Burney’s Legal Tech Reviews – Burney’s Gadgets for Legal Pros: Take your Life with you on a Palm PDA

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com’s Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions .

Your Palm on Life Support

With so many high-powered mobile phones on the market today, one might hear the death knell sounding for the traditional PDA (personal digital assistants). And when major companies like Sony elect to totally forego the PDA market altogether, that just puts another nail in the coffin.

Palm (formerly PalmOne, now to be simply “Palm” again soon) still holds strong mainly due to their recently re-acquired Handspring friends and the takeoff of the Treo. But they recently sent another shot across the bow with their new LifeDrive which has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones, a photo-quality screen, and enough storage space to hold as many songs as an iPod mini.

Lifetime Achievement Award

The LifeDrive is a good direction for palmOne. People expect their portable devices to do more these days because they’re tired of carrying around multiple devices. If a mobile phone can fit in the palm of my hand; and I can check e-mail on a Blackberry; and I can listen to music on my iPod mini, why can’t I have one small device to do all of this?

While the LifeDrive stops short of being a full-fledged phone, it can support just about any other portable activity that you can muster up. Weighing in at 6.8 oz. and measuring 4.76″ x 2.87″ x 0.74″, the LifeDrive is not tiny, but it is small enough to carry around comfortably.

I was actually expecting the LifeDrive to be a little smaller than it was when I pulled it out of the box. It weighs in a little heftier than many other Palm devices on the market today, but then again, no other Palm units can boast of 4GB of storage space either.

All of my issues with the unit being too big evaporated once I turned the screen on. The 320×480 TFT, 16-bit color screen mesmerized me. It was beautiful, strikingly colorful, and attractively bright. The icons looked sharp and the colors popped. This is one of the best screens I’ve seen on a Palm product.

The bottom of the unit houses the 5-way navigational pad and 2 rows of plastic slats for the Applications buttons. Pressing on one of the etched icons launches the appropriate application. I like how the plastic slats surround the nav-pad, which serves the user well in letting them navigate around the software.

Along the left side of the unit, you’ll find a couple of pin-holes for the microphone, a button for the voice-recorder, and a third button for screen rotation. Pressing the screen rotation button shoots the screen from the regular portrait mode into landscape mode. I fell in love with this functionality and the shift happens almost immediately, thanks to the 416MHz XScale Intel processor that powers the unit.

Landscape mode is much better for surfing the Web, or for reading a document. The LifeDrive’s screen in landscape mode is wide enough to allow you to read across comfortably without having to do a lot of scrolling side-to-side.
The power switch is located at the top of the unit up near the stylus silo. An SD memory card slot is also located on top. You’ll find the headphone jack on the bottom of the device.

Software for Life

I’m happy to report that Palm didn’t scrimp on the software they included with the LifeDrive.

The basics are all there – Calculator, Calendar, Contacts, Memos, Tasks, etc. – along with the Blazer Web browser and SMS Messaging. Palm was generous to include a copy of DataViz’s Documents To Go 7 Office Suite, the VersaMail 3.1 E-mail client, and the Pocket Tunes digital music player.

You can launch applications from the tried-and-true Palm Application Launcher, or you can opt instead for the more streamlined alternative interface which lays out the apps in menu tabs like Music, Photos, etc.

By default, there is no Graffiti area. Instead, along the bottom of the screen there is a small “status bar” with a handful of icons. Some of them are recognizable like the Home button and the magnifying glass for searching, but others are new.

If you tap on the far left of the status bar, a Graffiti area will pop up, taking up the bottom half of the screen. Two other icons launch the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity screens.

The two most exciting software additions to the LifeDrive are the Camera Companion and “Drive Mode.”

The Camera Companion is obviously for those of you who enjoy carrying around a digital camera. One of the biggest problems with digital cameras is what to do when memory cards fill up. When the card is full of pics, just pop the card into the LifeDrive and store them on the massive 4GB hard drive. Put the card back into the camera and start shooting away!

When you get back home, Drive Mode will let you transfer those pictures and any other files on to your PC without a fuss. With Drive Mode running, you can plug the USB cable into your PC and the LifeDrive will be recognized as a regular external hard drive. You don’t have to perform a Hotsync to get the files from the unit to your PC. Just simply drag and drop.

For a legal practice, this can be great. You can simply drag and drop important documents and files to the LifeDrive to transport them wherever they need to do. Drive Mode is much, much easier to do than a Hotsync.

Life without Wires

I was thoroughly impressed with the wireless capabilities of the LifeDrive.
After turning the unit on, I decided to connect to my home wireless network. The LifeDrive found my network without hesitation and asked for my security key. I was up and running within a few seconds.

Bluetooth was almost just as easy. If your laptop or PC has Bluetooth, you can perform a Hotsync over the air. If your mobile phone is Bluetooth compatible, the LifeDrive can surf the Web over the phone.

Price Notwithstanding

My only beef with the LifeDrive is the price – which I believe will go down in a few months like every new technology product. At $499, you’re looking at a premium price for a PDA, but you also get what you pay for. No other PDA is going to give you anywhere near the space the LifeDrive offers, nor will you get the amount of software that’s included with the LifeDrive.

If you’re looking for a great product that can do multiple-duty as a PDA, a wireless e-mail device, and a portable digital music player, then take a good look at the LifeDrive.

Posted in: Burney's Legal Tech Reviews, Computer Hardware, Gadgets, Gadgets/Gizmos