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Palm LifeDrive

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed May 18, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Discontinued Jan. 2007 because it doesn't meet the 2007 European Union lead-free requirements.

In the past year things weren't looking too good for Palm: Windows Mobile Pocket PCs had gained a great deal of market share (a few years ago, the vast majority of PDAs sold worldwide were Palm) and Palm brand PDAs (with the exception of the Treo smartphone) lacked the sexy features and innovation necessary to keep them on top. This spring, that's changed with the release of the Tungsten E2 with its introductory level handheld pricing but mid-level features and the new LifeDrive for the high end market.

palmOne LifeDrive Mobile Manager
back of LifeDrive

The LifeDrive is the first member of Palm's new Mobile Manager handheld category, aimed at those who want "Digital everything": Photos, MP3s, videos, lots and lots of documents and the usual PIM applications to keep track of appointments, contacts and tasks. Yes, many PDAs can handle these tasks, but the LifeDrive sets itself apart by providing you with a whopping 4 gigs of storage and an extremely easy way to get all these kinds of media onto the device. The desktop software, LifeDrive Manager, is your one stop spot for managing files on the LifeDrive. It handles file conversion for you, can keep documents in several folders on your PC in sync and can even act as a repository for digital camera images if your camera uses SD cards. You can purchase the same 4 gig MicroDrive used in the LifeDrive for Pocket PCs with CF slots and get the same amount of storage and media support, but the LifeDrive attempts to do one better by making it faster via a USB 2.0 connection and by making it downright simple to get those gigs of data, be it multimedia files or Office files onto the device. This brings to mind some of the high end Sony Clies, though lacking in sheer storage capacity, they were multimedia powerhouses that handled MP3 playback, photo viewing and video playback well. However, Sony's desktop software required that you use several different Sony apps to handle the various conversions. This meant users had to learn several different programs and use them separately to get a variety of multimedia file types onto the Clie. Thus, high end Clies were for power users and those who didn't mind the extra effort. The LifeDrive offers the same functionality in an extremely simple user interface that anyone can master. And of course, with 4 gigs of storage, this new breed of Palm device makes a much better portable MP3 player and video player than the Clie.

So what about these 4 gigs of storage? The LifeDrive uses a 4 gig Hitachi MicroDrive, which is a miniature hard drive designed for use in mobile devices. It has relatively low power consumption and is designed to handle bumps and shakes well, despite the moving parts. Like any hard drive, data stored there is persistent, which means that it requires no power to preserve its contents: if the battery runs dry, your data remains intact, unlike data stored in RAM on PDAs.

Palm isn't the first handheld manufacturer to incorporate a MicroDrive into a PDA; Sharp did it in late 2004 with their Zaurus SL-C3000 Linux handheld which more closely resembles a miniature laptop. However, the C3000 is sold in Japan only, and is available in the US from a handful of importers for nearly twice the price of the LifeDrive. Palm's syncing and desktop file management software is also much more full-featured and friendly than the venerable Zaurus'. In the end, the Zaurus is an excellent notebook replacement rather than a turnkey PDA. Outside the PDA realm, hard drive-based MP3 players like the Apple iPod mini have a MicroDrive inside and portable video players generally use 1.8" hard drives which are smaller than notebook hard drives but larger than the 1.5" MicroDrive. And there's the Archos PMA400, which is a portable media player that runs Linux and offers PDA features. However, that device is much more expensive at $799, doesn't have a photo slide show mode, doesn't support portrait mode for PDA use, and doesn't have very good WiFi performance. But it does have a 30 gig hard drive!

LifeDrive and 4 gig Hitachi microdrive

The LifeDrive and a 4 gig Hitachi MicroDrive

 

 

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Features at a Glance

The LifeDrive is both a Palm OS PDA and a multimedia device. Similar to recent high end Palm handhelds like the Tungsten T3 and Tungsten T5, it runs Palm OS 5, and has a half VGA 320 x 480 high res+ transflective color display that works in both portrait and landscape modes. The device has Bluetooth, WiFi, 64 megs of program memory (works like RAM) and a 416 MHz Intel XScale processor, making it quite powerful by Palm OS standards and competitive with Pocket PCs. The LifeDrive plays MP3s, has a stereo headphone jack, plays videos and works as a photo and slide show viewer out of the box. Documents To Go is included for viewing, editing and creating MS Office documents.  And of course, it has all the standard features of a Palm OS PDA, allowing you to keep track of contacts, calendar items, tasks and more.

In the Box

The LifeDrive comes with a USB 2.0 sync cable with a HotSync button— Palm went for the cable rather than a cradle since you might want to use the device on the go us in USB Drive Mode with various computers, and who wants to carry a cradle everywhere.  You get a compact world charger that you can plug directly into the LifeDrive or into the sync cable (same as the Treo 650), leather slip case, stylus, software CD for Windows and Mac, a thin printed guide (the larger PDF manual is on the CD) and a certificate good for 30 days of free T-Mobile WiFi Hotspot access.

Design and Ergonomics

Given all that's packed into the LifeDrive, it's one of the larger PDAs on the market, being bigger than the Tungsten E2 and T3 with slider closed. It is a tad smaller than the VGA HP iPAQ hx4700 Pocket PC (one of the largest recent PDAs) and the T3 with slider open. By portable media player standards such as the Apex E2go MP-2000, Archos PMA400 and the Creative Zen Portable Media Center, the LifeDrive is small.

LifeDrive, Tungsten T3 and iPAQ hx4700

Above: the LifeDrive, Palm Tungsten T3
with slider open and the HP iPAQ hx4700 Pocket PC

A metal casing and a very attractive bright silver finish cover the LifeDrive which is basically a rectangle with attractively and ergonomically curved corners. The back's tapering sides make the unit easier to hold and it fits easily into all but very small hands. The LifeDrive is both good looking and hip, with a minimalist flair: when we carried it with us on visits to various venues in Silicon Valley, everyone from waiters to engineers ogled it. Folks wanted to know whether it was a PDA, mini-computer or a portable media player.

Four front application buttons integrate cleanly into the design, surrounding the center oval 5-way directional pad with center action button. The application buttons launch Favorites, Files, Media and the favorite application of your choice by default and you can re-assign them if you wish. The DIA (dynamic input area) where the silk screen Graffiti input area appears at the touch of a taskbar icon, has application icons for VersaMail, Calendar, Web and Contacts. On the left side you'll find the voice recorder button, mic holes, and the hardware button that switches screen orientation on the fly. There are no controls on the right side, and you'll find the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and the sync connector on the bottom. The LifeDrive shares the Palm Multi Connector used on other recent models such as the Treo 650, Tungsten E2 and T5. The back has a large grill: the speaker is located beneath the upper section and we imagine the remainder of the grill area functions to keep the unit and particularly the MicroDrive cool.

LifeDrive left side

The left side of the LifeDrive Mobile Manager: mic, voice recorder and screen rotation button.

LifeDrive top

Top view: stylus top, IR window, SD slot and power switch.

 

Up top you'll find the combined power and hold switch, IR port and SD card slot inset into a black plastic panel. That hold switch is handy: use it to prevent accidental button presses from turning on the machine while it's in your pocket or purse. Conversely, you can use it when the unit is on and you've handed it around for folks to view a slide show or presentation— no worries that someone will accidentally hit a button and stop the show. The stylus, a typically nice Palm weighted metal telescoping affair, lives up top on the right corner. All in all, an excellent design both in terms of functionality and aesthetics, though given the device's role as a portable MP3 and video player, I'm surprised that Palm didn't incorporate a hardware volume control into the design.

Horsepower and MicroDrive Details

The LifeDrive uses the same Intel XScale 416 MHz processor found in the Tungsten T5. This is a very fast CPU for a Palm OS device and is competitive with processors used in Pocket PCs and other PDAs. Though you'll find faster CPUs on the high end Pocket PCs, Palm OS requires less processing power so that 416 MHz is plenty enough to run games, multimedia apps and Documents To Go.

As you know by now, the LifeDrive has an internal 4 gig hard drive called a MicroDrive with 3.85 gigs available to the user. It's whisper quiet and you won't feel the machine vibrating when the drive is accessed. For those of you who are into the nitty gritty: the Hitachi MicroDrive weighs only 16 grams ( .56 ounces), measures roughly 1.5" x 1.5", has a 128k buffer and spins at 3,600 RPM. It has an average seek time of 12ms and uses just over 300 mA current when active and 16 mA when in standby. The LifeDrive partition is formatted in FAT32.

RAM is used to cache running applications and data, and there's rarely a significant lag when accessing data on the hard drive. Files opened reasonably quickly, though not as fast as if they were stored in RAM which is much faster than any hard drive. MP3s occasionally stuttered for one second when switching to another app using the background playback feature. They didn't stutter at all when the device was used a portable MP3 player with screen turned off and no PDA use. Movies rarely stuttered due to disk access times.

How long is the delay when launching apps? We soft reset our unit to make sure no applications where cached in RAM, the launched a few test apps, including that old standby, Calendar. It took 2 seconds according to our stopwatch to launch Calendar. There was NO delay when switching between calendar views. The LifeDrive was set up as a "real world" unit, with 1.5 gigs of data on the LifeDrive partition, 20 megs of apps and data on program memory, 350 contacts, several hundred calendar items, 60 Memos and 15 Tasks.

In addition to the drive, the LifeDrive has 64 megs of "program memory" which functions just as RAM does on other PDAs: you can store programs and data in this area, and applications which only support syncing to main memory should be stored in this area. Unlike the 4 gig hard drive, you can't view and work with files on program memory usiing LifeDrive Manager on the desktop. Program memory is actually a partition on the hard drive, so it's persistent and will survive compete battery run downs with no data loss. The LifeDrive has 32 megs of RAM which works similarly to RAM on your computer: programs execute in RAM, and RAM can be used to cache multimedia files for improved playback performance. The LifeDrive also has 16 megs of ROM where the OS lives.

The LifeDrive's SD slot supports SD cards, MMC cards and SDIO cards. I tested a variety of cards, up to 1 gig capacity and all went well. I tried a 1 gig Lexar SD card formatted as FAT32 and after formatting it in the LifeDrive then formatting it as FAT32 using a card reader on my PC it worked fine.

Display and Multimedia

The Life Drive has the same 320 x 480 transflective color display capable of displaying 65,000 colors found on the recent Palm Tungsten T5. It's bright, sharp and supports rotation on the fly using a handy hardware button on the unit's left side. The display is reasonably color accurate, though it does have a faint cool color cast and it's middle-of-the-road in terms of brightness. That said, it's plenty bright enough even for viewing dark videos, and likely battery life would have suffered greatly if Palm had gone for an extremely bright LCD. The screen looks great when viewing digital camera images and it's sharp enough to work with documents using small fonts. Rotation on the fly is instantaneous and reliable: we didn't experience any screen glitches or bugs when rotating a variety of applications several times. The Handedness prefs item allows you to specify whether you're left or right handed, which changes the landscape orientation (buttons on the left for righties, buttons on the right for lefties).

To watch videos, slide shows and view images, you'll use the Media application. Media is covered in greater detail below, but suffice to say it's central to the LifeDrive multimedia experience. The LifeDrive Manager desktop software helps you transfer these multimedia files, convert movies as needed and can keep them all in sync. And you can of course use the 3rd party image viewer or video player of your choice, though we think that Media is hard to beat as an image viewer and slide show app.

Pocket Tunes, likely the most popular MP3 player for Palm is included rather than the less full-featured Real Player for Palm bundled with other Palm handhelds. You get the bundle version of Pocket Tunes 3.09 which supports all the MP3 playback features and skinning of the Deluxe version but doesn't handle Internet radio broadcast streaming playback. You can upgrade to the Deluxe version if you're into web-based radio broadcasts. The included version will suit most users and it has a great set of features, including background playback, automatic screen shut off (to conserve battery when using the LifeDrive as a portable MP3 player), playlist creation and syncing to Windows Media player using a plugin.

Software, Syncing and Compatibility

Software on the LifeDrive

Palm includes a note inside the box warning you to make sure your software is compatible with the LifeDrive. We keep our 3rd party Palm software current, and encountered no problems. We tested MMPlayer, TCPMP, eReader, several games, Acrobat Reader and all software included on the CD. In 5 days the LifeDrive froze once during a WiFile transfer of several large MPEG video files from a networked PC over WiFi, and once when the unit turned off when left in the Palm Wireless Keyboard settings application. I did notice that after a soft reset (reboot), the LifeDrive had set my handedness preference back to the default right handed— not sure why that preference isn't saved after a soft reset. If the unit does crash, when it reboots it tells you that it crashed and what the error was (generally one of the usual Memory Manager line C errors). It also automatically runs a chkdsk (like Check Disk on a Windows machine) on the hard disk.

You get a good 3rd party software bundle with the LifeDrive, as you should for a high end unit. Documents To Go 7 supports viewing, editing and creating native MS Word and Excel documents, viewing of native PowerPoint files and editing converted PowerPoint files. The excellent Pocket Tunes is included for MP3 playback along with the Pocket Tunes plugin for Windows Media Player on the desktop. This is the standard version of Pocket Tunes, and you'll need to upgrade to Deluxe if you want to play WMA and Internet radio broadcasts. You also get WiFile (light not pro version) for accessing computer network shares, Handmark Solitaire, eReader, Audible Player and Acrobat Reader for Palm OS.

The LifeDrive includes Palm's enhanced PIM applications: Calendar (with Agenda view similar to the Pocket PC's Today Screen), Contacts, Memos, Notes (for handwritten notes) and Tasks. And you'll get the usual host of standard Palm apps such as Calculator, Card Info, Expense, Dialer (the Palm can dial your cell phone for you over IR or Bluetooth), Voice Memo (for recording voice notes), SMS and World Clock.

Palm developed a few in-house applications which add a great deal of functionality to the LifeDrive. These include:

Camera Companion: Have a digital camera that uses SD or MMC cards? You can use the LifeDrive as a photo viewer. Insert the camera's card into the LifeDrive's SD slot and you can use the Camera Companion application to copy all files from the card to the LifeDrive (it copies all images in the DCIM folder), or you can use the LifeDrive and an external removable hard drive to copy images from the device to your PC, or you can simply view the images without copying them. We love the copy to LifeDrive feature: no need to bring a notebook on a vacation outing simply to transfer files from the camera card: use the LifeDrive instead! And it makes a great portable photo viewer too.

The Files application is a true file manager which allows you to browse, move, delete, open, beam and send files on the LifeDrive (but not on internal program memory). It works like and resembles the file managers on Windows and Mac PCs rather than the more arcane interface found on handy utilities like Filez. You'll see all folders on the LifeDrive and navigate and manage them easily— and we thought we'd have to wait for Palm OS 6 to get a true file manager!

Media allows you to view photos, create sideshows with sound easily and watch videos. It supports JPEG, BMP, TIFF and GIF image formats. The application is fast even when loading thumbnails and viewing images from an SD card that had fifty five 2.5 meg JPEG images taken with our Pentax *ist DS 6.1 MP digital SLR camera. Given that my iPAQ hx4700 with 624 MHz Intel XScale processor is slow to view and rotate the same images, I'm impressed with Palm's work here. Want to show a slide show of your vacation to friends and family? Use the hold switch to pass the device around in slide show mode without worrying that someone will hit a button and stop the show.

Media can play videos in ASF, MPEG1, MPEG4 and MJPEG formats. If your video format isn't supported by Media, you can use the LifeDrive Manager desktop application to automatically convert the video to ASF format while copying it to the LifeDrive's internal disk. Be warned that like many video conversion processes, this isn't fast and is slower than some standalone converters. We converted a 30 meg 320 x 240 WMV to ASF format using LifeDrive Manager and it took 30 minutes, creating a 130 meg file! How about 3rd party video players? We tested both MMPlayer and TCPMP and both worked well on the LifeDrive. Using these apps and Media, we tested movies up to 300kbps and both TCPMP and Media handled them well, playing smoothly with good audio sync. MMPlayer occasionally showed artifacts or stuttered a bit. Given that the device is buffering media from the hard disk during playback, we were pleased with the LifeDrive's overall performance as a portable video player. Sound quality, as with the included Pocket Tunes MP3 player is very good as well.

Addit is an application you can use to download demo versions of Palm OS software or even purchase software titles. In addition, it's a portal of sorts that offers top news and tips on using the device. It updates automatically using your computer's Internet connection each time you HotSync.

Favorites, first found on Tungsten T5, functions as a launcher with shortcuts to your favorite applications such as Documents To Go, music, photos and VersaMail. It also has room for additional individual applications which you can launch with one tap. The Favorites app has three additional pages where you can add more shortcuts to the files, folders or apps of your choice. Of course, you can use the traditional Palm OS home screen if you wish or your favorite 3rd party launcher.

For Internet applications, you get the Blazer 4.1 web browser and VersaMail 3.1 for email. Blazer has optimized and wide (desktop) page layout modes. The browser supports Javascript, bookmarks, history, cookies, proxies and SSL. VersaMail, Palm's popular email application supports POP, IMAP and SMTP servers, multiple email accounts, automatic email fetching and notification of new mail and filters. Web browsing over WiFi on the 480 x 320 display is a pleasure and rendering times are good thanks to the LifeDrive's 416 MHz CPU. If rendering quality and accuracy matter less to you than raw speed, check out Xiino which is great if you use the LifeDrive with a Bluetooth mobile phone acting as a wireless modem over a relatively slow GPRS connection.

Desktop Software

You can use the LifeDrive as if it were a USB flash drive with any USB-equiped computer. Run the Drive Mode application on the LifeDrive, connect its USB cable to any USB computer regardless of platform and the device's 4 gig hard drive will mount as a removable drive so you can copy, move, reorganize and delete files. And of course, you get the usual Palm Desktop software for both Windows and Mac which allows to you keep your PIM information in sync and backup the PDA automatically each time you sync. Windows users have the choice of syncing PIM data (calendar, contacts, tasks and memos) to either Palm Desktop or Microsoft Outlook.

On Windows, several of us had problems upgrading from recent older versions of Palm Desktop software to the version included with the LifeDrive. If you have a previous Palm Desktop installation and are getting errors during the installation and upgrade process, it's likely due to a Microsoft Windows MSI installer bug. You can download a small free utility from Microsoft's web site here to fix the problem. Download and install the app, then run it from the Start Menu. Select the Palm desktop software from the list and remove the problematic old installer data (it will not remove the actual software, don't worry).

In addition, you get LifeDrive Manager for Windows (sorry, no Mac version). This excellent application is an important part of the LifeDrive experience, making it extremely easy to view and manipulate files on the MicroDrive and convert media files. When you plug your LifeDrive into your Windows PC, the LifeDrive is ready for file transfers (the screen won't turn on but you'll hear the familiar hardware recognized sound on your PC). You can use the LifeDrive while transferring files to and from it using the desktop LifeDrive Manager app, and if you initiate a HotSync from the PDA, LifeDrive Manager will automatically disconnect during the syncing process and reconnect once HotSync is finished (a popup window near the taskbar on your Windows machine tells you LifeDrive Manager is ready to go). LifeDrive Manager puts files where they belong, unlike prior Palm models, there's no obscure special folders to figure out and no card reader needed.

LifeDrive Manager adds a new kind of syncing: File Sync. You can use LifeDrive Manager to keep files and folders of you choice synced with the mobile device. Drag files and/or folders to the LifeDrive using LifeDrive Manager and specify that you wish to keep them in sync. When you do a file sync, the selected files will be synchronized (they'll also be synced when you do a full regular HotSync).

WiFi

Integrated WiFi has been a rarity on Palm brand handhelds and we're thrilled to see both WiFi 801.11b and Bluetooth included in the LifeDrive. To turn WiFi on, tap on the WiFi symbol in the taskbar at the bottom of the home screen or tap on WiFi under Prefs. You can also create new connections and edit existing connections. Set up is very easy: the unit will show you access points within range and walk you through connecting to them. Our LifeDrive quickly found access points in range and had average range compared to other PDAs. It works in both ad hoc and infrastructure mode, supports DHCP and manual IP configuration, short and long preamble. Once you connect to a WiFi network, the device saves the connection information so you need not enter it again. Once connected, you can get basic info about the current connection such as MAC address, channel, IP address, subnet mask, gateway and DNS server addresses.

To conserve power, the LifeDrive automatically turns the radio off after three minutes of network inactivity by default. You may change this to 5, 10 or 15 minutes if you wish. We had no problems with access points re-assigning an IP address even with multiple radio timeouts. The LifeDrive supports WEP (64 and 128 bit) encryption and WPA-PSK. The included CD has links to purchase movianVPN and Mergic VPN software and a link to IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment Java (free download).

How about bandwidth and connection speed? Testing the connection speed at McAfee's site yielded 23.4 Mpbs (2.93 MBps) for a 150k test file and 61.6 Mbps (7.71 MBps) result using a 1.5 meg test file (part 2 of the test). Blazer was in wide page mode for the test. The test tried to send us a 3 meg file but Blazer complained that the cache was full. McAfee starts with a 150k test file and if that downloads in under 1 second it progresses to either the 600k, 1.5 meg or 3 meg test file depending on how fast your connection tested in part 1. They use the larger files in order to provide more accurate results. For comparison, our HP iPAQ hx4700 got 1.17 Mbps (150 KBps) with a 150k test file, and our Windows XP desktop using wired Ethernet on DSL got 249 Mbps with a 3 meg test file. Since the McAfee test is tougher on the browsers' rendering engines, take these results with a grain of salt: the test is really designed for PCs and not mobile devices.

As a more accurate test for PDAs and smartphones we use DSL Reports mobile test which is much easier on the rendering engine and is intended for mobile devices. Using a 600k test file, the LifeDrive managed an average of 1024 kbit/sec. In comparison, the iPAQ hx4700 got 1162 kbit/sec with a 600k test file.

As an excellent added bonus, Palm includes WiFile 1.0LT which allows you to browse network shares to access files on shared folders on your computer(s), including multimedia files. This worked well for us, though we did have one spontaneous soft reset when transferring some 10 meg MPEG1 videos: it finished copying then rebooted, and told us that WiFile had crashed with a Memory Manager line C error. The LifeDrive apparently automatically ran a chkdsk after the reboot, just as a PC would, and saved the log file!

Bluetooth

Got a mobile phone you'd like to use as a wireless modem for the LifeDrive? Or a GPS or Bluetooth keyboard? The LifeDrive has Bluetooth 1.1 and uses Palm's typically friendly Bluetooth software to get you connected. The software worked well and we used Bluetooth to connect to both the Nokia N-Gage QD and the unlocked GSM Treo 650 as a wireless modem and used the Stowaway Universal Bluetooth keyboard with the LifeDrive.

 

Battery Life

The LifeDrive has a 1,660 mAh Lithium Ion battery which is a fairly large capacity battery. While a few PDAs such as the Palm Treo 650 and HP iPAQ hx4700 have even higher capacity 1,800 mAh batteries (the Treo needs it to power the mobile phone radio and the iPAQ needs it to power the bright VGA display and fast CPU), the LifeDrive does well with 1,660 mAh. Given the 3.8" display, fairly fast CPU, dual wireless and MicroDrive, we had our doubts about the LifeDrive's staying power. But after a few charges to condition the battery, the device surprised us with very usable battery life. Those who use wireless connections (especially WiFi) and video playback heavily will need to charge the unit every night, while those who are more into using it as a PDA, MS Office document editor and photo viewer will get 2 to 3 days per charge with daily use. The battery is not user replaceable, which means you'll either need to send it back to Palm for a fresh battery in 2 to 3 years when it fails to hold sufficient charge, or break out the philips head screwdriver and do it yourself with an aftermarket replacement battery. This also means that you won't be able to swap in a spare battery in the field when not near a charger. Thankfully, the LifeDrive charges very quickly when you are near a charger.

As a test, I surfed the web for 1.5 hours, watched videos for 40 minutes, viewed 50 images from an SD card, played games (Billiards, Bejeweled 2 and Trivial Pursuit) for 1 hour total, wrote an MS Word document in Documents To Go (25 minutes) and listened to 40 minutes worth of MP3s with the screen on during playback and had 38% battery remaining. Not bad for a device with an internal hard drive. We got 6 hours of continuous MP3 playback with the screen turned off and watching a two hour video with brightness set to 66% used 50% of the battery's charge (we used headphones with both tests).

Conclusion

A bold new offering, that goes for a different kind of convergence. Rather than meshing a phone with a PDA, the LifeDrive merges the PDA, hard disk-based MP3 player, photo viewer and portable video player into one machine. The name LifeDrive says it all: a device with a hard drive that's a part of your lifestyle (we're not sure that Mobile Manager says much of anything). Of course it will help you keep track of your contacts, appointments and tasks too, and you can use it to access the Internet and work with MS Office documents. Add in integrated WiFi 801.11b and Bluetooth and you've got quite a package for $449.

Pro: Lot and lots of space to store documents, applications, MP3s, photos and videos. It's amazing how much you'll want to throw on this device once you experience the freedom 4 gigs provides. The 320 x 480 display, supporting both portrait and landscape modes is higher resolution than most portable video players' and is great for photo viewing. Excellent companion to a digital camera that uses SD cards. The excellent Pocket Tunes is included for your MP3 listening pleasure and sound through headphones is both good and loud. The desktop software makes it easy to transfer files, convert video and keep documents in sync. Works as a removable mass storage device, and you can use it like a flash drive with any computer that has a USB port (no driver required, just bring your cable). Wifi means fast wireless Internet access, and Bluetooth allows you to connect to your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone, GPS, keyboard and more. Battery life is quite good given the processor speed, large display and internal hard disk. The unit charges quickly. Data is persistent and will survive battery rundowns.

Con: Battery isn't user replaceable so you can't swap in a spare on the road. There's a short delay when programs are launched (average of 2 seconds), though it's by no means unbearable.

Price: $399 (priced dropped from $499 in Jan. 2006, price dropped from $449 to $399 in March 2006)

Web Site: www.palm.com

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD. 65K colors, screen size diag: 3.8". Resolution: 320 x 480, supports both portrait and landscape modes and can rotate screen orientation on the fly.

Battery: 1660 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA 270 416 MHz processor. 64 MB program memory (a hard drive partition that functions like RAM in other Palm OS PDAs). 4 gig MicroDrive with 3.85 gigs available. 16 megs ROM (where OS is permanently installed). 32 megs of RAM (not used for storage, rather used like RAM on your computer). USB 2.0 sync port.

Size: 4.76 x 2.87 x .74 inches. Weight: 6.8 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and MP3 player included (Pocket Tunes).

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b and Bluetooth 1.1.

Software: Palm OS 5.4.8 (Garnet).
Desktop software: Palm Desktop for Mac and Windows included. Windows have the option to sync to MS Outlook if preferred. LifeDrive Manager (Windows only) for browsing the contents of the 4 gig hard drive and copying/converting/syncing files. Drive Mode for using the LifeDrive as a removable mass storage device. Rhapsody (desktop MP3 app).

LifeDrive software: PalmOne software: Media, Blazer 4.1 web browser, VersaMail 3.1, Addit, Files (file manager), Favorites (launcher) and Camera Companion. PIM applications: Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, Memos. Also Notes (for handwritten notes and drawings), Calculator, Expense, World Clock, Card Info, Dialer, SMS, eReader. 3rd Party software: Document To Go 7 (for working with MS Office documents), Pocket Tunes MP3 player, Handmark Solitaire, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Audible Player, eReader (ebook reader).

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, supporting SD, SDIO and MMC cards.

 

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