Sporting WiFi, Bluetooth, 128 MB of memory, a sleek black case, and a $299 pricetag, the Palm TX is the newest bigshot on the PalmOS block.
Starting with the TX and Z22, Palm is phasing out the long-standing Tungsten and Zire brands. New Handhelds will receive an individual designation. It remains to be seen whether the Lifedrive will be included in the rebranding effort, and whether or not Palm will continue to use the T and Z designators for their different lines. The intent is obvious, though. Palm's recent handhelds have been selling poorly, with the less than Earth-shattering T5 and Lifedrive being the main source of new blood for quite some time. Palm is shinking and consolidating their handheld line in order to devote their energy to the Treos that make up around 40-50% of all their sales, and two thirds of all their revenue.
Ironically, Palm makes a big selling point of "Affordable WiFi." We are, I guess, supposed to ignore the fact that virtually every major manufacturer, aside from Palm, has produced a WiFi model around this price range.
Design & Construction
Physically, the TX is identical in styling to the Tungsten T5 and the Tungsten E2. The main difference is the coloration of the case--where the older models had a silver or grayish case, the TX is flat black. Like it's predecessors, the case is a little bit prone to smudging and fingerprinting, but not so much as to be noticible unless you're looking very closely. The buttons are black with white icons, and the directional pad a dark silver that's resembles the color of hematite.
Like the T5, the TX has an open-sided stylus silo on the right, a slot for the included flip-cover on the left, and most all of its functions up top. Left to right, stylus silo, power button, IR port, SDIO slot, and headphone jack.
I've never liked this style of power button. I'm opposed to top mounted power buttons in general, but the style used by the TX--along with the T5, TE2, and TE before it--is a cut below the average. It's a small, mushy button that you have to jam about 5 inches into the case before it will actually make contact, and which is surrounded by a raised ridge just for the sake of making it more difficult to use. At this point, the top-mounted power buttons of the early Tungsten T series are looking good. At least you could press those without needing a hammer and a long stick.
Still, looking at the Palm TX, I have to wonder if Palm has suddenly started listening to it users, at least a little tiny bit. The reset button can be pushed with the stylus tip, rather than a pin. PocketTunes has replaced the lackluster Realplayer. Even more dramatic, the price is now well within reason for the hardware capabilities.
Of course, this is still a Palm Inc. device, which means a few core deficiencies. Despite the power requirements of WiFi, Palm has not implemented a removable battery. Maybe Palm thinks that "Zen" and power management are incompatible. Maybe they just prefer the battery not being replacable because it guarantees them more upgrade sales a few years down the road. For whatever reason, the TX doesn't have the option open to it.
Once again, we have a Palm flagship model sold without a cradle. To get said cradle, which is a standard feature in all but the cheapest devices from other manufacturers, Palm OS users have to pay an additional $40-$50 on top of their $300 initial purchase.
Palm seems to be hoping that we'll just give up and forget that they used to include cradles with their devices. Not going to happen.
Despite the dumber design problems, I like the style and build of the TX. It's well built, feels good in the hand, and it's hard to argue with black. The flaring on the bottom could be a little more subtle for my taste, but it still holds well. I can't stand the power button, but some things you just can't change.
312 MHz Intel XScale PXA270 with WMMX
|Operating System:|| |
Palm OS 126.96.36.199.40
|Display:||3.8 inch 320 x 480 HVGA screen|
128 MB flash memory (101 MB available)
|Size & Weight:|| |
4.76" x 3.08" x 0.61", 149 grams (5.25 ounces)
Single SDIO slot
PalmOne "Athena" multi-connector; USB cable; optional cradle
|Communication:||Integrated Bluetooth 1.1 and 802.11b WiFi|
Internal monaural speaker; 3.5mm headphone jack
|Battery:||Standard 3.7 volt, 1250 milliamp-hour non-replacable Lithium-Ion battery|
4 remappable application buttons; 5-way directional pad; touchscreen
MobiTV, Aveenu, Documents To Go 7
The TX uses the same model of Intel XScale processor as was used in the T5 and the Lifedrive. However, while the T5 and the LD ran at 416 MHz, the processor in the TX is only 316 MHz. The net result of this is that the TX has 25% less pure processing power than the T5. While this doesn't make a lot of difference to most people, it does put certain constraints on high-performance activities such as playing video, opening large files, or other processor-dependant tasks.
Subjectively, the TX does feel a little bit slower than the T5. The interface is a little less snappy, and sometimes there's a faint delay between hitting a button and getting a result. Even so, it's plenty fast for normal use, just not quite the same as the T5.
I can't for the life of me fathom why Palm chose to downgrade the processor on the TX as compared to the T5 and the LifeDrive. I suppose it could have been a power-saving measure, but even that makes no sense. Intel XScale processors are designed from the ground up to vary their speed according to demand. All Palm had to do was implement speed-stepping, and then they could have advertised a 624 MHz processor while being almost as power-efficient as running at 104 MHz. That, at least, is the way their competitors do it. Of course, some determined users will eventually be able to use overclocking programs to boost the speed of their TXes if they so desire. But everybody else will still be stuck at 312 MHz.
Follow along with me here, folks. It is now approximately 1,215 days since the debut of Palm OS 5.0, now called Garnet, and 1,077 days since the first details of Palm OS 6.0, called Cobalt. In this time, we've seen seven Palm release cycles, three major revisions of Windows Mobile, the rise of the Treo, Palm merging with Handspring, Palm breaking up, PalmOne buying back the Palm name, and PalmSource being bought by the Japanese.
And yet, new hardware is still limping along with the same old version of OS 5--now laden with so many hacks and patches that Palm enthusiasts have begun referring to it as "FrankenGarnet." Whatever you call it, the OS that wouldn't die hasn't changed much in the last few months since the release of the Lifedrive.
Palm's last several high-end models have had bug issues, neccessitating updates and patches that some models still haven't gotten. The good news is that during my testing, I ran into no major bugs or issues with the TX. To be completely accurate, I've only had a little over a week with the TX, so it's still possible that there are bugs somewhere that I simply haven't encountered yet, but my experience has been smooth sailing.
Blazer, despite an upgrade to version 4.3, remains an abjectly pathetic browser. Its rendering of pages is almost cartoonishly bad, and it wastes screen space like there's no tomorrow. It's even more pathetic than Even though it has a half-VGA screen, it does a worse job rendering sites than browsers that are working with a quarter-VGA screen.
Not only that, but it still fails to "save state," meaning that if you leave the browser for any reason whatsoever, upon returning you must reload whatever page you were on. This sounds minor, but it becomes extremely aggrievating when you're trying to, say, copy a URL to an email, or take notes from a web page.
The TX comes with PocketTunes as its MP3 player, suggesting that the company has officially dropped RealPlayer as its bundled audio application of choice. The Lifedrive was the first device to ship with the new program earlier this year.
In my opinion, the biggest thing holding the TX back is the antiquated and increasingly hacked-to-death Palm OS 5.4. If the TX were running Cobalt, or virtually any other modern, multitasking operating system, it would be an even more impressive device than it is. As it stands, you've got good hardware with serious deficiencies in multitasking, development support, infrastructure, etcetera. Garnet is an OS that had weaknesses four years ago--today it's simply weak.
The TX's display is identical to that of the last several Palm models with a 320 x 480 resolution. And by identical, I mean identical--upon checking the hardware, it's physically cross compatible with the Tungsten T3, T5, and possibly the Lifedrive as well. It's a very good display, bright and crisp with good colors. My unit suffers from slightly irregular lighting along the bottom edge, the famous "stagelight" effect, as well as a slight darkening on the left hand side of the screen, but it's impossible to tell whether or not this is just my review unit.
Left, Dell Axim X50v. Right, Palm T|X.
Minus the space used by the operating system, the user is left with about 101 MB of memory out of the box. While it's not quite as much as the T5 had, it's more than respectable. In some ways, the TX's 101 MB is preferable to the T5's 215 MB. Many Palm OS applications still insist on being installed to the area that the device treats as "internal memory," rather than a memory card. The T5 allocated 64 MB for "internal" memory, and another 160 MB for its virtual memory card. So the TX actually has more "internal" memory than the T5.
Unlike it's last couple of predecessors, the TX doesn't feature a "drive mode" to let you connect the device directly to a desktop for use as a Storage device. No great loss, in my opinion. For me it was always easier to simply pull the memory card out of the T5 or Lifedrive and stick it in my memory card reader than pull out the cable, start drive mode, and connect the device. Besides which, I'm highly wireless--I never sync with a cable if it's at all possible. Still, if you really want the feature, you can get a third-party program that does it.
Size & Weight
In the hand, the TX actually feels rather light, despite it being only three-quarters of an ounce less than my X51v. Part of it, I believe, is the way that the weight is distributed, with a broader, slightly flatter profile, and part is the differing construction materials of the two devices. Overall, I wish that Palm had rounded the bottom corners a bit more, but the TX is still a very nice design with an extremely reasonable size and weight.
Left, Dell Axim X50v. Right, Palm TX.
With built-in WiFi, there's not much application for the TX's single SDIO slot except for additional memory. Fortunately, there's plenty of need for that.
Upon rummaging in the TX's memory, I discovered a file labeled "FAT32." I can't be sure, but I assume that this is the same FAT32 driver as was included in the Lifedrive, allowing the device to use cards larger than 2 GB.
As standard equipment, the TX comes only with a simple USB cable. You can trickle charge through the USB cable, but only when the device is off, and even then its slow. To properly charge, you need use the included AC power adapter. The adapter can be attached to the TX either independantly or through the USB cable. Both models are identical to those included with the Tungsten T5 and other multi-connector models.
As mentioned, the Palm cradle is optional equipment. In addition to providing a stand for the device, and allowing easy docking and undocking of the TX, the cradle also includes an audio output jack built into the base, so that you could hook it up to a set of speakers or a larger stereo and use the TX as an audio player.
Palm gets a gold star for the TX's WiFi deployment. For starters, the device quickly and automatically toggles WiFi on and off as needed. Just load the browser, email application, or other network software, and away it goes. This lets you leave WiFi "on" all the time, while not excessively draining the battery. After the connection is idle for a certain period of time (or if the device is turned off) then the WiFi goes back to sleep. It's so simple and painless that you don't even need to think about managing your WiFi. It also lets you move on and offline faster,
The second nice thing about the TX's WiFi is that it stores network parameters on a case-by-case basis. What this means is simple. Suppose that at home you have a WiFi network worked out with static IP addresses. At work, however, your network used automatically assigned dynamic IPs. The TX remembers the individual settings--it will use a static IP for your home network, and a dynamic one for work. This is in contrast to laptops, Windows Mobile, and most other breeds of devices, which usually store one IP and routing setup per network card, rather than per network.
The only remotely negative thing is that to access the power save settings, you have to go back to the Preferences, which means that you have to close the web browser or whatever application you were in. I'd prefer it if the power save settings were included in the network setup, since some wireless networks don't work well with low-power modes.
Some combinations of routers and clients don't play well together when power save modes are enabled, so if you ran into one of these networks, you would have to go back to the Prefs in order to change the setting. It's a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent WiFi deployment.
Bluetooth isn't much changed. The interface is the same as ever, providing the setup wizards for connecting to a mobile phone, PC, or network. And besides a few standard things such as Bluetooth GPS and serial ports, that's it. There's no support that I can find for Bluetooth headphones, headsets, or any kind of BT audio.
Curiously, while the TX itself is marked as being Bluetooth 1.2, all the documentation says Bluetooth 1.1, even Palm's reviewer guide. I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the sticker on the device. Manuals and printed materials can be inaccurate, since they're sometimes copied directly from information about the previous model, or simply made up long before the actual device is complete.
UPDATE: I've learned that the T|X only has Bluetooth 1.1. The listing of BT 1.2 on the back sticker was a mistake on the part of Palm.
There's not much to speak of in the audio department for the TX. Besides the standard integrated speaker for alarms, and the 3.5mm headphone jack, it really doesn't have any other audio hardware. Palm declined to modify the design in order to add a voice recorder, a feature included many Tungsten models prior to the T5.
Although it doesn't offer a replacable battery, the TX has a respectable amount of power inside. Its 1250 mAh Lithium Ion battery provides more juice than any other Palm unit with the exception of the Lifedrive and the Treo.
|Palm T|X||Palm Lifedrive||Axim X51v|
|Brightness at minimum, no wireless:||7 hours, 18 minutes||~ 5 hours||~ 10 hours|
|Brightness at minimum, BT/WiFi on;||3 hours, 13 minutes||N/A||6 hours, 48 minutes|
|Brightness at maximum, BT/WiFi on:||2 hours, 2 minutes||2 hours, 50 minutes||4 hours, 11 minutes|
I felt mixed about the TX's performance in most of my battery tests, as well as how the device performed in real world usage. While the backlight and WiFi usage clearly put a big drain on the battery, the TX performed far better than the Lifedrive did in most other applications. I would still much rather see a replacable battery available, for the benefit of high-performance users, but the TX doesn't do badly despite that lack.
Interestingly, at the end of my LifeDrive review earlier this year, I actually commented on how I would like to see something like the TX: a dual wireless model with a large battery priced at $300.
Priced at $300, the TX is arguably the best "bang for the buck" model Palm has produced in a very long time, if ever. Palm has taken a lot of hits recently for their unrealistic pricing of high-end models, and the lesson finally seems to have come home to roost.
The TX is by no means perfect, but it's a big step up from some of Palm's recent mistakes. It has many of the features that users have been asking for, and at a very reasonable price. Compared to its predecessor, the T5, the TX is far superior for the money, despite minimal downgrades in memory and processor speed. If you're a Palm user who's been hanging on to their Tungsten T3 because of the hit-and-miss nature of Palm's high-end models, you may have just found a reason to upgrade.
Despite a few issues, some of the best hardware Palm has had in quite awhile.
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