Review: Palm Zire 31 and Z22

by redshift

I purchased a Palm Zire 31 last week, so of course this week Palm released the upgrade, the Z22. I’m not bitter about the timing at all, in case you couldn’t tell. In any case, they’re both great products, and I feel it is my duty to let you, the Halffull public, know what I think of them.


The Zire 31 and Z22 are entry-level Palm handhelds, both with color screens and all the modern Palm conveniences. If you’re getting a handheld for serious business (and especially if business is helping pay for it) then you should consider a TX or other Tungsten model, a Treo, or a Lifedrive, as they’re all high-end, business-oriented, and expensive. For all-around usefulness with a lower price, the Zire 31 and Z22 are very good selections. I’ll start with the Zire 31, as I have a fair bit of personal experience.

For the record, the biggest difference between the Zire/Z and Tungsten/T lines is the screen resolution – the lower models are 160×160 while the higher are 320×320. If you have the two screens side-by-side, you can tell the difference. The high-res screens are nice. You can see them in a greater number of lighting conditions and they’re nice and sharp, with a fast refresh. That said, the lower-res screens are excellent as well. Color comes across very well and the resolution is still crisp, and it’s definitely enough for most users. If you have to have something to show off, and you can afford $100 for the sharper screen, consider upgrading; otherwise, you’ll be quite happy with the Zire/Z screens. It’s not as big a difference as some would have you believe.

Zire 31

The Zire 31 comes with 16 megs of internal memory, Palm OS 5.2.8, a 200 MHz ARM processor, and a nice selection of software – powerOne calculator and finances, mobileDB, Photos, realOne player, and all the great Palm OS builtins including the upgraded calendar. There’s an SD card slot for upgrading storage capacity or using add-on programs. The newer Palm OS versions work quite well with running applications off of a memory card, so you can use a memory card almost like internal memory – except for the lack of categorizing programs on the card. (Several shareware programs can fix this lack.)

The internal lithium ion polymer battery lasts a good while. I haven’t done any torture tests, persay, but I’ve never seen the battery drop below 65-70% even after about a day’s worth of heavy usage. I’ve seen claims of 8-10 hour life when constantly playing MP3s.

Speaking of MP3s, because the Zire 31 comes with realOne player and a headphone jack, you can use it as a decent makeshift MP3 player. There is a possibility of needing an expansion card to do this, but because I don’t play MP3s on mine, I can’t confirm this. My personal opinion is that if you want to play MP3s on the road, buy something designed for it. I’m not discouraging use of the Zire as a music player, though, because that’s why Palms are great – you can do so much with such a tiny accessory. It’s not going to be as good as a real MP3 player though.

Z22

The Z22 was part of a larger change that Palm underwent to consolidate and improve their product line. Before, it was somewhat confusing because they had a full line of Tungstens, a few Zires, a couple Treos, the Lifedrive, etc. Now, there’s the Z22 for entry-level usage (priced at $99), the TX for business usage ($299), the Treo 650 for combination PDA/phone ($249-$650, depending on your cell carrier), and the Lifedrive for heavy business/organizational use ($499). The Lifedrive, in case you’re curious, has a 4 gig hard drive, larger screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. etc. Pretty much everything in a small package. However, I’ve heard bad reports about the first revision, so you might consider waiting until they release an update if that’s the level of PDA you want.

The Z22 has 32 megs of internal non-volatile memory, Palm OS 5.4.9 (the newest, at the time of this writing), a 200 MHz ARM processor, and even more software than the Zire 31 (it includes SplashShopper, the game Crazy Daisy, 1st Aid, CheckSplit, Chess, and Carb Counter). It does not have an expansion slot. The screen is about the same, though it seems to have gotten minor updates like the other new Palms. The case style is entirely new and seems inspired by the iPod in that it’s sleek, white, and has nicer buttons than the Zire 31. It’s definitely a nice change. The Z22 is also smaller and lighter than the Zire 31 – 2.7″ wide compared to 2.9″ and 4.06″ high compared to 4.4″, and it only weighs 3.4 ounces compared to 4.1.

The non-volatile memory is a nice upgrade because no matter how long your Palm goes without power, it won’t lose any information. With the Zire 31, the unit will shut off when it’s very low on power, and then you have less than a week before it’s fully drained and you lose all your information. (If you have it synced to your computer, it should be easy to recover.) The battery, according to a report I read, also lasts a bit longer than the Zire’s. Another nice upgrade is the fact that the Z22’s USB cable, when connected to your computer, slowly recharges your Palm. This makes it even easier to keep around the office without recharging.

Here’s the summary list of differences between the Zire 31 and Z22:

Zire 31

  • Has an SD expansion slot for adding memory or addons.
  • Headphone jack.
  • Has a protective rubber flip-cover to protect the screen and prevent buttons from being pushed. Many people replace this with a full case.

Z22

  • 32 megs of internal memory rather than 16.
  • Non-volatile memory so you’ll never lose information.
  • Smaller and lighter.
  • Cheaper. $99 retail compared to $129. Note that Zire 31s can be had new on eBay for less, but Z22s are currently only available from Palm. Retails stores should have them soon.
  • Newer Palm OS – 5.4.9 rather than 5.2.8. From what I’ve seen of the 5.4.x series, mostly from playing with a Lifedrive, it’s nice.
  • More included software.
  • Trickle-charges via the USB sync cable.
  • Updated (and rather spiffy) appearance.

Honestly, unless you really want to play MP3s, I can only recommend the Zire 31 over the Z22 if you need the expansion slot because you plan to store lots of large files, such as photos. The 32 megs of the Z22 is more than enough for most people, unless you plan on installing every application under the sun. (You can install every piece of software I mention below on 16 megs with room to spare.) I do recommend having either a case or some screen protectors for the Z22, which honestly you should have with any PDA.

Practical note:

Purpose – you’re going to have to justify to yourself (and quite possibly others) why you have a Palm in the first place. If you’re reading this review, I bet you’re already interested, but I’ve found uses for my Palm that I didn’t even think of before-hand. There are so many great freeware/shareware programs available that you can always find something new to use it for. Here’s a (rather long) list of great programs I’ve found:

  • MobileWrite recognizes handwriting on the screen so you can enter information even more quickly.
  • Planetarium, which is a rather amazing little program that gives you a full view of the stars/planets/constellations in the sky, orients you for finding them, and gives more information than you’d ever need. Quite fun.
  • jMileage, to keep track of car mileage, cost, and efficiency.
  • Golf Score, so your golf buddy can’t claim too many birdies…
  • metrO, to find the fastest ways around many metropolitan areas via public transport.
  • mobileDB, to keep track of more types of information than you thought possible. Keep car maintenance records, purchase records, time tracking, anything you can think of. Their website has tons of free databases, including popular 800 numbers, area codes, food facts, movie guides, quotes/birthdays, etc.
  • Converter, so you’ll never have to worry about units.
  • easyCalc, a combination scientific/financial/programmers calculator.
  • HandyShopper, so you can throw out your shopping lists – you never have to write all those items again!
  • Memos/Note Pad, the built-ins, so you can throw out all your random Post-It notes. I use Memos for keeping all sorts of notes at work.
  • TrueTerm, for language translations between 7 major languages.
  • palmReader, to catch up on your reading. The screen is actually very comfortable to read from, and you can get thousands of eBook titles, or just use any text file. I’m currently reading Treasure Island!
  • Showtimes, which automatically gets movie times from Yahoo!. The most convenient way to find out where/when your favorite movie is playing.
  • games: I highly recommend Vexed, along with Bejeweled, HMaki, Sudoku, and Village Sim.

PalmGear.com is a great place to find software, as is Eurocool. I would advise against freewarepalm.com, as it seems to be all sponsored crap and ads.

Another nice thing about all these applications, and Palm software in general (in case you’re not familiar with it) is not only that it’s intuitive, but that everything is easily categorizable. You can keep mountains of data in these things and find it all quickly – it’s categorized, prioritized, and searchable. Not something that’s possible with paper. And with the mobile databases, you can even do more advanced queries or calculation. I don’t personally use them, but there are also good programs for working with Office files, such as from Dataviz. Office support actually comes with the higher Palm models for business.

(And in case you’re curious, I ordered a Z22 and plan on selling my Zire 31. I really want something that’s nice and light. It’s not only more comfortable, but it’s more of an incentive to take it everywhere.)