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A Palm for the masses

Palm unveils a $99 handheld in a bid to woo those still using pen and paper to keep track of their appointments.
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It’s simply a matter of economics. As is the case with nearly every kind of personal electronics, prices have plummeted over the years as technology improves. So, why not with organizers? Palm now has something to say about that. Enter the Zire: its first device to hit the streets priced under $100.

InsertArt(1653127)EVEN WITH THE LARGE number of handheld computers that Palm and other manufacturers have sold over the years, there are still tens of millions of people who might be using one, but don’t. This is Palm’s attempt to reach out to those first-time users, speaking to them in a language they’ll understand.

The new Palm Zire was conceived for all the people in the world who don’t use an electronic organizer. All those staunch Filofax fanatics who would never think of giving up pen and paper for LCD screen and stylus. Palm did a lot of research on this and found what they believe is a huge market for a device of this type. For the record, the name Zire stands for nothing in particular. It was just a good name that no one has staked a claim to.

The Zire is a basic Palm organizer. On the outside it’s 4.4 by 2.9 by 0.6 inches and 3.8 ounces - the smallest Palm available. There’s a standard 160 by 160 pixel black-and-white display with no backlighting. Bottom buttons have been reduced to Date Book, Address Book and scroll up and down. Palm wants no one to be confused. There’s also an infrared port on top for those adventure-loving folks who might want to “beam” some secret information to one another. There’s a cute plastic flip-up cover/protector which folds back out of the way when you’re using the screen.

Inside there’s a 16MHz Motorola Dragonball EZ processor, Palm OS 4.1, 2 MB of memory and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. A 120 volt AC charging cable comes in the box. The provided Synch cable ends in a USB jack, so you can use it with a Windows (98/ME/2000/XP) or Macintosh (OS 9.x/OS X 10.1.2 or higher) computer. You can’t really get more basic than that.

The basic theme is continued with the supplied applications: Date Book, Address Book, Calculator, Memo Pad/Note Pad and To Do list. Palm’s Graffiti is the official input language, but there’s also an on-screen keyboard for those who might be intimidated by having to learn a new way to write. They wouldn’t have to do that with their “Week-At-A-Glance” system.

I’ve been playing with a Zire for a few weeks and I can tell you it’s 100 percent Palm. It reminds me of the many monochrome Palms of the past, and that’s a good thing. You can add your favorite software titles (up to the 2 MB limit) and carry hundreds of addresses, phone numbers, appointments and to-do lists with you and get rid of all that paper. Don’t forget, on a Palm you can back-up this information daily. Try that with your old-fashioned organizer.

That’s it! Now you know everything you need to know about the new Palm Zire. It’s small, quick, highly pockatable and — most importantly — it retails for $99. That should get a lot of people interested. It’s about time that Palm gathered good, inexpensive components into a small, useable, likeable, ultra-affordable package. If you still carry a paper organizer, it’s time to switch. For those folks — or anyone else who needs a basic organizer — the Palm Zire is highly recommended.