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PalmOne Zire 72

The ideal consumer PDA?

Reg Review PalmOne Zire 72

When I reviewed the PalmOne's previous consumer-oriented multimedia PDA, the Zire 71, last October, little did I realise that the company would replace it in six months' time. But that's what it has done, dropping the 71 in favour of a new model, the 72. The 71 was a nice machine, and it's good to report that its successor is no mere tweak of the specifications but a major revision that not only eliminates almost all of the limitations of its forebear but manages to offer something new.

The 72 is fractionally larger than the 71 - the new one's 11.7 x 7.5 x 1.7cm - though certainly more curvaceous. Both models weight 136g (4.8oz). While the 72 retains the line's trademark blue and silver colour scheme, this time round the metallic sheen has been replaced with a matt, rubbery feel, presumably to further widen the gap between the Zire series and PalmOne's executive-oriented. It also gives it a more rugged look and feel, though whether it will prove more robust over time than the 71 remains to be seen.

PalmOne Zire 72In place of the 71's joystick control, the 72 adopts the five-way navigator common to other PalmOne devices and replaces the original's linear array of application buttons with two rows of two - a big improvement for folk who want to hold the device in one hand and control it with a single thumb.

Camera obscura

Gone too is the 71's slider mechanism, which separated the front and the back of the device sufficiently to expose its rear-mounted digicam. While the slider neatly protected the camera's lens from scratches, too few consumers realised that there was a camera behind it. Upgraded to a 1280 x 960 resolution (1.2 megapixels) from the original's 640 x 480, the digicam is now rather bigger and its electric razor-like steel mesh casing bulges from the back of the device in a way not indicated by most of PalmOne's publicity shots, which make the 72 appear thinner than it is. Fortunately, the camera casing looks more bulky than it is, but still comes as a surprise after the smoothly curved 71.

The camera is activated using one of the application buttons - the others call up the calendar, contacts and RealNetworks' RealOne MP3 player applications. The Camera app provides the usual resolution control, allowing you to, say, drop back to 640 x 480 to increase the number of shots the PDA can hold, and take similarly limited-only-by-memory video footage at up to 320 x 240. The software also allows you to activate the device's 2x digital zoom.

Picture quality is surprisingly good, and the camera upgrade makes a big difference to how your shots will look. The change puts some clear blue water between the 72 and most camera phones, although they too will see upgrades going forward.

That's all much as you'd expect, but PalmOne has shown some real savvy with the Zire 72's camera. Realising that quite a few pictures end up in other applications, it has integrated digicam functionality directly into those ones too. Now that Contacts supports pictures, if you want to add a photo of an individual to his or her entry in your contacts database, you no longer have to take the picture, save it and then import into Contacts, you can do it directly.

Next page: Under the hood

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