$100 Palm's battery recharges

October 31, 2002|By Jon Fortt | Jon Fortt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

There's a lot to like about the Zire, Palm's first handheld computer to make its debut at $100.

The Zire holds contact information. It holds appointments. It shares data with a Windows PC or Mac. It sports a rechargeable battery that lasts through a week with heavy use, and probably through several weeks of infrequent use.

It's a great device for a busy person who wants to get organized and has access to a computer.

That said, the Zire is not perfect. The screen is not back-lighted, which makes it unreadable in low-light conditions. Also, the plastic cover can interfere with one-handed operation.

And, the small black-and-white screen, the same size as that of a Palm predecessor, the m105, might strain older eyes.

The Zire's main competitors are the m105, available in some places for less than $100; the Handspring Visor line, with models from $80 to $200; and the Sony Clie SL10, $150.

Much of the Zire's advantage over its low-end competition comes from the its lightweight and rechargeable battery.

The Zire's advantage over more expensive products is its price - it's just about affordable for many people to buy on a whim.

With the Zire, Palm is bringing its basic design idea to a low-end device, only with white plastic instead of brushed metal for its case, which is rectangular with rounded edges and sports-car lines.

David Christopher, the Palm manager in charge of handhelds, said a New York fashion magazine told him "white is the new black" - meaning white is the color that goes with everything.

The Zire's monochrome screen isn't great, but it will do. If your eyes are good, its small size and lack of illumination won't be a problem. If not, this could be a deal breaker. The only way to be sure is to test a Zire in the store and find out for yourself.

The Zire has more than enough storage to accommodate most users' contacts and appointments in 2 megabytes of built-in memory.

The rechargeable battery is unique in an entry-level product. Devices that sell for less than $150 tend to use AAA batteries, which last a month or so and have to be replaced - an extra expense and a hassle.

The product does lack expandability - there is no convenient way to add memory or other attachments - but if the Zire proves popular with consumers, third-party companies are bound to find a way to create add-on products.

Another smart move by Palm: The Zire's packaging is compact and shelf-friendly, like a music player's. Also, it has easy-to-follow directions that fold out into a poster. That's perfect for some of the locations where Palm hopes to sell Zires - Kmart, Target, Radio Shack.

In all, Palm did a good job with this product: It works as a first-time handheld, or even as a second-string device if your main one fails. If you're looking for an expandable gadget, however, check the Palm m125 or Sony Clie SL10, each of which comes with 8MB of storage, expansion slots and a $150 price.

Information: www.palm .com.

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