PalmOne's new LifeDrive packs almost everything you'd want from a laptop - document editing, email access and plenty of storage for photos and MP3s - into a package not much larger than a typical early MP3 player. I tested a preproduction model of this $US499 device that's sure to turn some heads.
At its heart, the LifeDrive is a PalmOS PDA with the same controls, expansion slots and basic applications you've come to expect from a Tungsten or Treo. The downside to the device: it's a tweener - too big to easily fit in a pocket, and too small storagewise to qualify as a substitute for a video or MP3 player.
The "Drive" in the LifeDrive is a built-in 4GB Microdrive, which holds a full slate of contacts, documents, and emails, with enough space left over to store 1000 full-resolution photos, a video or two and a few CDs worth of music. Built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and a beautiful 320 x 480 colour display round out the package.
Software includes DocumentsToGo, which lets you view and edit most office docs you'll need, and Exchange ActiveSync, which lets you check your Outlook email.
New applications written for the LifeDrive highlight its capabilities. The PC-based LifeDrive Manager lets you keep whole folders in sync, and gives you the option to resize photos and video to save space. On the device itself, a file browser lets you view files in a Windows Explorer-like fashion, and a new Drive Mode turns the LifeDrive into a USB mass storage device.
Audio, video: mixed results
With a crisp, colourful screen and a one-button landscape mode, the LifeDrive should excel as a video player. But while the clips I watched looked decent enough, playback wasn't completely smooth, even on clips that exhibited some noticeable compression artefacts.
As an MP3 player, the LifeDrive is all potential. Music sounded quite good through my Sony MDR-v900 headphones, though the headphone jack is awkwardly located on the bottom of the device. An app called PTunes lets you build playlists, play MP3s, and supports Rhapsody To Go, but it doesn't take advantage of the many ways you could organise music with a PDA touch screen.
An app called Camera Companion is where the LifeDrive really shines. Camera Companion turns the LifeDrive into a mobile storage repository for your digital camera photos. Fill up your SD card with photos, then slot it into the LifeDrive to offload the photos and reformat the card.
It's a bit quicker and a lot lighter than carrying around a laptop or portable hard drive for the same purpose. In fact, that's probably the way the LifeDrive is most useful. It's just barely capable enough to fill in for your laptop when you don't want to tote a notebook-size machine around.
LifeDrive - PalmOne, Preproduction, not rated. This mobile computer/media player will come in handy when you don't want to carry a laptop. Distributed by Ingram Micro. RRP: $899