Brighthand Reviews the Palm Tungsten T3

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As its name suggests, the Tungsten T3 is the third member in Palm’s Tungsten T series. The first was good, the second one was better, and this one is easily the best of all. It includes features that definitively make it superior to its predecessors, like a high-resolution screen, more memory, a faster processor, and a flip cover.

The Screen

This is Palm’s first handheld with a 320 by 480 pixel screen, and it’s the finest one I’ve seen so far.

The T3 offers both portrait and landscape modes. This gives you the flexibility to view things in the best way possible. For example, if you are looking at a long list, you probably want to be in portrait mode, with the screen longer than it is wide. But if you are reading an ebook or looking at a web page, you’d be better off in landscape mode, with the screen wider than it is tall.

Thankfully, every application that comes with the T3 supports being rotated and most support hiding the virtual Graffiti area, giving you access to the full screen. This means you could put the T3 in landscape mode and leave that way, if you want to.

Palm has added a row of icons along one edge of the screen that perform various tasks, one of which is flip the screen orientation. Another opens and closes the virtual Graffiti area.

Lefties, Palm hasn’t forgotten about you. You can rotate the screen to the left or the right, as you prefer. You won’t have to deal with a graffiti area on the wrong side of the screen.

Palm has received much praise for the screens it has been using on its color handhelds since last spring. I’m happy to be able to report that the T3 uses this same screen. It offers great colors, great contrast, and is simply an all-around outstanding display. It’s transflective, which means it looks best indoors, but is still quite readable in full sunlight.

The Shape

The general shape of the T3 should be familiar to most people. It is essentially the same one Palm used on the original Tungsten T and the T2. It’s basically a tablet, but the bottom third of it slides down to expose a Graffiti area. But, unlike the two previous models, the T3 has a virtual Graffiti area that can be hidden, giving this handheld room for a 320 by 480 screen.

The T3 is 5.1 inches tall when the slider is open, but just 4.3 inches with it closed. This handheld is 3.0 inches wide and .66 inches thick, while it weighs 5.5 ounces. It rides easily in a pants pocket.

Buttons

Palm has also redesigned the four hardware buttons that are on the front. Rather than being in a line, these are now wrapped around the D-pad. Not only do they look better this way, they are easier to use when the device is held horizontally.

These buttons are intended to launch the four main built-in applications but they can be reprogrammed to open any application you prefer.

On the left side is a button to launch the voice recorder. It is also reprogrammable. I don’t use the voice recorder much, so I set this button the launch the MP3 player, instead.

Because the Graffiti area is virtual, you can set the four buttons built into it to any application you want, and the icon for that app will become the button. Or you can hide these buttons altogether and expand the Graffiti writing area.

Palm has done a fine job of integrating the D-pad into the functioning of the handheld. There are many tasks that you can do one handed, like look up a phone number. And don’t worry, when you turn the handheld on its side, the D-pad changes its orientation, too.

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 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.

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 me 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.

On the Inside

Processor The Tungsten T3 uses a 400 MHz Intel XScale processor, the fastest one currently available. This power makes the handheld very responsive. It handles even difficult jobs in a heartbeat.

Memory This handheld has 64 MB of memory. Actually, I have to point out that the user doesn’t get to use all of that. A big chunk is reserved as heap memory, leaving 52 MB.

Still, this is quite a bit of memory, considering that until fairly recently most Palm OS users were scraping by with 16 MB. And you can store additional applications and files on memory cards.

Bluetooth

This T3 has built-in Bluetooth, a short-range wireless networking standard that can be used to connect the handheld to the Internet. Most people do this with a Bluetooth-enabled phone but you can also get a dongle for your computer will let you wirelessly connect the two together.

Bluetooth’s range isn’t very far, but the range is only significant if you are connecting to your PC. I doubt many people will try to connect to their cell phone in the next room.

Its data-transfer speed isn’t as fast as Wi-Fi’s, but it’s acceptable. And its speed doesn’t matter if you are accessing the web using your mobile phone as a modem because Bluetooth can transfer data much faster than GPRS or CDMA can.

Tapping on one of those icons on the side of the screen that I mentioned earlier opens a Bluetooth control panel. This icon also lights up when Bluetooth is active. Be careful, this is a bit subtle and I accidentally left Bluetooth on for a whole day one time, which is hard on the battery life.

I know there are a lot of people who would be ecstatic if this handheld had built-in Wi-Fi. All we can do is hope that SanDisk gets the Palm OS 5 drivers for its Wi-Fi SD card out soon.

Browser Because you’ll be directly connecting the Internet with the Tungsten T3, it comes with a Web browser, Palm Web Pro. This is a fairly full-featured browser that compares well with the competition.

It operates in two modes. One, called Handheld View, reformats web pages so that they fit neatly on the handheld’s screen. This uses a proxy service, so when you request a web page, there’s a computer at Palm that actually downloads it, handles the reformatting, then gives the smaller page to you. The advantage of this is your web surfing is faster. The disadvantage is using a proxy server isn’t secure at all and many companies won’t let you access proprietary web sites over a proxy server.

The T3’s other method of displaying web sites is called Normal View, and it displays pages basically as they would look on a desktop or laptop. You then have to scroll around on the page, as most sites are wider and longer than the screen. Fortunately, Web Pro supports closing the virtual Graffiti area as well as portrait and landscape modes, so you can use whichever mode is most appropriate for the page you are looking at.

When in Normal View, the browser doesn’t use the proxy server.

Email The Tungsten T3 also comes with VersaMail 2.6.1, the latest version of Palm’s email application. This has almost as many features as my desktop email app. It can get email from multiple accounts, allows you to work with attachments, has filters, and lots more.

HotSync If you have a Bluetooth-enabled computer, you can even use Bluetooth to HotSync.

Multimedia

Audio The T3 allows you to play MP3s and it comes with the RealOne Player. If you aren’t fond of it, there are third-party audio apps available.

It has a built-in speaker that is incredibly loud. This is the first handheld I’ve ever owned where I keep the volume for the alarms below the maximum possible.

Previous members of the Tungsten T series were criticized for not producing enough volume when listening to music on headphones. Therefore, I did a comparison with some other handhelds. The headphone volume on the T3 is just slightly lower than the Sony NX80V’s but isn’t nearly as loud as an HP h1940’s. Still, I listened to some music on some cheap headphones in my convertible and I could hear fine.

I had to provide my own headphones as the T3 doesn’t come with a pair.

Unfortunately, the T3 does suffer from a problem that has affected some previous Palm models. Whenever you do something that makes a system sound, the speaker gives a small click. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen if you have the system sounds turned off.

Video TheT3 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 T3 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.

I converted a 48 MB QuickTime file using the Full/Widescreen setting and the final file is 10.4 MB, 440-by-232 pixels, and 2 minutes and 30 seconds long. Playback looks OK, though more than a bit pixilated.

Voice Recorder No high-end handheld is complete without a voice recorder. The T3’s has a feature I like; you can record a message and then set it to play at a certain time. You can also put recordings in categories and mark them private.

Other Software

Create New File Microsoft Office Compatibility The T3 comes with Documents To Go, 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 come via wireless email, are transferred from an SD card, or are synchronized from a computer.

However, the native office support still needs some work. I emailed a document with a lot of formatting to the T3 and opened it with Documents To Go. Most of the formatting survived, but not all of it. The image was gone, and so was the footnote. I made a small change and emailed the file to my PC, where I opened it in Word. The image and footnote were still gone. This is a bit disappointing, as I was hoping Documents To Go would do a better job of handling native Office documents than Pocket Word does.

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 from IBM a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) which allows the T3 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.

SD Slot

The Tungsten T3 has a slot on its top that can accept both Secure Digital cards (SD) and MultiMedia Cards (MMC). These come in sizes up to 500 MB and you can use them to store additional applications and files.

Actually, if you want to listen to music, you’ll have to get at least one of these, as you can’t store MP3s in RAM.

This slot can be used for more than just memory, too. There are a few peripherals that can be plugged into this slot, like one from MARGI that lets you display your handheld’s screen on a monitor or projector. And, of course, there’s the aforementioned Wi-Fi card.

Peripherals

I’m happy to report that this handheld comes with a leather flip-cover. Previous T-series models had a clip-on case that was a hassle to use. The T3’s cover can be flipped around to the back so it is out of the way when the handheld is in use but provides some much needed protection for the screen when you are carrying the handheld in your pocket. It clips onto the back and stretches over the top of the handheld. It’s removable if you get a full-fledged case.

The stylus is a solid piece of aluminum with a plastic tip and top. It’s a good size for a stylus in both length and width. Because the T3 has the slider, the stylus has to be able to telescope. It’s 4.2 inches when fully extended.

The USB cradle is pretty much the same one Palm has been using since the m500 series.

The T3 uses the Palm Universal Connector, which means it can use lots of peripherals already on the market, like keyboards, cables, and cradles.

Battery Life

While the Tungsten T3 is an outstanding handheld in many ways, its battery life is below average. I guess that its fast processor, large screen, and generous amount of memory are simply too much for its battery.

I’ve found that I get about three hours of use out of each charge. That’s enough for one day’s use for me, but I have to remember to recharge it every night. If you are considering taking a T3 with you on a trip, I’d definitely invest in some form of portable recharger.

This isn’t a torture test where I keep the device on until the battery is dead. I’m using the T3 normally and tracking the amount of time it takes to empty the battery with Jeroen Witteman’s BatteryGraph.

Value

Palm is offering the Tungsten T3 for $400, which is a very good value. It offers cutting-edge features at just a hair above a mid-range price.

There’s a lot of competition coming from mid-range Pocket PCs but the T3 will definitely be able to hold its own.

Conclusion

There’s an old saying that goes, “Third time’s the charm.” The first two models in this series were good, but the Tungsten T3 is outstanding. Palm has improved almost every facet of this handheld, from the high-resolution screen to the upgraded PIM apps. You can tell a lot of thought went into this model and all the little details are right. The sub-par battery life is just about the only shortcoming.


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