The Zire 71 could be described as an attempt by Palm to â€˜do a Sonyâ€™ and come up with a PDA primarily suited to leisure users who are looking for a multimedia rich PDA experience.
The rather jazzy hardware design has the kind of looks that should appeal less to a business user and more to a consumer. The blue casing is unusual in these days of shiny silvery PDAs, and the rounded edges add a certain panache. The same can be said for the built-in digital stills camera, which youâ€™d never know was present at first glance. To reveal its lens you need to slide the upper and lower parts of the casing away from each other. Only then does the lens show up, on the back of the casing, with the shutter button on the front. Itâ€™s very clever and provides solid lens protection to boot. When the lens is revealed the Zire 71â€™s screen turns into a viewfinder. Youâ€™ll need a steady hand to capture images, though, as this camera doesnâ€™t cope well with the shakes. Three resolutions are available: 160 x 120, 320 x 240 and 640 x 480 pixels.
Palm provides its own image browsing software on the ROM, but you arenâ€™t so lucky with the RealOne MP3 playing software which has to be installed to RAM.
The specifications of this member of the Palm stable are average rather than outstanding. Just 13MB of the installed 16MB RAM is available for your applications and data, and you may well find yourself needing SD cards for music and image storage fairly soon after purchase. The processor is a Texas Instruments OMAP, which is not at the cutting edge, but we felt that it didnâ€™t let us down any on test.
The only thing we actively dislike about this PDA is the mini joystick that is the directional cursor. Itâ€™s just too fiddly to use for extended periods, and as there is no alternative (the sides of the casing are devoid of scroll wheel and other buttons to allow for the sliding action required by the camera), you really must be able to get the most out of it to be productive.
Battery performance was not too bad at all. Palm quotes a life of up to a week, though this is always dependent on what you want to do with the machine. We ran BatteryBench at its full power setting and managed to achieve four hours and 45 minutes of life before the battery shut down, which is certainly respectable. That said, battery life will be lessened if you devote a lot of your PDA time to power hungry activities like MP3 playing and like to keep the backlight on too.
If you want a built in camera and must have a device from Palm, then your choice is limited to a range of one â€“ this one. But note that youâ€™ll need a steady hand â€“ a number of our test shots were a bit on the blurred side. If you are a Palm hardware fan and arenâ€™t that bothered about the camera, weâ€™d suggest you consider finding a few more pounds if you can and going for the Tungsten T3 with its vastly greater memory and more advanced features all round.