Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Palm’s triple play


By David Gewirtz

Last week, Palm introduced three new Palm OS-based handhelds, the Zire 21, the Tungsten E, and the Tungsten T3, shown in Figure A. We've had all three in-house here at Computing Unplugged for some time, and we're ready to tell you what we think.


The Tungsten T3 sports a very cool, very large screen. (click for larger image)

In a moment, we'll go into detail about each model. Each model is quite nice, and we were most pleasantly surprised by the pricing, which is in tune with the rest of the handheld industry and provides good value for the money spent.

Did Palm hit a home run with these devices? No. There are still some complaints and issues we have with each unit. But we can say they hit a solid triple. In technology marketing, as in baseball, a good triple is something for which you can be very proud.

We were most impressed by the overall feature set of the Tungsten T3, very impressed at the price/performance of the Tungsten E, and substantially less so by the budget-priced Zire 21. As a result, we'll save the best for last and start our review with the Zire 21.

The Zire 21

The Zire 21 upgrades Palm's very popular $99 Zire product. The original Zire can now be considered retired, although you can still get some very good deals on it if you look around. We found the original Zire on the Palm Web site for as low as $79, and below $50 in various eBay auctions.

The new Zire 21, shown in Figure B, adds some new software, but most important, adds memory. The original Zire had 2MB of onboard RAM, while the Zire 21 is an 8MB machine.


The new Zire 21 is a nice replacement for the original Zire. (click for larger image)

In general, we like the machine. It fits well in the hand, looks quite nice for it's low price, and doesn't feel "cheap." However, we also have a few minor complaints and one measurable complaint.

Let's kick it off with the big reason you might want to think twice about buying the Zire 21: there's no backlight. None at all. And the screen, while readable, isn't that readable, even in regular room light. Further, it was quite difficult to read in the car at night, even with the internal car lighting on.

Because of this, we're going to strongly recommend you spend the extra hundred dollars and get the new Tungsten E, which we'll review next. It's got an absolutely amazing screen and you get so very much more for the addition of a hundred bucks.

We also found Palm V handhelds, as well as other fine vintage Palm handhelds, available on eBay for under $100. So if you are on a budget and can't go the extra Franklin, you might want to consider shopping for an older, but better equipped device on eBay.