First Look: PalmOne's Lively New LifeDrive

At a Glance
  • Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager PDA (416MHz, SD/MMC/SDIO Card, Palm OS v5.4)

PalmOne's new LifeDrive packs almost everything you'd want from a laptop--document editing, e-mail access, and plenty of storage for photos and MP3s--into a package not much larger than a typical early MP3 player. I tested a preproduction model of this $499 device that's sure to turn some heads.

At its heart, the Life Drive is a PalmOS PDA with the same controls, expansion slots, and basic applications you've come to expect from a Tungsten or Treo. The downside to the device: it's a tweener--too big to easily fit in a pocket, and too small storagewise to qualify as a substitute for a video or MP3 player.

The "Drive" in the LifeDrive is a built-in 4GB Microdrive, which holds a full slate of contacts, documents, and e-mails, with enough space left over to store 1000 full-resolution photos, a video or two, and a few CDs worth of music. Built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and a beautiful 320-by-480 color display round out the package.

Software includes DocumentsToGo, which lets you view and edit most office docs you'll need, and Exchange ActiveSync, which lets you check your Outlook e-mail.

New applications written for the LifeDrive highlight its capabilities. The PC-based LifeDrive Manager lets you keep whole folders in sync, and gives you the option to resize photos and video to save space. On the device itself, a file browser lets you view files in a Windows Explorer-like fashion, and a new Drive Mode turns the LifeDrive into a USB mass storage device.

Audio, Video: Mixed Results

With a crisp, colorful screen and a one-button landscape mode, the LifeDrive should excel as a video player. But while the clips I watched looked decent enough, playback wasn't completely smooth, even on clips that exhibited some noticeable compression artifacts.

As an MP3 player, the LifeDrive is all potential. Music sounded quite good through my Sony MDR-v900 headphones, though the headphone jack is awkwardly located on the bottom of the device. An app called PTunes lets you build playlists, play MP3s, and supports Rhapsody To Go, but it doesn't take advantage of the many ways you could organize music with a PDA's touch screen.

An app called Camera Companion is where the LifeDrive really shines. Camera Companion turns the LifeDrive into a mobile storage repository for your digital camera photos. Fill up your SD card with photos, then slot it into the LifeDrive to offload the photos and reformat the card.

It's a bit quicker and a lot lighter than carrying around a laptop or portable hard drive for the same purpose. In fact, that's probably the way the Life Drive is most useful. It's just barely capable enough to fill in for your laptop when you don't want to tote a notebook-size machine around.


To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager PDA (416MHz, SD/MMC/SDIO Card, Palm OS v5.4)

Shop Tech Products at Amazon