able to use accessories made for that connector. The Zire 71 had a Universal Connector as does the Tungsten T3, but not the Tungsten E.

 

 

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Display and Battery Life

The Zire 72 has an excellent 320 x 320 high res + transflective display. It's quite bright, nicely color saturated and has a very slight cool color bias. Viewing photos and videos on the Zire is a pleasure thanks to the lovely screen and it makes a wonderful photo album viewer. The display is brighter and sharper than the Zire 71's and compares well with other transflective screen PDAs.

The PXA270 processor is supposed to be very power efficient, though the Zire 72 gave us average runtimes for a full-featured Palm OS PDA. Cameras and wireless networking like Bluetooth take their toll on a battery, and in our tests we did use both features. If you plan to use Bluetooth throughout the day, take photos, play videos and games, then plan on charging your Zire every day or every other day. If you take a few photos, use Bluetooth for 20 minutes per day and don't play intensive games or hours of videos, then you should get at least three days on a charge. As with all wireless PDAs and mobile phones, we recommend turning off Bluetooth when you don't need it to greatly improve battery life.

Camera

While most PDAs with digicams sport a VGA resolution camera, the Zire 72 has a 1.2 megapixel CMOS camera that's far superior to the Zire 71's VGA camera. The Zire can take photos up to 1280 x 960, and those images average ~ 320k. You can also take lower resolution photos (640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120) which is handy if you wish to mail small images using Bluetooth and a BT enabled mobile phone. In addition, the Zire can shoot videos with sound at 15 fps max in your choice of 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 resolution. The 72 will save videos to an SD card but not internal memory, while you can save photos to either location.

Its fixed focus lens is located on the back of the PDA and you can launch the camera app with a press of a button. A large preview window takes up most of the screen, with a set of intuitive on-screen controls below. You can quickly set the save location, see how many photos (or minutes of video) are left in your chosen storage location, change the image resolution, switch between photo and video mode and press the large capture button to take a photo or video. There are two buttons, one of which launches the Media viewer and another which opens up the Photo Settings window. Under Photo Settings, you can set White Balance (auto, fluorescent, incandescent, sunlight), Low Light (normal or low light), Effects (normal, black & white, sepia, blue), Review Photos (on, no timeout; on, timeout; off) and set brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness using sliders.

Photos are very good by PDA standards, showing good focus near the edges, not too much noise and good color accuracy. Even in low light situations, the Zire does well, though bright outdoor shots and high contrast settings do white out quite a bit. The 72 does well against other PDAs with integrated digicams, and offers higher resolution than the current competitors.

Zire sample photo

Indoors, a window just behind the kitty provides strong lighting.

Zire sample photo

Outdoors, sunny day. Notice whiting out and distortion under very bright sunlight. Changing brightness settings on the camera can improve image quality somewhat.

Click on an image to see the full sized, unaltered image.

Software Bundle

The Zire 72 comes with a good software bundle for a mid-priced handheld. Documents To Go Standard Edition version 6 is included. Docs To Go allows you to view and edit MS Word and Excel documents and does an excellent job of supporting advanced formatting and features. PalmOne's Messages allows you to send and receive SMS and MMS messages; VersaMail 2.7 supports POP and IMAP email, multiple email accounts and email syncing; Graffiti 2 handwriting recognition (you can write in the Graffiti area or anywhere on screen); Media is an image viewer and media player supporting Windows Media Player format (MPEG4 ASF files); RealOne for MP3 playback; Voice Memo for voice recording, PowerOne Personal calculator; Handmark Solitaire; World Clock and palmOne's Web Pro 3.5 web browser.

Web Pro is an excellent browser that offers three views: Handheld View (formatted for the PDA with no horizontal scrolling, Normal View which approximates the desktop viewing experience and Mini View which shows you the entire web page on screen with a moveable magnifier box. You can move this box to any section of a page you wish to view it full size. Web Pro uses a proxy server to render the handheld view, but you can disable the proxy if you wish and view pages in Normal View. Web Pro supports page caching, cookies, page dragging and SSL. It's a fast browser that performs well loading pages over a standard GPRS connection via Bluetooth phone.

The Zire 72 features the same enhanced PIM (Personal Information Management) applications as the Tungsten T and E models. 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, video and voice memo syncing. On the left side of the screen alongside with the Date, Address and etc. icons you'll see Media and Voice Memo icons. Clicking on the Media icon will bring up large thumbnails of images and videos taken with the Zire's camera that have been stored on your Palm and synced to the desktop. Even media saved to SD cards will be synced to your desktop and you can view them here as well. Media offers some basic image editing functionality as well: you can rotate images 90 degrees, crop, resize, zoom, adjust for red-eye (though since there's no flash, you likely won't see red-eye in your images), add text, draw on the photo and automatically adjust brightness, color balance and contrast using the Enhance function. Media allows you to trim videos, but not edit them in other ways. Palm Desktop Media uses Windows Media Player 9 as its engine, and the Windows version is included on the Zire CD. Mac users can download Windows Media Player from Microsoft here.

Windows users who prefer to sync to MS Outlook on the desktop can do so using the software on the included CD. If you choose to sync to Outlook, your contacts, calendar, memos and tasks will sync to Outlook while voice notes, images and videos will sync to Palm Desktop.

As with other recent palmOne PDAs, you'll get an improved Palm Quick Install tool, which is a much friendlier version of the old Palm install application. You can even drag and drop files onto the Quick Install window to install them to your Palm. The window is divided into two panes, one for internal memory and one for expansion cards. Very nice!

MP3 Playback and Video

The Zire 72 supports polyphonic audio and has a standard stereo headphone jack (3.5mm) on the top of the unit. It comes with RealOne Player for MP3 playback and has a large and loud speaker on the rear of the unit. RealOne supports background playback and can automatically turn the display off to conserve power. Sound quality and volume are quite good through headphones. The 72 is louder than the Zire 71 and should be more than loud enough for most users. If you want to put MP3 files on your Palm (or more likely its expansion memory card), you'll drag the files to the Quick Install window. Copying files to the expansion card using Palm Quick Install takes a while (just under 2 minutes for a 2.6 meg 128k encoded song). I suggest you use an external card reader to get audio files on the Palm's SD card if you have more a decent collection of tunes to transfer.

PalmOne's Media app on the Zire 72 can playback Windows Media Player 9 format files (.asf files) and does an excellent job. Videos taken with the Zire's camera are in .asf format so Media can play them. If you're interested in watching movies in other formats such as MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4 and DIVX, check out the reasonably priced mmplayer for Palm OS. I tried the most recent "experimental release" ( v0.2.10) and it worked well on the 72. Playback was smooth and audio remained in sync when I tested MPEG1 and DIVX short trailers and indie shorts. The free Kinoma Player 2 also works well with the Zire 72 playing videos without a hitch.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth can be challenging to set up and less than intuitive to use. Recognizing that, palmOne created a new Bluetooth application for the Zire 72 that's friendlier and more intuitive. The Bluetooth app allows you to turn the radio off and on, set the device name, specify whether it's discoverable and select a network service from a popup list that you can connect to using a button. That's not where the big changes reside: press on the Setup Devices button to see the new features. In the Setup Devices window you'll see that palmOne has listed the three most common networking connections, each with their own icon, description and setup buttons. There are Phone Setup, PC Setup and LAN Setup. Phone Setup allows you to create a connection with a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone that you'll use as a modem for the Zire, or to send SMS messages, emails or to dial from contacts. PC Setup gets you started syncing to your computer via Bluetooth and LAN Setup helps you to establish a connection to a Bluetooth access point for Internet access. To learn more about Bluetooth and Bluetooth devices, read our primer and reviews. Phone Setup will allow you to select your phone (Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Siemens brands are listed) and a network (i.e. T-Mobile, AT&T or Cingular in the US). Once you pair with phone and select a GRPS service provider you can simply tap connect on the main Bluetooth screen, as all successful pairings and connection settings are saved by the Zire 72. I successfully paired with and used a Sony Ericsson P800 for Internet access (only the T610 and T68i were listed on the Palm, so I used the T610 driver). I also paired the Zire with a Nokia 3650 (that driver is pre-installed on the PDA) for Internet access. In addition, I connected the 72 to a Red-M Bluetooth access point for my Internet connection. When Bluetooth is turned on, you'll see the Bluetooth symbol in the menu bar reminding you that it's on.

Bluetooth setup screen

Conclusion

Pro: A nice improvement over the Zire 71! It competes well against the now discontinued Sony Clié TJ37 if Bluetooth rather than WiFi is your thing. It has a 1.2 megapixel integrated digicam that shoots both still images and videos with sound, MP3 player, Bluetooth wireless networking and a very fast processor. The high res transflective display is very good and is perfect for viewing photos and videos. The PDA is fast and user friendly. A great gaming machine thanks to the PXA270 processor, good d-pad, great display and sound. Palm Desktop improvements make transferring photos, videos and voice memos a breeze, and it's easy to work with storage cards in the device too.

Con: Not compatible with existing Palm universal connector accessories. I'd like to see more internal memory for a unit that takes video and large photos, though you can use SD cards for this. The battery is not user replaceable. It takes a long time to copy MP3 files to the SD card using Palm Quick Install.

Web site: www.palm.com

List price: $249

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

 

 

Specs:

Display: Backlit, high res 320 x 320 pixel color transflective display with 16 bit, 65,000 colors.

Performance: 312 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 processor. 32 megs of RAM (24 available to the user). Non-upgradeable ROM.

Size: 4.6", 2.95", 0.68". 4.8 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker. Stereo 3.5mm standard audio jack for headphones. Supports alarm sounds and LED alerts.

In the Box : Zire 72, USB sync cable, US charger, ballistic nylon carry case, software CD, Graffiti quick ref sticker.

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Polymer, 950 mAh. Not user replaceable.

Software: Palm OS 5.2.8. PIM applications include Contacts, Calendar, Note Pad and Tasks. Additional software includes World Clock, Note Pad (allows you to draw and doodle), Calculator, Palm Reader, VersaMail 2.7, palmOne Messages for SMS and MMS, Media for viewing photos and videos, Expense and Web Pro web browser. 3rd party apps including Documents To Go Standard Edition version 6, Handmark's Solitaire, powerOne Personal Calculator, Acrobat Reader for Palm, Addit (for downloading and buying software), Audible Player (Windows only) and Java support. Palm Desktop 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.

Expansion: SD Slot supporting SDIO.

 

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