Why I love my Palm Zire 71

New York, NY, USA

I bought my (now discontinued) Palm Zire 71 PDA a couple of years ago when I wanted a faster PDA with a bigger memory and a color display. Since then, I've got a lot of use out of it as a project manager, MP3 player, subway map, alarm clock, portable library and a bunch of other stuff. And it also has a camera.

It is not a good camera. In fact, it's a terrible camera. It's effectively a miniature video camera with a fixed-focus wide-angle lens. It takes 640x480 pixel images with smeared, muted colors and – under almost all conditions – a healthy dose of 'noise'. The pictures it takes are pretty awful by any standards of sharpness or color fidelity.

Which is what I like about them. Taking pictures with the Zire is even more of a crapshoot than with any other camera; you never really know what you're going to get, particularly where color is concerned. Because it's based on the same kind of sensors used in video cameras, it can take pictures in near darkness, but you have to wait for it – and shake it up and down a bit – before it adjusts to the available light. When you use the auto white-balance, there's a sweet spot full of warm colors somewhere between a black screen and the leached-out blue/whites that it will eventually home in on: my picture-taking technique consists of turning on the camera, waiting for the colors to reach the warm red-orange range that I like, and then pressing the button quickly. If it doesn't work, I switch it off and start over. Sometimes it feels more like painting than photography.

My friend Herb wins prizes for his 'crappy camera' pictures, taken with ingenious home-made pinhole devices and printed using arcane (not to say occult) processes involving household chemicals such as silver, cyanide and Eye of Newt. I'm not in the same league, but the fuzzy, impressionistic, color-challenged images that the Zire produces do sometimes make me ridiculously happy.