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PalmOne unveils 4GB 'LifeDrive'

The new LifeDrive Mobile Manager is PalmOne's first PDA to sport a hard drive for storage. Four gigabytes of storage, in fact.
The new LifeDrive is a whole lot of PDA.
The new LifeDrive is a whole lot of PDA.PalmOne

Smartphones are becoming all the rage. But while handsets that combine cell phones with PDA functions seem to get all the buzz, that doesn’t mean standalone PDAs are obsolete. Instead, they’re growing more sophisticated.

That’s why PalmOne, makers of the Treo smartphones, is improving their handheld computer line. One longstanding problem: When compared to full-blown computers, PDAs have always been limited by a number of factors including size and memory.

Not anymore. Today, PalmOne introduced what they call their LifeDrive Mobile Manager. It’s their first PDA to sport a hard drive for storage. Four gigabytes of storage, in fact.

The LifeDrive also boasts a large 320x480 high-resolution color screen which can flip from landscape to portrait mode, a speedy 416MHz Intel XScale processor plus built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking. The smaller-than-a-matchbook 4 GB hard drive is a Hitachi Microdrive, and it transfers data 30 percent faster than the previous-generation Microdrive. That means you can get to your stored music, images and data more quickly.

How much can you store? Well, PalmOne suggests that the 3.85GB of usable storage on the drive could break down to: 1,200 office documents; 6,000 emails; 1,000 photos; 300 songs; 2.5 hours of video; 50 voicemails; 10,000 contacts and 10,000 appointments. That's a lot of stuff!

Another way to look at the LifeDrive is as the iPod Mini of PDAs, but with the ability to do video, e-mail and lots more besides music. Additional expandability, if that’s not enough, comes via LifeDrive’s expansion card slot for SD, SDIO and MultiMediaCard formats.

Smart file management, large screen
LifeDrive's smart file management software is made up of four key applications: Folder Sync lets you transfer files via a traditional synch, File Transfer lets you drag and drop files via your PC, Drive Mode lets you use your PDA as a USB drive and Files View lets you keep your transferred file structure intact.

Flash memory keeps information safe even if the device loses its charge, and 128-bit encryption keeps valuable data secure. Password protection safeguards access to the LifeDrive, while the Private Records function protects specific files, even when the rest of the mobile manager is unlocked.

LifeDrive also does POP, IMAP and Exchange e-mail. You can download calendar appointments from your office, retrieve documents from your desktop computer and surf the Web via Wi-Fi. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat Reader file formats are all supported.

I’ve been playing with a LifeDrive for a few days now and I’m very impressed with its look, feel and what it can do. The screen is large and easy to read, the processor and operating system are fast, both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless work as described (although on a friend’s system LifeDrive couldn’t complete a Bluetooth connection with his PC) and the storage can't be beat.

Estimated street price is $499. Limited quantities are available now; expect full supplies in a few weeks. For those who might think the LifeDrive sounds expensive think of it this way: Palm’s former top-of-the-line model, the T5, sells for $399. Apple’s 4GB iPod Mini sells for $199. Now you’re up to $598 and you haven’t added in the price of LifeDrive’s new features, or the convenience of carrying only one device. See? $499 ain’t so bad.

If you’re looking for the ultimate in modern-day PDAs, then PalmOne’s LifeDrive has to be at the top of your shortlist. Now, if it could only make and receive phone calls ...