Tools Of The Trade: The PalmOne LifeDrive

Click to follow
The Independent Online

PalmOne's LifeDrive is not an easy device to categorise. It has the essential functions of a Palm OS-based personal digital assistant (PDA) - a calendar, a "to do" list, contacts book and support for note-taking using handwriting recognition - but after this, things get trickier.

For example, it has support for email and web browsing either via Bluetooth or WiFi; both are built in. But GPRS or 3G mobile connectivity is not.

The LifeDrive can open up Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, but it doesn't run these applications itself. It can manage and display photographs or movie clips, but has no in-built camera. It can play MP3 files but does not work directly with popular music download sites such as Apple's iTunes.

The answer is that PalmOne suspects that most people who buy a LifeDrive will already have the other gadgets they need to complete the chain, most notably a Bluetooth mobile, a digital camera and a computer. The LifeDrive is designed to work alongside these devices, rather than replace them.

Digital camera users, for instance, can take pictures and then transfer them to the LifeDrive using a multimedia or SD (secure digital) card; the LifeDrive has a built-in 4GB hard disk, so storage shouldn't be a problem.

Business users are most likely to see the LifeDrive as a more powerful alternative to a conventional PDA, whose weakness is a lack of mass storage. The LifeDrive's hard disk solves this, and without any noticeable penalty in terms of battery life.

Users can also synchronise email from Outlook to the LifeDrive (Windows only) or download directly to the device's VersaMail email program using a Bluetooth- equipped mobile or a WiFi connection. The storage on the LifeDrive is such that it can hold a reasonably large Outlook inbox, and still leave space for documents and possibly some MP3 files for entertainment.

As a hard-disk device, the LifeDrive is not as light or compact as other PalmOne handhelds, although it still compares well in this respect with some of the higher-end PDAs running the PocketPC operating system. It feels sturdy in use, the screen is bright and the handwriting recognition is good enough to allow quite fast note-taking. The LifeDrive can also record voice memos.

Add an external keyboard - PalmOne makes a range - and a Bluetooth mobile and the LifeDrive could start to rival a low-end laptop as a way of organising information, working on documents and keeping up to date with email. Adding a hard disk makes the LifeDrive that much more capable than other PDAs.

Laptop prices are falling towards the £500 mark, but for a traveller who wants reliable, robust portable computing power, the LifeDrive is worth a look.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: communications support; powerful addition to PalmOne family.

Cons: hard disk will fill up quickly if you use all the features.

Price: £329 including VAT.