Review: palmOne's LifeDrive - InformationWeek

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Review: palmOne's LifeDrive

With a hard drive and business and multimedia apps, the LifeDrive boldly updates the idea of the PDA in a device that's strong . . . and a bit clumsy.

In trying to think outside the box, it is rather amazing what palmOne crammed inside it.

This device is based on Palm OS 5.4 (Garnet), not the more advanced Cobalt version of the Palm platform, which can do multitasking and multithreading, and it is built on a reasonably hefty (for a mobile device) 416 MHz Intel XScale processor. . The most substantial addition is the use of a 4GB Hitachi microdrive for primary storage, along with 64MB of RAM for program space. The program RAM is typical RAM and not the flash memory used in palmOne's Tungsten T5 and E2 PDAs, but having the 4GB microdrive continues palmOne's move towards non-volatile storage, meaning that users won't lose all of their data even if the battery runs down. The device also has a SD Disk expansion slot.

The device also is quite connective, with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 1.1 support. The screen is an absolutely crisp and brilliant marvel with a 320x480 resolution " twice that of typical Pocket PC devices. The LifeDrive also adds a hardware switch on the side of the unit to rotate between normal portrait and landscape mode inside of any application. In addition, the voice recorder is back after being inexplicably dropped from the Tungsten T5, accessed via a side switch, and the quality of the rear-mounted speaker seems to have been improved.

For those who want better fidelity than any micro-speaker can provide, a standard audio jack is on the bottom of the unit, but it appears to be for audio output only -- those hoping to run Wi-Fi VoIP through the LifeDrive with a headset will be disappointed. Having permanently ditched their previous "Universal Connector," the LifeDrive continues palmOne's recent use of the new "Multi-connector" for charging and data synchronization (via an included USB cable instead of a cradle).

PalmOne, obviously understanding that this device would need lots of power, built in a beefy, internal 1660 mAh Lithium-Ion battery. If not quite the two to two-and-a-half days per charge palmOne claims, I got at least a full day of heavy use, which is a refreshing change from many wireless-enabled units that often have a battery life measured in a few hours of real-time use.

A rough run-down test on the LifeDrive, with MP3 files playing constantly and accessing the drive, Wi-Fi active and in use, and the screen on maximum brightness, was still in the range of 3 hours. This is in welcome contrast to earlier Palm OS devices, which when using the add-on Wi-Fi SDIO card, you could almost see the battery indicator dropping as you watched.

The LifeDrive feels rather pudgy at 4.76"x2.87"x.74", and a hefty 6.8 oz. PalmOne beveled the back of the unit to provide a slimming profile, but the extra thickness and weight compared to its T5 PDA is definitely noticeable in your hand. That's the tradeoff for 4GB of storage and both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but this is a much more brick-like device than any previous palmOne product. Still, the unit has a very solid-feeling, with a brushed-aluminum finish more like the Tungsten T3 than the T5, and a notably clean combination of style and functionality.

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