Palm Rebounds With Tungsten C

Wi-Fi plus fast processor put Palm back in the game.

July 1, 2003

4 Min Read
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The Tungsten C sports a 1500mAh lithium ion/polymer battery. With light wireless use--e-mail access, Web surfing four to eight times a day--and energy-saving settings on, a charge lasted me two to four days. In rundown tests with backlight on and continuous Wi-Fi usage, battery life was three to five hours. Rundown tests using continuous non-Wi-Fi tasks, such as video/ audio playback, gave me six to eight hours of use--all this despite the inclusion of a blazingly fast 400-MHz Intel XScale PXA255 processor, which provided better performance in Web browsing and video playback than any other PDA.

Palm's transreflective screen on the Tungsten C is incredible: bright and razor sharp, usable both inside and outside. I thought the screen on the Tungsten T was good, but the Tungsten C totally blows it and most of the competition away, including the Dell Axim X5 and iPaq h1910.

The Tungsten C's Wi-Fi setup wizard, as well as basic VPN setup to a Linux PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) box, were intuitive. Wireless range is limited to 50 to 75 feet indoors, perhaps due to the limited antenna size and placement. I had no trouble accessing POP3/IMAP e-mail with Versamail 2.5, and Web browsing via the new proxy-less Web Browser 2.0, though Web surfing using any 320x320 screen is painful.

There are some significant limitations to the Wi-Fi setup utility: You can do simple monitoring of signal level, but you can't force a DHCP renew; no site-survey tools are included; and 802.1x authentication is not supported (see "Mobile Diagnostics" below). I could, however, set up a wireless network HotSync over PPTP VPN to sync the Tungsten C remotely from a Wi-Fi hotspot. But there were a few glitches--for example, you can't yet install anything to an SD card via network HotSync.

It struck me as an oversight that there's no microphone for voice recording or VoIP (voice over IP). You must purchase the Palm hands-free headset to plug into the audio accessory jack, and output is mono-only--an inexplicable design choice.

The ideal PDA would support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GSM/GPRS or have 1xRTT built-in; but it would be expensive and have a battery life measured in minutes. We've a ways to go until PDA nirvana is reached, but the Tungsten C's functionality has Palm on the right track.

Richard Hoffman is a Network Computing contributing editor. Write to him at [email protected].

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I also tested Palm's new consumer-focued PDA, the Zire 71. In short, the Zire 71is a home run. Reasonably priced with the same gorgeous color screen as theTungsten C, the Zire runs PalmOS 5 and comes with an ARM processor, 16 MB ofRAM, a SD slot plus a Universal Connector, and for a high cool factor, abuilt-in 640x480 digital camera hidden in the back via a clever slide-up case.While the camera may make this a slam-dunk for real estate agents and insuranceadjusters, I suspect that the low price, plus the inclusion of the fullcomplement of SD and standard Palm expansion ports and OS5 may make the Zire 71well worth considering for enterprise rollouts of PalmOS PDAs. Power users canget the Tungsten units 'T, C or W' for enterprise use and buy the more affordableZire for general-purpose use.

One of the first things I wanted to try with the Tungsten C was mobile wirelessdiagnostics to identify, for instance, unauthorized or improperly secured accesspoints. Unfortunately, I discovered that no wireless sniffer software wasavailable for the Tungsten C, but then Bits & Bolts Software writer offreeware/shareware for Palm OS, Michael Waldron, came to the rescue withNetChaser ( The beta version ofNetChaser (available at the time of my tests) comes with GPS support and APlogging to CSV files, along with good basic functionality. Aside from therelatively limited range of the device, the Tungsten C combined with NetChaserprovides a good, cheap and extremely portable mobile Wi-Fi sniffer solution,which will only get better as the software matures.

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