Review: Palm Tungsten T — Bluetooth Anyone?

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Review: Palm Tungsten T — Bluetooth Anyone?

 

The Palm Tungsten T is really the first new PDA they’ve released since the m130. Sure the m515 came out in between, but wasn’t it just a re-hash of the m505 with a little marketing spin? Come to think of it, when was the last time Palm truly innovated with one of their PDA’s?

 

It has been a while hasn’t it? The Tungsten T comes to us with a lot of promise though, as Palm tries to shake the not-so-creative rap that’s been dogging them for the past year or two. “Mr. T” comes to market with a lot to brag about: a nice high-resolution color screen, integrated Bluetooth, a new body style, updated operating system, and a host of multimedia features.

 

In many ways the TT is astounding, blazing a nice path for others to follow, but more often than not, Palm’s simply doing what Sony did first, many moons ago.

 

Packaging

Often not even worth notice, Palm went with a bold statement in their package design. While not efficient by any means, the box is something to marvel at, even for less than a minute before thrashing it open. The TT sits high atop the cardboard box on a clear pedestal, begging to be opened. Initially I though Palm did this to make the TT stand out from the competition. That theory held water until I remembered that devices of this price are often placed behind the counter or another secure area. So, I imagine Palm just wanted the buyers to feel good about the purchase…I did!

 

Form Factor

Once you get the Tungsten T out of the box, you’ll want to tug at the slider. The rest of the body doesn’t scream “Touch Me!” I guess the slider really doesn’t either, but what the heck – it’s a moving piece on hardware that we are accustomed to being fixed. Opening the slider causes the screen to come to life and you’re rolling.

 

Palm decided to use the slider because most people really don’t use the input area most of the time. For the entire time I have been using the TT, I’ve been frustrated by the lack of quick access to the main launcher with the slider closed. Well here’s the solution – a quick tap of the button in the center of the navigation pad will bring up the clock, an extended hold will bring up the program launcher.

 

The TT is made in a metal casing, similar to the other Palms in the m5XX series. It feels sturdy in the hand. In comparison to something like the Clie SJ30, it just seems stronger and more secure. A drop of the TT may cause a scratch in the body, where the same drop of the SJ30 could cause a crack. The difference is small, but when you spend $500 on a PDA, it’s nice to know the innards are fully protected.

 

Interestingly, the Tungsten T is the shortest Palm branded PDA on the market. With the slider closed, the TT is largely rectangular with a gradually rounded top and bottom. The critical measurements are as follows — 3″ wide, .6″ thick, 4″ tall when closed, and 4.8″ tall when open. Weighing in at 5.6 ounces, due in large part to the metal case, the TT felt fine in my pants pocket, but a bit heavy for a chest pocket in the shirt.

 

The input buttons on the PDA are a good example of where Palm hit and miss at the same time. On the slider reside the four main application launch buttons and a very nice 5-way navigation pad. The pad is a great tool for navigating the Web, especially when pages start to get long. If you’re reading eBooks or navigating through other long or wide content, I think you’ll quickly become a big fan of the navigation pad. So where did they miss? No jog dial. Sony’s been doing this for over a year. Handspring has integrated it into the Treo line. Why Palm skipped over this soon-to-be standard feature is beyond me. Perhaps they thought the nav button was enough, but I miss the single handed (left) operation I had with the SJ30.

 

The right side of the TT is totally barren. The left side houses the stereo jack for audio output and a voice record button. The top houses the SD slot, power button, IR port and funky stylus. A standard stylus would not fit Palm’s squatty design, so they created an expanding stylus to resolve the issue. Push down on in and the little knob pops up so you may remove it and begin use. Note to the people who have click pens and click them all the damned time due to some kind of ants in the pants syndrome — You will love this stylus. You can click it all day long and the best part is that it’s quiet! Nothing on the stylus unscrews, it’s one solid piece. How do I hit reset you ask? The tip is long enough to hit the reset button.

 

There are a few other things in the box…a bunch of papers, install compact disks, a cheap plastic cover for the TT and the USB cradle. The cradle works fine, but I’m pretty disappointed that it remained the same. Usually not a big deal, the cradle remaining the same means that you cannot open the slider on the TT while it’s charging. Oh and remember that other PDA company? Sony’s new cradle has a speaker imbedded inside it. While I don’t need the cradle to act as a boom box, how about modifying it to take advantage of the new slider?

 

Overall I find the form factor to have a bland look with a solid housing. The slider is cool, but the covering of the home button is a major shortfall. No one buys a PDA on looks alone, and this one’s not going to start that trend.

 

Performance

Palm’s PDA efforts have been lackluster in the past, but this time around Palm did get to the table first with a number of technical advances.

 

Processor:

The Tungsten T is the first Palm OS PDA to feature the new breed of ARM processors. The power plant is a Texas Instruments OMAP1510 processor running at a blazing 144MHz. The processor is fast, even faster when compared to a much older PDA. I opened Bejeweled on the TT and on a Visor Prism. While not exactly a memory/processor hog, the difference was dramatic. Most users don’t need this level of speed, as the applications don’t demand it, but it’s always nice to have.

 

In a related note, the TT also comes with Palm OS 5. The new OS was not supported by the old Dragonball processors. If you’re looking for major changes in the OS, you won’t find them here. New icons and multimedia functions are all that is new, so hold out for OS 6 in 2003 if you want something dramatic.

 

Memory:

The TT comes with 16MB on board. SD cards are cheap now, so adding more memory isn’t really an issue. That being said, when will someone challenge the 16MB standard that Palm devices have been using for a while?

 

Screen:

There’s not doubt that Palm made major improvements over prior models with this screen. It’s clear and crisp, doubling the resolution of older models to 320 x 320 pixels. The only drawback of the screen, while minor, is that it’s the reflective variety as opposed to the transflective display. As a result it does a bit better outdoors, but it lacks some of the contrast and brightness that you might want inside. I think it’s quite comparable to Sony’s screen.

 

Power

The battery is rechargeable as you would expect. I’ve only had the TT in hand for a week now, but after a full charge and initial toying around with it, the life should last about a week under normal use. The battery is not user removable and can only be charged through the serial port. So the bad news is that you have to use the cradle or a travel charger. There’s not a simple AC plug in like many of the Pocket PC’s.

 

Multimedia

This one’s going to hurt. The Tungsten T supports MP3 audio playback. Woo-hoo, it’s finally caught up to the Clie. That’s a negative ghost rider [Top Gun reference for those of you playing at home]. The TT does not come packaged with any software to play MP3’s. In a release by Palm, their statement said something about not wanting to have the feature available because users would have to buy a memory card. They went on to say that by making people buy a memory card the cost of ownership would go up and users would feel slighted by Palm. That statement would be fun to tear apart, so I’ll leave that one for you. End result, no MP3 playing right now, as the software does not exist to support this feature.

 

Playing video works fine, which is nice, via the Kinoma player. Kinoma and Real are both said to be working on audio players for Palm OS 5, so hopefully the wait will not be too much longer. I will point out one positive here. With Sony you have to buy the audio adapter. At least Palm had the courtesy to make the audio out a standard stereo headphone jack.

 

Applications

A brief note. Most of your Palm OS 4 and later applications will work in OS 5. However, many will not, leading to frequent crashes and fatal errors. Check with the software manufacturer before installing to see if there are any updates available. Astraware, Cutting Edge and others have all released Palm OS 5 compliant updates, although some are still hit or miss. Just know that it will take a little time for the software to catch up with the hardware.

 

Wireless

I intentionally saved this for last, to end the review on a high note. So far you’ve been reading my review thinking I hate the Tungsten T. Well, wireless is where Mr. T will shine. First, here’s my Bluetooth setup — Iogear USB Bluetooth adapter for my laptop, Ericsson T68i Bluetooth phone, the Tungsten T and T-Mobile’s T-Zones service.

 

On the resource CD there are a number of Bluetooth applications including:

  • BlueBoard — a white board application that can be shared by up to three other Bluetooth users.
  • BlueChat — an instant messenger of sorts for Bluetooth devices.
  • Dialer — dials your Bluetooth phone for you if you are really lazy.

 

Beyond these local communication options, the CD also includes Web Pro, which is a pretty nice Web browser. There are alternatives if you wish, but this one is free and met my needs.

 

The TT has support for all major Bluetooth enabled cell phones. While you are installing the program can access the internet to find any updates as well. So don’t worry about not being compatible, it’s my understanding that there is support for all major phone manufacturers. Setting up the connection is a breeze. First go to preferences/communication/Bluetooth to turn on the Bluetooth option, it is off by default. You’ll want to also add your phone to the trusted devices list in this settings area. Next select your phone then the default connection which in my case is BT to Sony-E T68i. The Bluetooth connection to your phone should be listed. The last thing is to configure your network connection.

 

Once this is complete, a click on the Web Pro application dials your phone to connect to the Web. My experience with T-Mobile has been great, with virtual speeds at 115bps. Checking in on CNN, ESPN or other major sites is not too bad, while WAP versions pop quickly and easily. Using any of the standard email apps works well too, so you can snag the mail, hang up and send when reconnected.

 

Overall my experience with the wireless was great. I lost connection a few times, but that’s more the phone’s problem than the TT’s. My only issue is that the setup process takes a few too many steps for my liking. New Palm users or those unfamiliar with Bluetooth might find the setup a bit daunting, but you’ll be happy in the end.

 

Conclusion

For the most part, the Tungsten T really doesn’t break much new ground. The lack of audio playing software is a major problem in my mind and the issues I identified with the slider are also key shortfalls. However, the Bluetooth connectivity saves the day.

 

As a result, if you’re looking for a nice high-end PDA and don’t care about Bluetooth, this is not the PDA for you. If you want MP3 playing ability…for now, this is not the PDA for you. However, if you need the connectivity Bluetooth provides and can be patient regarding the audio player, Palm’s implementation is pretty solid. I would strongly recommend the Tungsten T to the people in this group.

Brian

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