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Gadgets, Technology

Life in Drive

March 10th, 2006 by Jeff | 1 Core Dump

lifedrive_starwars.jpg

Well, here it is. Following the events of the previous post, we drove down that night to High Point to pick up the new LifeDrive I ordered via the Web. (The Circuit City in Greensboro didn’t have any in stock, and I wanted to get a replacement ASAP before a business trip to Orlando (which is also why I haven’t posted about this until now.)) I’m not a big Circuit City fan; I’m not sure what it is, but the few times I’ve ventured into one, the sales staff have either been unfriendly, unhelpful, or just plain unavailable. I haven’t had nearly that bad of an experience at a Best Buy, and I’ve gone into one of those ticked off and demanding a refund. I have a completely unscientific theory about a war of primary colors, i.e. Circuit City’s “hot” and “angry” red vs. Best Buy’s soothing and friendly blue, but it’s probably just a cartoonist’s imagination.

Anyway, the LifeDrive. I’ve got to admit, I’m impressed. I’ve heard a few negative comments about it, and there’s some truth behind them. However, this baby has a good bit of power behind it. What boggles the mind to begin with is the whopping 4GB hard drive built into the thing. Palms are markedly different from Windows Mobile devices (aka PocketPC and all those other previous incarnations) in that they typically have much smaller memory requirements, a fact I blame entirely on Microsoft’s ever wasteful memory handling from the desktop down. My old Palm IIIc only had 8MB of RAM and functioned perfectly well on that. However, we’re always looking to cram more and more stuff into our pockets, and I’ll admit there were a few times I had to delete a few things from my Tungsten C’s 64MB to free up space. The LifeDrive also comes with 64MB of RAM, as well as the prerequisite SD slot that can provide you as much hot-swappable extra storage as your wallet can provide. But it’s that 4GB drive that really opens things up. It’s hard to think of anything really worth filling up 4GB of portable space… until you start thinking about multimedia. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Coming from the Tungsten C, I’ve got to admit that the most annoying thing about the LifeDrive is that long pause when opening new apps. The T|C was such a quantum leap in speed from my IIIc, I got use to that virtually instant tap-and-it’s-open response time. The LifeDrive seems to access the hard drive even when opening applications that are supposed to be stored entirely in RAM, which adds a noticeable lag that almost feels like I’ve downgraded back to the IIIc. I had always heard the T|C was the fastest of all the Palm devices, even over later offerings. Of course, after using the LD for about a week, it just proves you can get used to almost anything. I’ve learned to adapt my usage patterns to compensate for the lag and while it’s still noticeable it isn’t quite as annoying. The only app that really hurts from the lag is Laridian’s MyBible; even with the large Bible data files completely in RAM it seems to take a full ten to fifteen seconds to open, versus about two seconds on the T|C. Don’t ask how long it takes when stored on the HD.

That said, everything else about the LD is pretty spiffy. I like the large screen, and Graffiti 2 (which I avoided learning with the T|C’s built-in keyboard) is actually more intuitive than the original Graffiti was. The lock switch is a smart idea, letting you physically disable the buttons and digitizer to keep the device from turning itself on or off accidentally. “Drive mode” lets you turn the LD into a USB external hard drive (both the internal HD and any SD card currently in the slot) even on computers where HotSync isn’t installed. And the WiFi system seems to be better designed than on the T|C (at least it seems to behave better than the T|C did). As I have no Bluetooth devices to connect with, I guess I can’t really comment on that functionality.

However, with that big ol’ drive, you can probably guess that this thing is ideal for portable media. It’s not going to replace any loyal iPod fan’s favorite device, but combined with the pre-installed Pocket Tunes it can become a very capable MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA player. (Hey, that already meets or beats the iPod shuffle and nano.) It also supports some types of video media out of the box, although installing TCPMP lets you run XviD and similarly encoded video. In the picture above, you can see a not-so-great screenshot of Star Wars: Episode III; the poor quality of the photo comes from not using a flash (to prevent glare) and not from the encoded video, which is actually really great. I took the entire Star Wars saga with me to Orlando: all six movies plus the two Clone Wars specials. That made waiting for a greatly delayed return flight a bit more bearable.

Anyhoo, that’s about all I have to say about the LD at the moment. I’m still trying to decide what to do with the T|C. Having it fixed by Palm is going to be expensive ($169 just to open a ticket, before any parts, labor, or shipping), but I’ve found a few places where I can buy the parts I need and have it fixed for under $100. If I can fix it, I’ll probably let my wife have it, as the hand-me-down IIIc’s battery is finally failing. Otherwise, we’ll probably need to buy her another new one for her own use and then sell or give away the T|C. I’ll post some more interesting LD stories if any present themselves.

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