Just As I Thought

I buy it so you don’t have to: LifeDrive

These days, I’m running around forgetting everything I need to do or get — nothing like running to the store every 5 minutes because you need one $2 item. Add to that my big to do list and the job search, and I figured I should get myself an assistant. Digital, of course.
I have a Palm Tungsten, but it has it’s drawbacks — the biggest being its inability to carry around files I need, like my resume.
So, I looked at the Palm LifeDrive. It’s killer feature is that it functions as a portable hard drive, letting me carry files around and access them on any computer via USB.
Well, let me tell you — this is not enough.
Let’s take a look at the litany of complaints I have about this device before I pack it back up and return it to the store, shall we?

USB Connectivity
There is a bizarre phenomenon happening in the world of gadgets. Manufacturers keep designing tiny gadgets meant for easy portability. But the designers always seem to leave something out of the equation. For instance, last year I bought one of those tiny Sony cameras, the one that’s only a fraction of an inch thick. I thought it would be great for taking to London rather than my bulky Canon camera. Surprise! You must also take a bulky dock with you to connect it to the computer, as well as a power brick, the kind with two cords on it — one plugs into the wall, then to the brick. Then one connects to the dock, then to the camera. This tiny portable camera now requires a whole slew of external devices to perform basic functions.
The LifeDrive suffers from the same problem. It has a proprietary connector on the bottom, which means that you must carry around the special cable if you want to access the files on a computer somewhere. On top of that, it doesn’t charge via USB (like the very cheap Palm Zire, which uses a standard USB cable). Nope, you have to use yet another special proprietary charging cable (again, unlike the Zire which uses an industry standard adapter).
So, the idea of being able to carry my files with me “just in case” is shot to hell, because there’s so much advance planning needed to bring the cables.

The box trumpets the Intel 416Mhz (ARM-based) processor. I don’t know anything about this processor, other than the fact that it is slow. VERY slow. The delay in just switching from one screen to another is intolerable. This alone is enough to doom this device.

Palm has done something to their UI, and it’s annoying. They seem to have copied an element of Mac OS X which places a blue glow around interface elements to indicate focus. On the Mac, you can turn this off. On the Palm, you’re stuck with it. Things have a blue outline everywhere, and for no very good reason. In a touch-screen interface, it’s pointless to show where the focus is because you tap things to activate them. On the Mac, the focus indication is used for universal access systems, for people who can’t use a mouse.
What’s worse is that this focus indication was shoved into a UI that wasn’t ready for it. The UI elements don’t have enough space around them for this, so the blue outlines are often overlapping other things or cut off. Very unattractive and annoying.

Palm’s support website is pretty bad. It took me hours to figure out that all the crashes and restarts were caused by a piece of third-party software that is shipped with the LifeDrive.

None. There is no manual included with the LifeDrive. When you search for manuals on the PalmOne website, there’s none for the LifeDrive. It does exist, in separate files for each chapter, on the LifeDrive main page, but not in the support area.

It’s disappointing how the Palm OS works. For instance, if you put MP3s or JPGs on the hard drive, they will be recognized and played by the media player app. But the curious thing is this: even though I have Adobe Reader on the LifeDrive, it doesn’t recognize and display the PDF files that are on the drive. Things just seem too jury-rigged in this OS.

One of the major reasons I bought this device was its WiFi capability. I figured I could check my email from any wireless point, send messages, surf the web… cool, right?
The wireless does not work on the LifeDrive. It won’t stay connected for more than a few moments, and even though I am sitting right next to the wireless transmitter, it shows a low signal strength. Digging on the Palm forums shows lots of people who are unable to stay connected with this device. Oh, and the LifeDrive is brand new… yet doesn’t support 802.11g, a standard which has been out in the wild for years.

Just to put the icing on the cake, the LifeDrive wouldn’t read the files on the SD card I used with my previous Palm device.

Sorry, Palm. You’ve really got a big goose egg with this one. It’s going back to the store any moment now. I’ll use that refund money to buy health insurance or something.

(Just as an aside: when you buy electronics here, they charge a hefty “ewaste fee.” It was $6 on this gadget. What the hell is this for? Where does this money go? Does this mean I can just throw this thing away with my regular garbage? With all the various fees and taxes in this state, including a high 8% sales tax, how can California be in such a bad financial situation? Jeez, it’s the most populous state, what the hell are they doing with all that tax revenue?)


  • Wow, thanks for the review, Gene. I have been vaguely thinking about getting a PDA (with WiFi), and I guess I’ll cross the LifeDrive off the mental list.

  • Oh for the days of the Apple Newton… you still have one don’t you?
    How ’bout carrying your old palm, but putting your other documents on either a simple thumb drive or your iPod Shuffle?
    Speaking of the Shuffle- I just bought one over the weekend and I’m already deeply in love with it. The only problem I have is that for old Mac users (such as myself) with my tried and true Biondi Blue, the Shuffle doesn’t fit all the way into the USB port. It’s a design flaw; the casing doesn’t give you enough space. I have to plug it directly into my USB hub, but since it’s a little wide I actually have to remove whatever is plugged in next to it. Altogether, a small inconvenience, but for $99.. who cares.

Browse the Archive

Browse by Category