PalmOne last week introduced two new color models of its consumer handhelds, the Zire 31 and Zire 72, along with a long-awaited maintenance update to its Mac desktop software, Palm Desktop 4.2.1.
Zire 31 — When the company released its first Zire handheld in 2002, it appeared to be a step backwards (see "Palm Offers Low-price, No-frills Zire Handheld" in TidBITS-652). While other personal organizers were gaining faster processors, color screens, and improved networking capabilities, the Zire arrived with specifications akin to the original Pilot, such as 2 MB of memory and a monochrome screen (with no backlight). To everyone’s surprise (except for Palm), the Zire was a hit, tapping into the fact that many people primarily use their handhelds to keep track of contacts and calendars. The fact that the Zire (and later, the slightly upgraded Zire 21) cost only $100 was also instrumental in its success.
Now, PalmOne believes that even cost-conscious users are willing to pay a little more for a better handheld, while keeping the Zire’s streamlined feature set. For $150, the Zire 31 features a color screen capable of displaying thousands of colors, 16 MB of memory, Palm OS 5.2.8, an expansion slot that accepts MultiMediaCard/SD cards, and the 5-way Navigator control (which replaces the scroll-up and scroll-down buttons) found on the company’s other recent handhelds. The Zire 31 also includes a rechargeable lithium ion polymer battery, a fairly speedy 200 MHz Intel ARM-based processor, and a stereo headphone jack to use the device as an MP3 audio player. Like previous Zire models, this one uses a standard mini-USB cable to synchronize with the computer, versus the Universal Connector port found on the Tungsten line of devices.
Zire 72 — If it weren’t for a similar physical design, you might wonder how the Zire 72 can be legitimately grouped with the Zire 31. For $300, the Zire 72 is PalmOne’s consumer multimedia handheld. It features a high-resolution color screen (16-bit color in a 320 by 320 pixel area), 32 MB of memory, a 312 MHz Intel PXA270 processor, Palm OS 5.2.8, headphone jack, expansion slot, rechargeable battery, and mini-USB HotSync cable. Unlike the Zire 71, which it replaces, the Zire 72 includes built-in Bluetooth wireless networking (which I use almost exclusively to synchronize the data on my Tungsten T and PowerBook G4 – one less cable to carry around!), and a built-in voice recorder.
The Zire 72 will also appeal to the image conscious: not because it’s attractively designed (it is), but because it includes an integrated 1.2 megapixel digital camera capable of taking images at 1280 by 960 pixels. (The camera also boasts a 2x digital zoom, but in my experience digital zoom serves only to make otherwise decent images blurry.) The camera can also capture video at 320 by 240 pixels; however, currently the video is saved in ASF format, and can’t be played back on a Mac without a third-party utility such as MPlayer.
Palm Desktop 4.2.1 — Many Palm users who upgraded to Mac OS X 10.3 Panther discovered that Palm Desktop refused to work properly. After several months, a new version of Palm Desktop is available that fixes the permissions issue that caused the problem. The download also includes version 3.1 of the Send to Handheld droplet, which facilitates the transfer of image and audio files from the Mac to the handheld. Palm Desktop 4.2.1 is a free 12.1 MB download, but unfortunately you need to fill out a form, receive an email from PalmOne containing a URL to click, and agree to a legal form that appears in a pop-up window in order to download the installer. Or, if you have trouble getting the email from PalmOne, just use the second link below.
PalmOne has also released a separate utility for users of Mac OS X 10.2 or 10.3 who ran into an Access Denied error after installing iSync 2.1. The PalmOne Permission Fixer, a 20K download, corrects the permissions of the folders that contain the HotSync conduit files (which dictate how data is synchronized between the Mac and the handheld’s expansion card).
Continued Support for the Mac — Lastly, PalmOne expressed its ongoing support of the Mac platform when the new Zire handhelds were released. In an interview with MacCentral, Stéphane Maes, PalmOne’s senior product line manager for handhelds reiterated support for the Mac platform for future PalmOne devices, saying, "We will continue to meet Mac users’ needs regardless of what OS we’re running."
In February 2004, PalmSource (the spin-off company that now handles Palm OS development) demonstrated Palm OS Cobalt, the next version of the handheld operating system and let slip that Mac synchronization would no longer be supported. Independent Mac developer Mark/Space took advantage of the news and announced that the next version of its Missing Sync utility would provide that synchronization and more (see "PalmSource to Drop Mac Support in Palm OS Cobalt" in TidBITS-717).
It’s not yet clear if that support will come in the form of updated Palm Desktop software, the licensing of Missing Sync, or some entirely new solution, but it is heartening to hear that the Mac community won’t be left out in the cold as the Palm platform advances.