- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The folks at Palm Inc. just keep cranking out those hand-held devices, it seems. Well, at least they do every six months or so, and last week the firm offered two new products: the $299 Zire 71 that includes a built-in camera, and the $549 Tungsten C, designed for business users, that incorporates a built-in keyboard and built-in 802.11b wireless networking also known as Wi-Fi.
   The Zire 71 is a consumer-oriented device, even though it may have some uses in business. Unlike the Tungsten series of Palm computers, the Zire is more square in appearance and lacks the business-oriented features, including communications, that the other range incorporates.
   The Zire 71 has 16 megabytes of internal memory and a SecureDigital, or SD, card slot for extra storage. SD cards with up to 256 MB are currently available from SanDisk. On March 13, SanDisk announced the development of 512 MB and 1 gigabyte cards, which will be in stores later this year.
   According to SanDisk, the 1 GB SD card can store up to 30 hours of digitally compressed music, more than 320 minutes of MPEG-4 compressed video or more than 1,000 high-resolution digital images. As the Zire 71’s camera stores lower-resolution (640-by-480 pixel) images, the number of pictures that could be stored might be substantially higher.
   Having such storage options is important because the Zire 71 also features a built-in RealOne audio player for MP3 songs and other audio files, as well as an Audible software player for audio books and magazines. Thus, in a shirt-pocket-sized device, a user can have a camera, a music player, a talking-book player and, yes, a PDA, too.
   That’s a whole lot of power for a tiny device, and in performance the Zire 71 accomplishes its tasks well. The snapshots probably are best for e-mail or a family Web site, as opposed to a newsmagazine’s cover. But a realtor “showing” houses to an out-of-town client, someone hoping to have their heirloom evaluated on a TV antiques program, or even a person selling castoffs on EBay could do far worse than this device’s picture-taking capability.
   The audio players work just fine with the supplied stereo headphones, although I’d probably want to have charging/docking cradles at home and at work to keep the lithium-ion battery topped off.
   The SD slot is a clincher for me; having the ability to store photos or data or music or all three on a single, postage-stamp-sized card, is a plus. I’d like to see either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networking available, but SD cards with such features are said to be in the works.
   While the Tungsten C has the SD card slot, it also 64 MB of RAM built in. I could carry quite a bit in terms of documents and data into a meeting, and then turn around and check my e-mail using the built-in Wi-Fi connection. There’s a built-in “thumb-board” for typing, and an optional, $99 keyboard offers real touch-typing. Like the Zire, and like other Tungsten units, the C has an SD card slot as well.
   The Tungsten C’s Wi-Fi capability, combined with the extra RAM, makes this a good enterprise computing tool. Those users of wireless networks with a “WEP” (or wireless encryption protocol) key will need to have that key programmed into the device, but once accomplished, all should work well.
   The new color screen of the Tungsten C is “transflective,” meaning it works well indoors and outdoors. While the small screen isn’t really suited to writing, say, a history of the Roman Empire, it’s certainly more than adequate for handling e-mail.
   I’ve said before that hand-held devices such as these can often supplant a full-sized notebook computer on road trips. These two new ones, and particularly the Tungsten C, are providing even more capability than was seen a year or two ago for the same price.

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