Palm Zire 21 Review

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Product Requirements:
PC running Windows 98/2000/ME and XP
(2000, and XP require admin rights to install) or
Macintosh running Mac OS 9.x or Mac OS X v10.1.2 or higher, One available USB
port, 30MB free hard disk space, 5MB free RAM on Macintosh, CD-ROM drive

This year has seen the introduction of several high-end Palm OS devices, the
latest of which include the Palm Tungsten | T3
and the Sony CLIÉ PEG-UX50/U. These PDAs
come loaded with almost everything a power user could desire. But just as
there is a yin for every yang; for every power user, there is a person that
doesn’t want (or need) a camera, multi-media features, wireless capabilities,
extra memory or (gulp!) a high resolution color screen.

Whether this theoretical person is just new to the concept of carrying all of
their personal information on an electronic device, has no interest in bells and
whistles, or perhaps is so hard on PDAs that they need a disposable one, Palm
has created a basic model for this type user: the Zire 21.

While I’ll admit up front that a stripped down Handheld is the last
thing on my shopping list, this type PDA was a monster hit for Palm last year,
when they introduced the  Zire m150. It
quickly became the "fastest-selling
in Palm’s history, with more than 1 million units flying off
shelves since its introduction
." For under $100, you could buy them just
about everywhere – even the office supply section at the local

Did I mention that this was a monochrome device with only 2MB RAM? That there
was no backlight and that it used a 16MHz processor? That the PDA was so cheaply
packaged that it looked like a toy? Yet the Palm Zire sold like hot

So now a year has passed, and Palm has done some further market research and
realized that many of the people that were attracted to this PDA eventually
needed to be able to put more programs and info on the device than the measly
2MB afforded. Since the original design actually won
awards, Palm
left the shell alone and just did some tinkering with the guts of the PDA,
turning out a new version with four times as much memory, a faster processor,
the same OS as Palm’s higher end devices – but the same basic limitations that
will always keep the Zire in the bottom of the PDA food chain.

Hardware Specifications:

126 MHz TI OMAP 311 ARM processor
Operating System:
Palm OS® Software v5.2.1
Memory:  8MB (7.2MB actual storage capacity)
160×160 pixel display, 4-bit grayscale
Interface: Mini USB (for HotSync® operation), Infrared
Dimensions and Weight: 4.4" x 2.9" x 0.6" / 3.8 oz
120VAC, 60Hz
Rechargeable lithium ion battery (internal, non user removable)
Expansion: None

In the box: Zire™ 21 handheld, charging cable, USB
HotSync cable, "Read this First" document, desktop software CD-ROM with bonus software, stylus,
and protective
flip cover

As before, this Zire is cheaply packaged in a clear plastic retail display
container; the type that you risk life and limb opening. The plastic packaging
has a "recycle 1" symbol on the back, so that may be good news for those of you
that live in forward thinking communities that accept recyclables.

As with the original Zire, the 21 is a solid unit that feels like a little
tank. This is a PDA that you could give to an 8 year old without fearing that
they would have it dismantled in under 5 minutes. It passes Julie’s creak test
with flying colors, which shouldn’t be too surprising because there is nothing
to it – no slots, no sliders, no removable battery door, no rotating screens,
not much of anything, really.

The front of the PDA features a Power button as well as a pod where the Date
Book and Address buttons sandwich the up and down buttons.

The top of the PDA holds the stylus silo, the mini USB port, the Infrared
port, and the charging port. The stylus is a nice thick rod, reminiscent of the
old Palm III styli that were quite comfortable – especially when compared to
some of the noodle styli included with the newer PDAs.


The power and sync ports are conveniently located so that the cords will run
from the back of the PDA and away from the user, when the PDA is being charged
at a desk. By not including a cradle, the Zire has portability built-in from the

The sides of the Zire 21 have no buttons or ports, and the back…

…has the slot that the blue plastic flip-cover plugs into, as well as an
old style pin-sized reset hole. Would anyone care to explain the logic of using
such a tiny hole if you aren’t going to include a stylus that unscrews to reveal
a reset pin? I feel like Palm just re-entered the stone age, here.


The flap cover, while made of blue rubbery plastic (which should
automatically qualify it for "cheesy" status), actually goes along nicely with
the form factor of this PDA. It attaches cleanly and is shaped so that it tries
to stay in a closed position. Reinforcement in the screen area allows it to be
effective protection when flipped down. When flipped up, the rubbery hinge is so
stiff that it almost creates a tilted base for the Zire to rest on. I suspect
that this is the way it will lay on most every owner’s desk…

The Zire 21’s screen  is less responsive than I am used to. Even after a
soft reset and a recalibration of the digitizer, it seemed as if I had to press a
bit harder than I would have liked to get the screen to respond to taps –
particularly those in dialog boxes. All of my graffiti strokes were recognized,
so I made do with more "purposeful" tapping than I would usually use.

Overall, the Zire is pocketable, solid and simple.

Palm Desktop Software: The Zire 21 comes with these titles to get you
up and running quickly…

Palm Desktop 4.01 for Windows and Mac, which includes: Palm ™ Quick Install
for easy transfer of Palm OS® applications and more from your computer to your
handheld. (Windows only)

Chapura PocketMirror for synchronization with Microsoft Outlook
(Windows only)

Included Palm Software: The basic Palm suite
is also included. These are the same as have always been offered – no surprises

Address Book

Date Book

Memo Pad

Note Pad

To Do List


World Clock: Displays time for three different time zones…


Additional software included:

Handmark PDA Money:
A personal finance application for Palm handhelds that
allows users to manage their finances while on the go.

Screenshot of Handmark PDA Money

MobileDB and Magic Dogs: Play war or hearts on your handheld. Use IR to play
an opponent wirelessly.

Screenshot of Handmark's MagicDogs Playing Cards

PowerOne Calculator: This advanced customizable calculator is packed with
everyday calculations like tips and discounts, and advanced mathematical
functions like logarithms and trigonometry.

Screenshot of PowerOne Personal Calculator

Palm™ Reader: Bookmark pages, make annotations, change font sizes and more
with this award-winning eBook reader.
Palm Digital Media
offers the latest best-selling books, sold separately,
from premier publishing houses.

Screenshot of Palm Reader

Handmark’s MobileDB™: Track birthdays and
anniversaries, passwords, auto maintenance and more.

Screenshot of Handmark's MobileDB for Palm


I can almost remember a time (however brief) when all I thought I needed to
get through the day was a electronic organizer that could carry my addresses and
daily schedule. But instead of buying the most bare boned PDA I could find, I
bought an HP-95lx. As my needs grew, that handheld was able to accommodate them.
When the time came that I bought a new PDA, it was because I had basically worn
the 95lx out – not because it had become too limiting.

While I am not suggesting that new users go out and buy a top of the line
PDA, I do think that for just $100 more people would be better served buying a
handheld that offers a little bit more expandability, memory, and yes…even a
color screen.

The Palm Zire 21 is fine for someone that will never do much more than look
up addresses or check their daily schedule. It has a handy calculator and it
includes several programs that make it a much better solution than lugging
around a paper-based planner. But if you are the type of person that can see why
you would be more efficient with a PDA, then wouldn’t it make more sense to buy
a slightly better PDA, one that would allow you to grow as a user…one that
would at least allow you to check your schedule in a dark room?

Price: $99

Virtually indestructible
Includes a fair amount of software

No backlight
No universal connector
No expansion possibilities
Screen can be unresponsive at times


Product Information

  • Inexpensive
  • Virtually indestructible
  • Includes a fair amount of software
  • No backlight
  • No universal connector
  • No expansion possibilities
  • Screen can be unresponsive at times

About The Author

22 thoughts on “Palm Zire 21 Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. The $99 price really is not bad for what you are getting. I remember paying $400 for my first palm, which did that. it has like a 12mhz processor. This guys got what 100mhz+? I’m impressed to see a decient powered sub $100 unit.

  3. Come to think of it, I can remember paying over $300 for the EFIG 8MB upgrade on my PalmV.

    I agree that it is great there are PDAs in this price range, but is a backlight too much to ask?

    Judie :0)

  4. I agree that is a bit cheap. My first pilot was a Palm Personal. It even had a decient indiglow backlight. It wasn’t anything compared to todays lcd screens. but the display was more then usable in the dark. and what can that add to the cost of production $1? or less? probably. But a 8mb palm for sub 100 is a step. It will open up the world of digital organaization and ebooks, etc to people that would never get a chance to experience it. I for one was lucky to be able to afford the $400+ myself in highschoool, but I know that 95% of that people out there in highschool and college can not affored to pay $299 or more for a pda. But most are able to scrimp $99 together for something that can really aid them in school/life and work.

  5. The Palm Zire 71 looks great except…

    WHY OH WHY can’t it just have a backlight? How much could it POSSIBLY add to the cost? I know I can Indiglo watches for $5 at Target, so why is it so hard to put an EL panel in the Zire?

    Come on Palm, this is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a long time. It would be an excellent contender with its expanded memory and simple design, if only the screen was comfortably useable in more than just bright light. 😡

  6. Just wanted to point one tiny thing out: the 2->8 MB Upgrade has nothing to do with market-research and having people wanting to put more stuff on their PDA, the reason is much more profane… 😮

    … it’s just that for Palm the 2 MB Memory-chips get nearly as expensive in production as the 8 MB-Chips are rigt now. 😎

    So it’s just simple financial-mathematics: if you can buy a better product for the same price, you do. Sounds quite disappointing, but that’s the information I got from a high-ranking Palm-marketing-official. :p

  7. Peter,

    I don’t doubt that it was a matter of pricing for a minute.

    Now if they could have got a good deal on some bulk-backlighting, I would have been much less hesitant to reccomend this PDA, at least for beginners.

    I can understand a 1993 PDA not coming with backlighting, but in 2003 there is no excuse.

    Judie :0)

  8. Hello,

    Is the Zire 21 availabe in the US only???

    Reason I ask is I’ve checked the usual suppliers here in the UK, like Expansys, Dixons, PC World, Dabs, Fingertech etc, etc but can’t find any mention of the Zire 21 🙁

  9. The Zire21 is currently only available in the US, as Palm Europe still has los of the “original 2MB Zire” in Stock.

    My Palm-Source projected a release-date for the Zire 21 in Europe at Q1 2004. Probably before or at CeBIT 2004, but nevertheless after the christmas-sales have passed.



  10. Originally posted by PeterS
    [B]The Zire21 is currently only available in the US, as Palm Europe still has los of the “original 2MB Zire” in Stock.

    My Palm-Source projected a release-date for the Zire 21 in Europe at Q1 2004. Probably before or at CeBIT 2004, but nevertheless after the christmas-sales have passed.


    Peter [/B]

    Bummer 🙁 going to have to get one from somewhere…I’ll see if anyone in the Office is going to the States anytime soon…

  11. hey judie, does the screen on the z21 ghost any? Every greyscale palm I have owned ghosted pretty badly.. Even my he330 does to some degree( its not bad tho 🙂 )..

  12. helf,

    I am not sure what you mean by “ghost,” but if you mean like a burned or double image, then no – nothing like that is evident.

    This is a brand new unit, tho. I am not sure if what you are describing would be noticable right away or if it is only over time.

    Also, this Zire is going back to Palm today, so I won’t have it to test in the future…

    Judie :0)

  13. Finally you guys are really pumping out some good stuff consistantly!! That’s actually 3 gadgeets in a row!! But the other thing I like is the frequent update, it’s never too dull comming to your site even with those useless pda box/bags reviews.

  14. I remember when an 8mb PDA that weighs less than 4 ounces used to be unheard of. And at $100, this would’ve induced puddles of drool.

    How times have changed.

  15. I got my palm IIIXE 8mb for 250 USD in Sept of 2000, it still works very well till today! So many PDA’s has came out since, but the difference in usefulness has be very very minimal. The most important thing they added was the wireless and expansion cards. The color is just for fancy and minimal need for extra colors in most applications.

    My PDA is on par with some newer Palms because I overclock it using Afterburner(to extend it’s use) and I urge everyone to overclock it because it produces heat nowhere close to a degree that can cause damage, it may cause stability issues, so just decrease the speed.

    I’ve also got the Kodak Palm Pix and the GoType! keyboard for Palm. Also, with my slew of apps and utils, I make my palm look almost like a laptop!

    The time I’ll upgrade my PDA is when it breaks, because the newer ones arent going to increase the level of usefullness too much from my current Palm. But the Sony UX50 does look extremely interesting!

  16. The Reader:
    I have a friend that is STILL using an original Pilot 5000!

    So, you are right to some extent. PDAs still do the very same tasks that they did when they were first introduced. The only difference is that now they can do even more tasks and can do the original tasks way faster.

  17. I can remember very well when the IIIc was the ultimate Palm for me. I still think today that it was one of the best Palms ever made.

    If they had added an expansion card slot and 320×480, but otherwise kept the same form factor, I might have never looked at another PDA.

    Judie :0)

  18. Heh. My father (who picked up a Pilot 5000 and wowed his geek children with it very shortly after they first came out) picked up a Palm IIIc ages ago off eBay and is still using it. He keeps reccomending one to me, but to me the display on it makes it look like I’m looking at my data through a screen window and that just drives me subtly nuts :).

    There IS a market that exists for this thing to target; whether or not it’s still available is what I’d question. My brother is (amazingly) still on his original m105 after several years, and he’s got no need to change from it. (I say “amazingly” because he went through three 5000s and a Palm III before we decided he couldn’t be trusted with anything with glass in it 🙂 ). And there’s plenty of those still out there; you can find one for typically under $70 on eBay, and $30’s worth a whole lot of AAA battery replacements :D.

  19. Review: “The Palm Zire 21 is fine for someone that will never do much more than look up addresses or check their daily schedule. It has a handy calculator and it includes several programs that make it a much better solution than lugging around a paper-based planner.”

    I beg to differ – I have just bought one (2Mb, £20, refurbished, 1 yr warranty) for my daughter for her 6th birthday. I have managed to load the complete Mother Goose (illustrated), everything Hans Christian Anderson ever wrote, the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and about 5 other illustrated stories using Plucker. It still has 700k free … it can also provide basic (off line) email capabilities when using a conduit to Outlook Express.

    The only really major complaint is the lack of a back light. No reading in bed for her 🙁

  20. WOW, this thread is a bit dated…
    Well here is an update for people who are looking at the zire 21.
    The price of the unit is down to a cool $60 USD, and the specks are still the same. I am a high school student, a very bussy and rough one at that. As posted, this is a CHEEP and BASIC pda if thats not what you need than DONT get this thing. DO get it if you, break things a lot and want something that feels ruggud and your not to afrade to break, some thing to jot market lists, homework, notes, phone numbers. your secudual, and stuf you need to do. Also the thing has a IR port, the printers at my school have IR ports, so i can print notes and stuf i take in class and keep them in my folders for later referencs. In addetion my mother got one too and you can beem notes with an atached alarm to her, so i can remind her to pick me up. You could also use these to send notes in class, the range between two zire 21s is about 20 feet’ish(wondering if i could mod this). The planer is very cool and usefull I will not go into that because theres just so much about it that i find uesfull. I dont need a backlight because, well, im never anywhere where it is dark. On that note thsis thing has GREAT battery_life. as for not being very powerfull it plays tetris at the bus stop, nuf said. So to sum it up cheep, ruggud, works and even though its only 8MB thats a crapload of numbers, simple programs, and planner events. And the only thing i dont like about the thing is the fact that the alarm is not very loud.

    K’thx xzen

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