If the new Tungsten E handheld from Palm were a Sue Grafton novel, it would be titled “E is for Economical.” And as we all know, it’s all about the economy.
Palm became intimately aware of this last year when its $499 Tungsten T failed to meet sales projections, while the bargain-priced Zire flew off stores shelves. Now Palm has decided to play the “value card” once again with the Tungsten E. This time it’s married thin, lightweight design with advanced features, and at a truly affordable price. For just $199, you get a fast processor, brilliant color display, plenty of internal memory, expandability, and the latest Palm software. And at half an inch thick and less than 5 ounces (not to mention the return of the flip cover), it brings back fond memories of the legendary Palm V — only better and cheaper.
Rather than go with the slider design found on the Tungsten T3, Palm opted for the classic candy-bar style for the Tungsten E, However, it’s slightly curved on all four sides, making it comfortable to hold. And its shiny silver metallic shell is definitely attractive, although it tends to pick up a lot of fingerprints.
The Tungsten E measures 4.5 inches tall, 3.1 inches wide and 0.5 inches thick, and weighs 4.6 ounces, making it approximately the size of previous Palm V and m500 series handhelds.
On the front of the device, Palm arranged the four hardware buttons in a row below the screen, two on each side of the five-way navigational button. Intended to launch the four main built-in applications — Calendar, Contacts, Memos and Tasks, they can be reprogrammed to open any application you prefer.
The sides of the Tungsten E are button-free. The right side stores the stylus, which slips in from the top, and the left side has a channel for the flip cover (which comes with the device), but no buttons.
The top of the unit houses the expansion slot, infrared port, headphone jack and power button, while the bottom has the power and synchronization connectors, which is not a Universal Connector.
On the back is a tiny speaker and inside is the rechargeable, but not user replaceable, battery.
Finally, if you’re expecting a synchronization cradle, don’t. Just a little cost-cutting measure that’s part of the deal.
Processor. The Tungsten E is powered by a 126MHz Texas Instruments OMAP311 ARM processor. While not the fastest processor out there, it’s definitely no slouch either, and we didn’t notice any delays in accessing information.
Memory. While the Tungsten E comes with 32MB of internal memory, or RAM, only 28.3MB is available to use. The other nearly 4MB is reserved for use by the operating system. Still, this is a far cry from the days of 8MB Palm handhelds.
Plus, you can use the Tungsten E’s SDIO slot along with Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMediaCard (MMC) memory cards to store additional applications and files that can’t fit in memory.
Display. Palm continues to impress with its new breed of color displays. While it’s not capable of displaying in landscape mode, a la the Tungsten T3’s display, its 320×320 transflective display produces excellent colors and sharp contrast. Since it’s transflective, it looks best indoors, but is still quite readable in full sunlight.
Communication. Ahh, here’s the rub. The Tungsten E doesn’t come with any of the latest forms of wireless communications: no Bluetooth, no Wi-Fi, no GPRS. So you’re relegated to using infrared to connect to anything. And missing too is the Universal Connector, so the Palm Modem won’t work either.
Expansion. As we mentioned earlier, the Tungsten E does have a slot on top that can accept both SD and MMC cards. This includes certain SDIO peripheral cards, as long as device driver software for the Tungsten E becomes available.
Multimedia. The Tungsten E allows you to play MP3s. There’s a stereo headphone jack on the top of the unit, and it comes with RealOne Player software. And the good news is that the Tungsten E is loud, significantly louder than previous Palm handhelds.
Like the Tungsten T3, theTungsten E ships with the Kinoma Player, which can view movies that have been converted to its proprietary format. It also comes with a special version of Kinoma Producer that can convert from a wide variety of video formats (AVI, DV, MPEG-1, MPEG-4, and Quicktime). Compared with the full version of this application, the one that comes with the Tungsten E has a simplified set of controls. The good news is this makes the conversion process a no-brainer. You simply tell it what file you want to convert, pick a size (Normal, Large, or Full/Widecreen), specify whether you want it to go on to RAM or a memory card, and hit “Convert”. The down side is you don’t have any other controls. You can’t change frame rate or anything like that. If you want to be serious about your handheld movies, you’ll need to get the full version of Kinoma Producer for $30.
Personal Information Management. The personal information management (PIM) apps that have come with Palm’s handhelds have long been one of their greatest strengths — and their greatest weaknesses. They are the reason most people buy a handheld in the first place, but these applications haven’t had a significant upgrade in a dog’s age. Until now.
Palm has accepted that its handhelds are, for a great many people, extensions of Microsoft Outlook. Therefore it has renamed the built-in apps to Calendar, Contacts, Memos, and Tasks and these now can synchronize with their Outlook equivalents. Previous handhelds came with PocketMirror, a third-party application that handled this, but the T3 and the Tungsten E use conduits created by Palm itself. Even better, it has finally removed the limits on the lengths of memos and notes.
Palm has made a number of other improvements, like a new agenda view that displays appointments, tasks, and emails. This is similar to the Pocket PC’s Today screen. And the Contacts application now allows more information to be stored, including multiple addresses.
Tasks can now be assigned times, and appointments can be given locations. And contacts can have a birthday, which automatically shows up in the calendar.
Let us make it clear that these changes to the PIM apps were made by Palm, not PalmSource. You probably won’t be seeing anything like this from other Palm OS licensees until the next version of the operating system.
Documents to Go. The Tungsten E comes with Documents To Go v6.0, which allows it to work with Microsoft Office files. This is the first version of this application to offer full native file support for Microsoft Word and Excel documents, which gives users the flexibility of using documents and spreadsheets whether they are beamed from another handheld, are transferred from an SD card, or are synchronized from a computer.
Documents To Go isn’t restricted to native Office documents. You will still have the option of using the special Documents To Go format. These files will be smaller than the native ones and will be able to take advantage of DataViz’s DocSync technology, which preserves all formatting on the original document.
Java Virtual Machine. Palm licensed a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) from IBM which allows the Tungsten E to run Java applications.
There are a lot of people who think that, in the near future, Java is going to become the most important language for creating mobile applications. Developers love it because it offers “Write Once, Run Anywhere.” Basically, you can create a single Java application and run it on any device with a compatible JVM, whether it be a Palm OS Handheld or a smart phone.
If you’re looking for an excellent handheld at a great price, the Tungsten E is worth a look. Not only can it help keep you organizer, it can keep you entertained wuth music and videos as well.
However, if you’re itching to become wirelessly connected to the Internet, the Tungsten E may not be the right device for you. Without Bluetooth, 802.11b or GPRS, the Tungsten E is resigned to obtaining its information the old-fashioned way: desktop synchronization via cable. But if that’s all you’re looking for, we say “go for it.”