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Palm Zire 21


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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.

Palm Zire 21
back of Palm Zire 21


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.

Palm Zire 21  in package

Zire Package



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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.

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List Price: $99

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Display: 160 x 160 pixels. 16 shades of gray and no backlighting.

Performance: 126 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.

Size: 4.4 x 2.9 x 0.6 in., 3.8 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker for alarms.

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion

Software: Palm 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.

Modem/Wireless: None included.


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