By Columnist
updated 4/28/2004 7:48:59 AM ET 2004-04-28T11:48:59

When the keepers of the flame — the people at Pa1mOne (formerly known just as Palm) —decide to release two new handheld computers on the same day it’s a very big deal. And today’s announcement of two new color devices is no exception. 

Introducing the Zire 31 and the Zire 72: Both run on the latest version of the Palm operating system (version 5.2.8), add improvements to earlier models and break a little ground of their own.

I loved the original Zire (now $79) and its slightly more powerful brother, the Zire 21 ($99).  Despite being black-and-white bare-bones devices, they served (and continue to serve) a huge purpose: getting handheld computers into as many hands as possible, at the lowest price possible. You give up some features compared to more expensive models but you get a fully-functioning computer. Both have been big sellers.

How do you make the 21 better? First, add color. The new Zire 31 has a 160 by 160 pixels STN display with contrast and brightness controls. Kick it up a notch with a 200Mhz Intel ARM processor and a boost to 16MB of memory. Then improve the PIM (Personal Information Management) software. Add an MP3 and photo viewing software, a SD/SDIO card expansion slot plus a stereo headphone jack and you start to understand that Pa1mOne is very serious about their lower-end devices.

The Zire 31 is 4.4 by 2.9 by 0.6 inches and weighs 4.1 ounces. The 900mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery is said to last for days. HotSync is accomplished via the mini-USB slot.  Plus, despite any rumors you may have heard, Palm Desktop synch software for both PCs and Macs is included. It’s only some advanced features that are PC only.

Here’s the best part: you should be able to buy a Zire 31 for less than $150 -- that’s electronics industry speak for $149. Overall, a lot of handheld for a very small price. 

The Zire 72 is the successor to the very popular Zire 71. As with the Zire 31 Pa1mOne has added a bunch of new interesting features to this improved model in addition to keeping popular ones from the older device:

  • 312 MHz Intel PXA270 ARM-based processor
  • 32 MB of memory

All in all, a whole lot of stuff built into such a small (4.6 by 2.95 by 0.67 inches, 4.8 ounces) device.  Special mention must be made of the extra-sharp color screen which makes your digital photos come to life. With an asking price of $299, the Zire 72 seems to be to be a pretty good deal.

Speaking of price, the Zire 71 will still be available (although at a somewhat lower price) as will the earlier Zire and Zire 21 models. Both new handhelds should continue Pa1mOne’s recent successful string of bringing worthwhile PDAs to the masses.

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