Not Your Grandfather's Model T

Palm's Tungsten T is Bluetooth-enabled, uses a new OS and comes bundled with a host of networking features.

December 2, 2002

5 Min Read
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Size is Wise

At just 4 inches high, the Tungsten T is a good five-eighths of an inch shorter than the m505/m515 it replaces (see "Put Your Hands Together for the Sharp New Palm m500 Series,"). The Graffiti area and surrounding silk-screen buttons are hidden until you extend the bottom inch of the unit, in a design similar to the Sharp Zaurus, increasing the product's total length to about 4.8 inches. Palm has engineered the device to be comfortably held and used for one-handed data retrieval. Controls are well-placed, and a five-way Navigator button replaces the two central up/down buttons on previous Palms.

As with Pocket PC devices, the Tungsten T has a one-touch voice memo button for recording voice messages, with playback through a loud internal speaker or a headphone jack for audio-out only. Third-party vendors are rolling out sound applications and MP3 players for the Tungsten T. I tested Kinoma's video player (Version 1.5 Preview) and found it works well on the Tungsten T, providing quality video clips with sound at around 30 frames per second.

The screen is what really grabbed me about the Tungsten T. No larger than the m500-series screen (about 2.25x2.25 inches), the new 16-bit color screen displays a 320x320 pixel density--four times that of the 160x160 screens on earlier Palms and greater than the 240x320 on the standard crop of Pocket PCs. This means the screen's resolution is incredibly sharp--you can see the screen clearly in almost any lighting.

The Tungsten T comes with 16 MB of SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM) and 4 MB of Flash ROM. Although this typically is sufficient for Palm OS devices, which are considerably less memory-hungry than Pocket PCs, users would welcome more internal memory. You can add storage easily via the included Secure Digital(SD)/Multimedia Card slot, but if that slot is being used for a peripheral, you're in trouble--with large databases or multiple add-on programs, 16 MB goes fast. (find out more on expansion and peripheral usage.)The Tungsten T's new design is good, and most old applications ran fast on it in my tests. Still, many crucial third-party applications, such as Pimlico Software's DateBk5, need to be OS 5-enabled to leverage the five-way Navigator control. And a fair number of old applications announced they were incompatible with the new OS 5 and wouldn't function, including some games included with the Tungsten T software CD from Palm. Software compatibility could be an issue for enterprises upgrading from older, DragonBall-based Palm OS units, and users with a significant software investment will want to test necessary applications and ask their vendors about OS 5 upgrade plans before buying the Tungsten T.

Battery life, even with the new screen, faster processor and additional functionality, was at least as good as that of the m505/m515 PDAs. Palm claims you'll get seven days of basic use on a charge, but I found heavy usage drained the batteries more quickly. Still, it was clear during testing that one of the primary differentiators between Palm OS devices and Pocket PCs is that usable battery life for the former is measured in days and for the latter in hours.

As for functional improvements, I'd like a menu button or multifunction jog wheel when the unit is closed. Also, the Tungsten T's clear plastic screen cover isn't up to the high level of design and functionality of the rest of the product. By the end of my testing, it had come loose and I'd lost it.

Bluetooth at Last

In a previous review (see "Here Comes the Bride--Getting Hitched to Bluetooth"), Bluetooth showed promise for Palm OS PDAs, but it didn't integrate well enough with Palm OS to be fully usable. With the Tungsten T, Bluetooth has found its match. After an easy configuration, I was able to sync my Palm to my Apple PowerBook and communicate wirelessly with my Ericsson T68i phone, which also acted as a wireless WAN hub for all my PDA activities. The bundled Web browser, phone dialer,e-mail, SMS (short message service) and other communication software complete a package that is a near-perfect combo of compact functionality. The updated Address Book allows one-touch dialing of your Bluetooth-enabled phone without a physical connection between the devices. Data synchronization to my PC was fast compared with IrDA but took about twice as long as it would have with a wired USB cradle connection.

Contributing editor Richard Hoffman groks Web development and middleware, PDAs and wireless WANs, and leads the Web Technologies group at Fairfax County Public Schools. Write to him at [email protected].

For expansion, in addition to the SD slot, the Tungsten T uses Palm's Universal Connector, which has remained unchanged so most m500-series peripherals should work without difficulty on the Tungsten T. I tested Secure Digital memory and data cards and an m500-series Palm Keyboard (with a new beta OS5 driver from Palm) on the Tungsten T and they worked without a hitch. Data transfer from main memory to a SanDisk SD card was about 45 KB per second, and retrieval from the card was about double that speed. One enterprise peripheral you won't find yet for the Tungsten T is an SDIO-format 802.11b card. One is in the works, but for now, the add-on Xircom sled is the only option for Wi-Fi.

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