palmOne’s latest high-end handheld, the Tungsten T5, is an evolutionary model, rather than a revolutionary one. It offers some interesting new features its predecessor, the Tungsten T3, lacks, but it isn’t the radical change many handheld users, including me, were hoping for.
I’ve had a very short amount of time to test this model out, but I wanted to go ahead and share my first impressions of it. A full review will follow in a few days.
The Handheld that Never Forgets
The T5 has 256 MB of memory. This is a really nice amount, more than any Palm OS device has ever had.
But the most interesting feature of the T5 is the way it handles this memory.
First off, 64 MB of the memory acts like the internal memory on a Palm OS device always has. Unfortunately, this means it has the same limitations on what types of files you can put here.
Next, there’s 161 MB of memory that acts like an internal SD card. You can store any types of files here that you like.
The other 40 MB isn’t being wasted. It is being used as Heap Memory. This is used by all applications when they are running, and also allows the web browser to open very large pages.
palmOne used a different type of memory chip in the T5 than is typically found in handhelds. Unlike most handhelds, the T5 doesn’t have to continuously send power to its memory chips in order for them to keep storing data.
This means that if you accidentally let your handheld run completely out of power, it won’t lose anything you are storing in it. This includes everything in both the 55 MB portion of the memory, and the 160 MB part, too. You could put a T5 in a drawer for a year, and when you pulled it out and charged it up, it will be exactly the same as when you last put it down.
However, this doesn’t mean that the T5 can survive a hard reset. A hard reset means something has gone seriously wrong with the operating system, and it all needs to be replaced with the original versions that are stored in ROM. Doing this is going to wipe out everything on the device.
The T5 has one more trick up its sleeve. You can connect it to the USB port on almost any computer and the 161 MB segment of memory will appear on the computer as a removable drive. No additional software of any kind needs to be installed on the computer. What’s more, if an SD card is inserted into the T5, it will also appear as a removable drive.
I tested this with my wife’s G5 Mac — a computer that’s never been anywhere near the Palm Desktop — and it worked just fine. I transferred files and documents back and forth without a hitch.
The only downside, and it isn’t a big one, is you need to run an application on the T5 to make this work, and you can’t do anything else while this is running. I loaded a file onto the T5 and then wanted to check to be sure it was the one I wanted by viewing it on the handheld. The only way to do this is to shut down Drive Mode.
While its true you can do this with any USB Flash Drive, the T5 comes with DataViz Documents To Go 7.0, so you can access and edit your files while on the go. This application allows you to edit and view Word and Excel files, but you can only view PowerPoint presentations.
Naturally, you are going to want to view the contents of the T5’s internal flash drive on the handheld itself, so, for the first time, palmOne is bundling a file browser with one of its handhelds.
Just to be clear, Drive Mode isn’t your only option for accessing the flash drive from your PC. A Windows application called File Transfer lets you view the contents of both regular memory and the internal flash drive. This doesn’t require the T5 to be in Drive Mode, and file conversions (like converting a jpeg to a more Palm-friendly format) happen automatically.
Not a Super-sized Tungsten T3
When palmOne’s engineers sat down to design the newest high-end Tungsten model, they didn’t start with the current high-end model, the Tungsten T3. Instead, they used the Tungsten E, palmOne’s mid-range business model, as the starting point.
Whether this was a good idea or not is open for debate. However, there’s no doubt the Tungsten E is palmOne’s best selling device, greatly outselling the T3.
Also, the T3 has some features that a lot of people objected to, especially the “slider” design, in which the bottom of the handheld moves up or down. This design may have made sense for the first two Tungsten T series models, when the only thing hidden when the device was closed was the Graffiti area. But things changed when palmOne put a larger screen in the T3. palmOne’s research shows that most T3 users always extend the device to expose the entire screen when they use it.
By dropping the slider concept, palmOne was able to give the T5 a much larger battery than its predecessor (1300 mAh vs. 900 mAh), and a short battery life was one of the chief complaints about the T3.
Also, they made a more reliable device. Moving parts are always the first to break, and plenty of people had problems with the slider on previous Tungsten T series models.
Look and Feel
Judging by the pictures, I thought the T5 would look almost exactly like the Tungsten E. The shapes are almost identical, but the T5 doesn’t have the same coating on its plastic body. This is good thing, as the Tungsten E is very easily scratched. Plus, the T5’s coating gives it that not-quite-metal-not-quite-plastic feeling that a lot of handhelds have. All in all, I like the looks of the T5 much more than I do the Tungsten E.
Where’s the Beef?
By starting with the Tungsten E and adding the features they thought most people wanted, palmOne’s designers ended up with a device that is pretty much equivalent to the T3.
Like its predecessor, the T5 has a 320-by-480-pixel (HVGA) screen that offers both portrait and landscape modes.
The latest model runs a 416 MHz Intel XScale processor, just marginally faster than the 400 MHz one in the T3.
Both models have Bluetooth, but not the Wi-Fi wireless networking many people were hoping would be included in the new model.
However, much to the ire of some users, the T5 lacks some features the T3 has, like a voice recorder and vibrating alarms.
In addition, palmOne has dropped the Universal Connector it has been using for over three years, and this will appear on no more palmOne devices. Instead the T5 uses a new design, called the Multi-connector. This means that any peripherals you have for current devices that use the Universal Connector (cradles, cables, keyboards, etc.) can’t be used with the T5.
PalmSource gave Cobalt to its licensees at the beginning of the year. That’s nine months ago, and still no company has put out a model using it. With Sony (mostly) out of the game, hard-core handheld users are almost certainly going to have to wait until next spring, when palmOne releases its next round of devices, before they have any hope of seeing a Cobalt device.
These hard-core users are mighty displeased about this, and are taking their anger out on the Tungsten T5.
Why Not the Tungsten E2?
I’m not the first person to point this out, (I’m probably the 2 millionth) but palmOne really should have called this model the Tungsten E2. That is a much better description of this device, and it would have kept people’s hopes for it from rising so high.
There would still be plenty of unhappy campers about the whole Cobalt snafu, but at least people wouldn’t blame this handheld.
The T5 has some nice features (which will be explored in more depth in the full review). There’s no doubt that plenty of people who have a Tungsten E, Zire 72, or other entry-level or mid-range model will pick up a Tungsten T5 when they want to upgrade.
However, very few who already have a Tungsten T3 will feel a need to purchase this device, as it just doesn’t offer enough new features.