PalmOne is releasing this week a pair of new Zire handhelds designed to entice those who are holding out for high-end multimedia features at low and midrange PDA prices.

The new models are the Zire 31, which at $129.99 is the first PalmOne colour handheld priced under $200, and the $229.99 Zire 72.

The Zire 31 has a 160-by-160 passive-matrix colour screen and comes with brightness and contrast controls. PalmOne representatives say only that the unit supports "thousands" of colors, although for its price point it's not up to the standards of the £199 Tungsten E with its 320-by-320, 65,000-plus-color active-matrix display.

The 31 is also the least expensive PalmOne handheld to date that has an SD card expansion slot, so users can add additional hardware, software, or memory on top of the included 16MB (which includes about 2MB for the Palm 5 operating system). Powering the Zire 31 is a 200-MHz Intel XScale processor.

The Zire 72 succeeds the Zire 71, soon to be retired, which previously topped the consumer-oriented Zire line. It improves on the 71's built-in VGA still camera, which can capture images of up to about 0.3 megapixels, with a 1.2-megapixel, 2X digital-zoom camera that can capture short video clips.

Like the 71, the 72 can also play MP3s and videos. The PDA has a 320-by-320 active-matrix colour screen. Also new to the Zire line in this model is integrated Bluetooth support, so users with a Bluetooth cell phone can use their handhelds to download e-mail and surf the Web.

The Zire 72 is powered by one of Intel's brand-new XScale processors, the 312-MHz PXA270, formerly code-named Bulverde.

To appeal to users who want multimedia but also need a solid productivity tool, the Zire 72 is the first Zire to bundle DataViz's Documents to Go Standard Edition software for creating and editing Microsoft Office documents.

Both the Zire 31 and the Zire 72 also feature improved personal information management tools.

The Calendar includes an Agenda view that shows the next few upcoming appointments, even those that aren't on the same day. And the Address Book has more fields than those in previous Zires, useful for records of people with multiple home and business numbers. You can now attach a photo to a contact entry.

These new Zires should make good competitors for Sony's latest Clies, which also emphasize multimedia features. For example, Sony's PEG-TJ37, priced the same as the Zire 72, has a camera, but it's not as nice as the PalmOne PDA's and can capture only VGA images. Instead of Documents to Go, Sony bundles an application that can view, but not edit, Office documents.

However, the TJ37 has more memory (32MB RAM and 16MB ROM versus 32MB total for the Zire 72) and built-in Wi-Fi (arguably more useful than Bluetooth, but also more power-hungry).

PalmOne officials say the Zire line has already proved itself in the marketplace. Last week, the company announced more than 3m Zires have been sold in the 18 months since the line was introduced. The original Zire, now the company's bottom-of-the-line product at, sold 1m units in the seven months following its launch. PalmOne says 70 percent of those buyers had never purchased a PDA before.