PalmOne's Tungsten PDAs: A Handheld on Every Desk

PalmOne releases three PDAs for enterprise use.

December 5, 2003

4 Min Read
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The number of third-party applications that support the high-resolution mode include Kinoma's Player, DataViz's Documents To Go 6 word processor and Sheet To Go 6 spreadsheet software, Web Pro 3 browser, and VersaMail 2.6.1 e-mail client. Updated PIM (personal information management) applications--calendar, to-do lists and so on--are standard. Unlike PocketPC units, the T3 has a built-in landscape option at the OS level, accessed via a one-touch status bar at the bottom of the screen. Rotating the screen to landscape makes spreadsheets immediately more usable.

The T3 is slightly longer than the original T and weighs a very reasonable 5.5 oz. The CPU has been upgraded to the same 400-MHz PXA255 Xscale processor used in the Wi-Fi-enabled Tungsten C --the fastest processor in a mainstream PDA. I threw a multimedia presentation at it, and it didn't even break a sweat. In fact, the Kinoma Player chewed through 320x480 video clips at speeds up to 60 frames per second. The only problem I encountered: While watching a Terminator 3 movie clip on the Kinoma Player, the T3 sometimes locked up with a memory-related error, requiring a reset of the whole unit.

Memory has been boosted to 64 MB (52 MB usable). It also has both an SD/MMC expansion slot and the palmOne Universal Connector. In addition, Bluetooth is built-in, with the welcome addition of a one-click Bluetooth status and activation button on the system status bar.

I set up the Bluetooth network to access a Sony Ericcson phone, browse the Web and check e-mail via GPRS. Unfortunately, the T3 also has the same 900-mAh battery as the Tungsten T--when combined with the bigger screen, battery life is reduced to approximately five hours of heavy use. PalmOne's nifty Power To Go charger sled slips on the back of any Universal Connector-enabled palmOne device to recharge the battery quickly.

A significant development with the Tungsten T3 is its improved compatibility with common enterprise applications, such as Word and Excel. I used Documents To Go to read and write native Microsoft Office files without conversion, including those I received as e-mail attachments. In addition, the IBM J2ME Java Virtual Machine let me run a wide range of Java applications. Enterprise-class management features are still largely third-party add-ons. But the bottom line is that for power users, you simply can't do much better in a PDA.

Tungsten E: Missing Link?

The midrange Tungsten E comes with 32 MB of RAM, a midrange TI OMAP 311 ARM processor, an SD/MMC slot, speaker and stereo headphone jacks, and yet another gorgeous, crisp 16-bit color screen (320x320). This unit would be a shoe-in for corporate workhorse PDA except for one glaring problem: Inexplicably, palmOne left off the Universal Connector and instead put a standard USB port on the bottom of the unit, the same type used in the consumer-level Zire units. This means the Tungsten E can't charge and sync on standard Palm cradles; use Universal Connector sleds and devices such as the Palm Power To Go charger; use UC-based folding keyboards; or use chargers and peripherals of other Tungstens.As far as performance and capability, it would be hard to beat the value proposition of the Tungsten E, but the lack of what should be a standard port for enterprise PDA management and expansion for PalmOS devices makes this unit too soft.

Zire 21: Vertical Use

PalmOne has upgraded its low-end Zire 21 with 8 MB of RAM and a 126-MHz TI OMAP processor. This Zire comes with a better selection of bundled applications as well. The screen size is 160x160 monochrome. Like the Tungsten E, the Zire 21 lacks a Universal Connector, so syncing and charging must be done using a standard USB cable and a separate AC charger. This unit will be too little for many enterprise purposes. However, for those applications that do work with the Zire 21 (and more will, given the memory and processor upgrade), the $99 price makes this an almost disposable unit. The Zire 21 is ideal for basic vertical applications, as well as the intended low-end consumer PIM market.

Richard Hoffman, a former Network Computing technology editor, is a senior technical architect for SRA, in Fairfax, Virginia. Write to him at [email protected].

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