Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Palm gets back to basics with Zire handheld


By Steve Niles

A year ago, the challenge was put to Palm's product designers to design a new handheld model that could be priced below $100 in order to appeal to budget-conscious consumers. The result of this labor was revealed on October 7, 2002 in the form of Palm's new Zire handheld (at http://palm.com/zire), pictured in Figure A.


The Zire takes handheld design back to basics. (click for larger image)

Besides the color, the most obvious design change is the elimination of the To Do and Note Pad hardware buttons. According to Palm, "The new two-button design focuses on what matters to first-time users: Address Book and Date Book." Interesting theory, but unless the change somehow contributed significantly to bringing the price down, it seems superfluous. It may even prove frustrating, seeing as how certain games utilize the buttons as controllers.

So what about the color, then? Unlike Palm's previous low-end models, the Palm m100 series devices, the Zire, does not have an interchangeable faceplate. It features a permanent gleaming white front with a silver back. We're pretty used to our Palm handhelds coming in gray or black, so where the heck did this come from? Well, apparently more thought went into it than you might imagine. Says Palm, "The color had to work worldwide and transcend regional and cultural perceptions. In honor of strong international sentiment at the time of the re-design, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Palm chose a modern white and silver combination to symbolize a new beginning."

So much for the cosmetic changes. Let's get down to details.

The Zire is being touted as the "lightest-weight Palm handheld on the market," weighing a feathery 3.8 ounces. It measures 4.4 inches x 2.9 inches x 6.6 inches and comes with a removable flip lid made from a translucent rubberized material called elastromeric. The lid protects the handheld's 160 x 160 monochrome display screen. The Zire has an infrared port and a rechargeable battery, and it uses Palm OS v4.1 with a Motorola Dragonball EZ 16MHz processor.

Zire is a truly bare-bones device, featuring a mere 2MB of memory and no expansion capability. It's got all the "classic" Palm applications, Date Book, Address Book, Note Pad, and To Do List, and it comes with four interactive games: Puzzle, Minehunt, Giraffe, and Hardball. The device ships with Palm Desktop software for both Windows and Mac as well as Chapura PocketMirror software (at http://www.chapura.com) for connectivity to Microsoft Outlook.

Who would desire a Zire?

So, some of you long-time Palm handheld users might be seeing this device as a step back for Palm. Well, if you're a long-time Palm handheld user, the Zire wasn't meant for you. This is clearly aimed at non-techies, people who never considered purchasing one of those new-fangled electronic personal organizers before. Basically, everything we said when the Palm m100 was first released could be applied to the Zire.