capsule review

PalmOne Zire 31

At a Glance
  • Palm Zire 31

PalmOne Zire 31
Photograph: Rick Rizner

PalmOne Zire 31

With monochrome Zires now available for as little as $69 for the original model or $99 for the newer Zire 21, the Zire 31's $149 price tag may seem a bit high for a basic Palm unit. But PalmOne throws in a lot for the $50 premium over the Zire 21: It buys you a color screen, double the memory (16MB), an SD card slot (missing on the monochrome Zires), a built-in MP3 player, and improved address and datebook apps.

It's not the best-made handheld we've ever seen, though. The first unit we tried had hardware connectivity problems (the USB connection came and went), but PalmOne quickly replaced it with a unit that worked just fine. The color display is a passive-matrix LCD with 160-by-160-pixel resolution; it washes out in bright sunshine, and in general is noticeably inferior in quality to the bright, high-resolution (320-by-320-pixel) active-matrix screen you get on the $199 Tungsten E, for example.

Still, it's a vast improvement over the Zire 21's monochrome screen-especially for use after dark, since the Zire 21 has no backlight. The Zire 31's new slate-blue case front (similar in color to the more expensive Zire 71 and 72) looks classier than the plain white of the Zire 21. We also like the rubbery, semitranslucent flip cover that protects the screen.

Extra memory is always a plus on a handheld, but the Zire 31's SD slot is an even bigger bonus. With an SD card full of MP3s and the bundled RealOne audio player, you can use the Zire 31 as a portable MP3 player. Just plug in your headphones, or use the device's built-in speaker if you must (the sound quality isn't great, but it's not much worse than what we've heard from other PDAs). Alternatively, you can run applications from an SD card, or even add peripherals, since the slot supports the SDIO hardware interface.

PalmOne has upgraded the datebook and address book applications (now known as Calendar and Contacts, respectively). Calendar has a new Agenda view, which shows upcoming appointments against a customizable photo background. Contacts can accommodate more fields (the older version had limited room for multiple phone numbers or addresses) and can even incorporate a photo.

To help new PDA users (for whom this model was designed), PalmOne has bundled--along with the standard Palm OS apps--a nice selection of software, such as a basic personal finance manager, a simple database application with some samples (for tracking birthdays, car maintenance, movie rentals, and more), and even that old PC standby, Solitaire. An application called Addit offers you a chance to try out (and then buy) some other programs, but users should shop around online before buying: Since more than 20,000 apps are available for the Palm OS, you may find better software or better deals elsewhere.

It's something of a splurge for a basic PDA, but the Zire 31 has some very desirable features, including the lowest-priced color screen to date on a Palm-based handheld.

Yardena Arar

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At a Glance
  • Palm Zire 31

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