Except for the $99 price tag, we weren't all that thrilled with the original Zire, which came with only 2MB of memory, a nonbacklit monochrome screen, and a poky 16MHz processor. No matter, the device went on to become last year's best-selling Palm, proving once again that price is king in the electronics business. Assuming that maxim continues to hold true, the new low Palm on the totem pole, the Zire 21, should do equally well in the marketplace, largely because it's identical to the original but has four times as much memory (8MB instead of 2MB), a faster processor, and runs the latest operating system. We just wish Palm had somehow been able to incorporate a backlight.
Like the original, the 3.8-ounce, 4.4-by-2.9-by-0.6-inch Zire is an attractively designed unit that feels solid in your hand. It also has a monochrome screen and a pliable plastic protective flip lid that has a tendency to flop around a little too much. The display is readable, but obviously, without a backlight, you're going to have a problem in dark environments.
All the standard Palm organizer features are onboard (Date Book, Note Pad, To Do List, Expense, and Calculator), and Palm has thrown in a couple of card games and a more robust expense-tracking application called PDA Money. A world clock and Palm Reader (for electronic books) are incorporated in Palm OS 5.2. But the Zire features the older Address Book and Schedule apps found in the original version, rather than the new, more full-featured Contact and Calendar programs that ship with Palm's latest Tungsten models.
As noted, the biggest improvements are the speedier Texas Instruments 126MHz OMAP processor, which improves the responsiveness of the device, and the larger 8MB of memory. This is still not a lot compared to what comes with other Palms these days, but this isn't a multimedia handheld, and the 7.2MB of actual storage space give you plenty of room to add several applications and save thousands of contacts. As for accessories, an AC adapter is included for recharging the internal lithium-ion battery, while a USB cable and Palm Desktop Software are provided to sync the Zire with your Mac or PC.
At $99, the Zire 21 is an excellent value and a good buy for those on a tight budget who want an attractively styled, basic electronic organizer that offers several weeks of battery life. That said, if you can afford to make the jump to the step-up $199 Tungsten E, don't hesitate. It's easily twice as good as this model.