Brighthand’s First Look at the Palm Tungsten C

by Reads (35,292)

The Tungsten C is the newest high-end model from Palm Inc, offering a 400 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, and built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking. It also has a high-resolution color screen and an integrated miniature keyboard.

I have to start this by pointing out that it is only going to be a “first impressions” review. I’ve had a Tungsten C for less than a day at this point, which isn’t nearly enough time to do a complete job of evaluating it. However, it is enough time to start forming some preliminary opinions that I think you’ll be interested in.

Hardware

Tungsten C I have to admit, I thought it was going to be several more years before I would find myself talking about a Palm model with 64 MB of RAM. Honestly, I never thought it would happen before Palm OS 6 came out. But Palm pulled a rabbit out of its hat (with some help from PalmSource) and the 16 MB limit is history. Of course, a big chunk of this isn’t available to the user. There is 51 MB of user-accessible RAM.

Kudos to Palm for jumping in with both feet and getting the absolute best processor available. The Tungsten C uses the PXA255, which is the new version of Intel’s XScale processor. This version not only performs better than 400 MHz processors in most other models, it uses less power.

Still, I’m not sure there is a lot of need for a processor this fast in a Palm OS device. When I was testing the Sony TG50 with the 200 MHz XScale everything was essentially instantaneous. Now the Tungsten C is even more instantaneous, if such a thing is possible. I haven’t fully tested this processor yet but I’ll give you an example of the quickness of this thing. I tried to give it a workout by opening some large JPEGs, which is a fairly processor-intensive task. I haven’t been able to find one yet that is so big that the process isn’t over in the blink of an eye.

However, I think I understand why Palm used a processor this fast. The Tungsten C is intended for its enterprise customers. Frequently, handhelds are chosen by corporate buyers based on the spec sheet. If one model has a 200 MHz processor and the other has a 400 MHz processor, you know which one the person will pick. This puts the Tungsten C and high-end Pocket PC models on a level playing field from a features standpoint.

At 4.8 by 3.07 inches this model is about the same width and only slightly longer than an m500 series model. It is fairly thick, though, at .65 inches. All in all, it is slightly smaller than my Toshiba Genio e550g.

Tungsten C, Tungsten T, Zire 71

I know some of you actively dislike plastic casings so I want to warn you that the Tungsten C’s is all plastic. It does help keep the weight down some. However, it is no lightweight at 6.3 ounces. There is some good news in this, though. A big chunk of this weight (and the thickness, too) is battery. I haven’t had a chance to fully test this model’s battery life in the short time I’ve had it but I can tell you I used its Wi-Fi capabilities today for hour after hour without running out the battery.

The screen is beautiful. It’s far and away the best screen Palm has ever used. This is because this and the Zire 71 are the first models Palm has put a transflective screen on. This means the screen looks great indoors and decent outdoors.

Keyboard So far I’m fairly pleased with the keyboard. Of course, I’m in favor of mini-keyboards so I’m predesposed to like it. It has some nice touches, like holding down a key automatically capitalizes it. Plus, it’s easy on my fingers, even when I type a long email.

Wi-Fi

At the heart of the Tungsten C is its ability to connect to Wi-Fi (or 802.11b if you prefer) wireless networks. I’ve got one of these set up at my house and I love it. A handheld is so much more useful when it is constantly connected to the Internet. I use it for email, surfing the Web when I just want to look something up quickly, and that sort of thing.

One thing I really like about this handheld is Palm really worked hard to make using Wi-Fi easy. It comes with an app called Wi-Fi Setup that automates this process as much as possible. When you open the app it displays a list of Wi-Fi networks in your area. Choose the one you want to use and you are connected. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

I’ve done some preliminary testing and the Tungsten C’s Wireless Data transfer speed seems good but its range isn’t great. So far, I’d have to rank it slightly below average. I can get a decent connection about 40 or 50 feet from my access point through a couple of walls but it can’t handle much more than that. I generally use a Pocket PC with a Symbol Wi-Fi card and it can connect in places the Tungsten C can’t. I suspect this is because Palm decided to not use an external antenna. Still, it’s good enough for use around my house.

The Tungsten C comes with a good suite of Internet-related applications. Its Web browser is based on NetFront 3.0 which is pretty much the gold standard for handheld browsers. It does a good job of presenting Web pages exactly as they would look on a desktop browser. Unfortunately, this isn’t an approach I’m overly fond of. I prefer being given the option of fitting the text to the smaller screen. This way I do a lot of scrolling back and forth reading wide columns of text. Still, there’s a lot to like in this browser, including being able to use pages that require JavaScript.

It comes with VersaMail 2.5 for email. I haven’t had much of a chance to form an opinion about this. The same goes for its built-in VPN.

Non-Conclusion

The Tungsten C has plenty more to offer but that’s as much of its feature set as I’ve been able to test in the short amount of time I’ve had. I’ll do a much longer review in the next few days that will go into more depth and especially cover the many applications that come bundled with it. I’m especially looking forward to playing around with Kinoma. With its fast processor, the Tungsten C should be an ideal platform for viewing video.

I’ll leave you with this. So far, the Tungsten C looks like a very impressive device. When I first heard hints Palm was putting together a model with built-in Wi-Fi and a 400 MHz processor, I expected it to cost at least $600. Palm really surprised me by pricing it at $500. That puts it $100 less than the Toshiba e750, which has a roughly similar feature set. This device could win Palm not only sales among power users but among large corporate clients as well.

OK, that’s it for now. Don’t forget to check back in a few days for the full review.

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