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If you can live without Wi-Fi, the midpriced PalmOne Zire 72 is a well-rounded PDA with features suited for both work and play. PalmOne revamped the look and feel of the Zire, giving it a bit of flash with its electric blue colour. And forgoing the plastic casing of models past, the Zire 72 comes sheathed in a soft, rubbery material that feels like it could endure some rough treatment. However, if you don't want the colour to scratch off, store the device in its case. The Zire 72 feels sturdy in your hands, and it's compact and light (11.7 by 7.4 by 1.8 cm; 136 grams), especially for a PDA with a built-in camera.
The Zire sports a beautiful, 320x320-pixel, transflective 65,000-colour display. Just beneath the screen lies the five-way directional keypad with a centre select button and four shortcut keys to the Calendar and Contacts apps, as well as the camera and the RealOne audio player; you can, however, customise these shortcut controls to launch different apps. Though the design isn't anything revolutionary, we felt comfortable using the device one-handed.
The Zire's camera is built into the back of the device, where it (along with the expansion slot) adds a bit of bulk to the top of the handheld. Unlike the Zire 71, the 72 doesn't include a protective cover for the camera lens. Even though the lens is recessed into the device, we're concerned it will get scratched or damaged over time if the cover isn't in place. Also on the back of the Zire is the unit's speaker, which actually surrounds the lens, and a small Reset hole.
The rest of the design is fairly standard. The bottom of the device houses the USB cable and power adapter ports, while a lone voice-record button occupies the left side. Rounding out the Zire's layout are the expansion slot for SDIO/MMC media, the power button, and a stereo jack that accepts Walkman-style headphones, all located on the top. We have one complaint about the expansion slot, however. Like the Zire 31, the Zire 72 has a slot that is deeply recessed into the top of the unit; we found it difficult to insert and remove the memory card.
The Zire 72 comes with a protective carrying case, but we were disappointed that PalmOne excluded the desktop cradle that came bundled with the 71. At posting time, the company had not made a decision on whether it would offer a desktop cradle for separate purchase. Also, the rechargeable lithium-ion battery is not user replaceable.
Compared to the Zire 71, the Zire 72 runs on a faster 312MHz Intel PXA270 processor, and it has twice the memory, for a total of 32MB (24MB of which are user-accessible). But perhaps the most noteworthy addition to the 72 is the integration of Bluetooth. With this technology, you can engage in short-range communication (around 30 feet) with Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as computers, phones, and printers; surf the Web (requires ISP account); share files; and more. PalmOne even includes some useful Bluetooth utilities. For example, if you have a supported Bluetooth phone with GSM/GPRS service, you can use the dialer function to access numbers straight from your Contacts page, and the PalmOne Messages app allows you to view and send text and multimedia messages. Note: Check the included documentation for compatible phones or download more phone drivers from PalmOne's Web site.
The Zire 72's 1.2-megapixel camera with 2X zoom takes pictures in four different resolutions, from 160x120 up to 1,280x960. The Zire 72 holds up to 83 highest-resolution photos, though you can always transfer the shots to a memory card. You'll also find settings for lighting, and you can add special effects such as sepia, black and white, and blue tones. You won't get the same image quality as found on a dedicated digital camera, but the Zire is good for quick snapshots to view on the handheld or to e-mail. You can also switch the camera to video mode and record short clips with audio. Again, it's by no means a replacement for a camcorder, but if you're in a pinch and want to record a scene on the spot, the Zire provides that option. And you'll definitely want to invest in a memory card, as video takes up roughly 2MB of storage per minute of video.
The Zire 72 runs the latest Palm OS 5.2.8 with all the usual PIM apps. We're glad to see that PalmOne updated the Address Book and Schedule apps to the newer Contacts and Calendar, which contain enhanced features and sync better with Microsoft Outlook. The company also throws in a number of other software programs. You get DataViz's Documents To Go for creating and editing native Microsoft Word and Excel files; VersaMail 2.7 for sending and receiving e-mail; and Adobe Acrobat Reader. But you can't have all work and no play; the Zire comes with Palm Reader so that you can listen to audiobooks (requires separate subscription), as well as RealOne Player and Solitaire.
Armed with the 312MHz Intel PXA270 processor, the Zire 72 enjoys slick operation. The new Intel processor also features technology for enhanced multimedia performance; thus, videos ran smoothly, and MP3 playback was impressive, with clear sound and volume, even in noisy environments.
In CNET Labs' tests, we looped a clip using Kinoma Video player and set the screen at 50 percent brightness. The battery ran out of steam after 3 hours. PalmOne says the Zire 72 should last about 5 hours with continuous MP3 playback, and our tests found this to be true, with the battery expiring after 4 hours, 40 minutes. With normal use, the Zire should last about a week before needing a recharge, according to the company.
Using Bluetooth, we were able to connect to a Bluetooth-enabled Pocket PC and seamlessly beam data. You'll also find the convenient Bluetooth Manager utility, which lets you turn Bluetooth on or off, set up devices, and connect to network service, all on one screen.
The Zire 72 took decent photos. Indoor shots came out sharp and fairly well lit, but outdoor pictures looked washed out at times. The picture quality deteriorated with video clips; images appeared pixelated, especially when there was lots of movement in the scene, but again, this PDA isn't meant to be a replacement for a video camera. For viewing photos and other apps, the Zire's screen was a standout. It produced bright and sharp images, and it performed well in sunlight.