PalmOne Zire 31

Colouring the consumer PDA market

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Again, RealOne Player was developed with 16-bit colour displays in mind, so its interface is horribly dithered under the 31's more basic screen. Playback sounds fine through the 31's tiny speaker, but earphones reveal a constant background hiss that's rather disappointing. It's not there on my Tungsten T - and it shouldn't be here. I found the same issue with the Zire 72, and while PalmOne continues to tout both devices for their music playback ability, it needs to make finding and releasing a fix a priority.

The 31 comes with 16MB of RAM, of which 14MB are available to the user. It's not a huge amount but certainly enough for the most complex of calendars and bulging contact books. There should be plenty of room left over for applications and photos, especially ones pre-formatted and scaled for the 31's display.

Indeed, it's really just that display and the lack of a digicam that separates the Zire 31 from the old Zire 71, which makes its $149/£130 price tag so appealing. Only the lesser battery life makes the extra $50/£50 you pay for the 31 over the 21 seem less than a good deal. The similar £50 saving can be had over the channel's remaining stocks of 71s, and that's a saving worth making. However, the 31 looks less attractive against the sleek $199/£150 Tungsten E - I'd happily trade the 31's faster CPU and more up-to-date OS for the E's 320 x 320 display.

Performance

PalmOne Zire 31That 200MHz does make a difference, but how relevant that's likely to be to the target market remains to be seen. The numbers are good, with the 31 pushing well past the Tungsten T but falling short of the Zire 72.

It completed Speedy 3.4's benchmark tests in 1.27s, compared to 0.86s for the 72 and 3.21 for the T. Separating out the three component tests, the 31 scored 0.77s, 0.18s and 0.32s for the calculation, memory and graphics tests. The 72's numbers were 0.49s, 0.12s and 0.25s, respectively.

Kinoma Player provides a more real-world test. Kinoma's results with our 1.4MB, 25.6s test movie played out of system memory as fast as possible yielded 86.48fps for the T, a massive 487.88fps for the 72 and a very reasonable 155.4fps for the 31 - not, though, that you could see much of what was going on.

Like the other machines, the 31's colour display makes short work of the device's 900mAh battery. Time allowed with the machine prevented a full-scale timing test, but keeping the backlight set to low will boost life beyond the 30 per cent decline we experienced over three hours of almost continuous use - which makes for the 'charge a day' pattern of most colour handhelds.

Verdict

The Zire 31 is certainly a welcome addition to the Zire line. There's no doubt that colour is better than monochrome, though there's an inevitable - and large - trade-off to be made in battery life when you move to a colour display. PalmOne has at least neatly positioned the various Zires so there's no longer a high end or low end, all or nothing choice. Only the presence of the Tungsten E, slightly more expensive but with a much better screen, muddies matters.

Crucially, though, the 31 is the cheaper option, and despite some initial reservations, I found the screen not to be the deal breaker I thought it might have been. It's not a multimedia device - the poor MP3 quality and the display guarantee that - but for showing a handful of family snaps it will suffice. But colour does improve the device's PIM apps, and since they're the focal point for customers of the original Zire, the 21 and now the 31, the new model is sure to find itself in the hands of happy owners. ®

PalmOne Zire 31
 
Rating 75%
 
Pros — Good price
— Decent colour display
 
Cons — Still competition coming from the Tungsten E
— Poor MP3 playback quality
 
Price $149/£130
 
More info The PalmOne Zire 31 website

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