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I can still vividly remember the day that the original US Robotics Pilot landed on my desk. At a time when Psion ruled the PDA roost, and the Apple Newton had pretty much fallen flat on its face, the Pilot rewrote the rule book and rekindled market interest in the PDA.
The Pilot was revolutionary in as much as it didn’t have a keyboard, but didn’t require hours of handwriting training like the Apple Newton. Introducing Graffiti as the preferred form of input, the Pilot allowed users to get up and running after only a brief time with the device, making it instantly attractive.
Many years have passed since I first pushed the HotSync button on my original Pilot cradle, and the name Pilot has long been forgotten by most modern PDA users. But I mention my original experience because sitting in front of me today is the latest descendant of that ground breaking PDA, and it seemed only fitting to pay a small homage to the great granddaddy of PalmOS.
Right, now that I’ve got the rose tinted reminiscing out of the way, I can get on with the job at hand. The palmOne Zire 72 is a brand new, consumer focussed PDA. Unlike the majority of PDAs that are finished in some kind of metallic silver, the Zire 72 is a bit more frivolous. The main body is finished in a rubberised blue substance that gives a pleasant tactile feel, as well as a solid grip. Much as I like metallic finishes, such devices do have a habit of slipping out of your hand at the most inopportune moments.
It has to be said that the Zire 72 is a good looking device, and pretty much every aspect of the design gels beautifully with everything else. What wins me over though, is the fact that this little PDA isn’t over-designed - nothing is more complicated than it has to be. The stylus for example, simply slides into its slot on the right hand side of the chassis. There’s no spring-loaded, telescopic tom-foolery – it simply slides into place and sits there snugly until it’s needed, at which point it slides effortlessly free.
Although I was one of the pioneering Palm users, last year my allegiance switched to the Pocket PC camp when I bought myself an HP iPAQ h5450. My main reasons for buying the iPAQ were its stylish design and the fact that it had both integrated Bluetooth and WiFi. It has to be said however, that next to the Zire 72, my old iPAQ looks enormous.
So, could I think about casting my iPAQ aside and seriously consider this little Zire instead? Well not really because the Zire doesn’t have integrated WiFi, but to be honest, that’s about the only shortcoming of this little device. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s cover the basics.
Driving the Zire 72 is a 312MHz ARM-based processor. Now, this may not be as fast as the 400MHz processors seen in a lot of Pocket PC devices, but PalmOS is nowhere near as process-intensive as Pocket PC. So, while I find myself having to soft-reset my iPAQ several times a day to clear out any process hogging apps that might be hanging around, I didn’t once have to resort to such action on the Zire. The processor is backed up by 32MB of memory, but only 24MB of that is available for user storage. But fear not, there is an SD card slot, so you can expand the memory pretty much ad infinitum. The slot is also SDIO compatible, so you could quite easily add WiFi to the Zire 72’s list of features, making it all the more attractive to me once more.