Brighthand Reviews the palmOne Tungsten T5 — Part II

by Reads (57,225)

Software

Enthusiasts are also disappointed that the Tungsten T5 does not have the latest OS, which PalmSource calls Cobalt. Counted as a Palm enthusiast, I’m disappointed as well, but I like the interface of my T3 well enough that I’m content with the T5’s familiarity.

Tungsten T5 Favorites Application The new Favorites application is probably the most immediately visible change. Applications can be organized however you like, rather than in the traditional alphabetical order. Eight items are displayed per screen, with a total of four screens available. A photo can be displayed in the background, which can be faded toward black or white for easier text readability. A single tap will launch a listed application, or you can use the 5-way navigator to move between icons. The Graffiti area is not available in this mode, and though you can enable it for use on subsequent screens, onscreen writing is also not available, nor is it necessary in this mode.

5-way enhancements Another aspect that can sometimes be confusing is the new “selection” or “focus” mode brought over from the Treo 600. For example, when you first press the Contacts button, the main list has a blue halo around it. That means that the “focus” is currently on the list. Actually, the blue halo does not go all the way around the contacts list, but glows on the top and bottom line. While a list like this extends beyond the screen, pressing the down arrow on the 5-way will scroll this list. Press the up arrow first, however, and the focus moves to the Category pull down, which then glows blue around the left and bottom edges. This feature can cause a lot of confusion. It gets really vexing when used in conjunction with Graffiti. Though it’s infrequent, sometimes a box pops up with a text entry line where you’re used to writing a few strokes and pressing “Done.” Instead, nothing appears as you write, because by default the “Done” button has the focus, complete with the blue halo, and until you tap the text entry line with the stylus to give it the focus, no text will appear.

While it can be helpful occasionally, this “focus mode” doesn’t seem as consistent as it does on the Treo. It doesn’t work everywhere, and it doesn’t always behave as expected. A switch to turn it off in Preferences would probably be a welcome addition to the next version, because I don’t need another silly “aid” to get in my way when accessing my data.

Photo backgrounds As I mentioned earlier, photos can be dropped into the background of a few screens, a feature that appeared in the Zire 72. But it doesn’t work as well as I expected, with my personal photos behaving differently from the photos that come with the T5. Though I’ve sized them in Photoshop to fit a 320 x 480 screen, the photographs appear enlarged by at least fifty percent, with the main part of the photograph bleeding off the page. I haven’t yet solved this mystery, but I’m willing to bet that the T5 is expecting me to prepare and sync specially formatted pictures from the Palm Desktop.

Other programs The T5 has an enhanced World Clock, which now includes a Geochron display in addition to the usual boring clocks. Could this be a slightly modified version of Darren Beck’s CityTime (www.codecity.net) that was licensed by Handspring so long ago? Probably. It’s nice that it’s there, but I strongly recommend the real thing, with its beautiful color maps and zoom capability.

Documents to Go is still built in, with enhanced icons and system fonts that take advantage of the fine half-VGA resolution, but it’s still devilishly slow at looking up files on the three drives available on my device each time I return to the list view.

In use

Speed of the Tungsten T5 is admirable, though not much of a step up. Sometimes it seems slower, sometimes faster than the T3. The clock speed is about equal, with the T5 at 416 MHz and the T3 at 400 MHz, but the benchmark test results from Speedy 4.0 are slightly slower with the T5 testing at 1829 percent the speed of a Palm Vx, compared to the T3’s 1852 percent.

Battery life is good, without the usual drain to maintain the memory. I left the unit uncharged for four days and the battery was still at 100 percent. Today I’ve run it about four hours on the same charge, and the battery is at 66 percent.

Setting aside some of the gripes I’ve mentioned, the T5 is a good handheld in its own right, it’s just when it is considered as a T3 replacement that it falls short. As Ed and many others have argued, its heritage is clearly the Tungsten E, and it should have been the E2 we all expected when descriptions and pictures leaked long ago. It does all the basic stuff that the E does, only better. Though palmOne alludes to the popularity of the Tungsten E as their reason for going with the E body, they must realize that it’s the $199 price point that has made it a runaway best seller, certainly not the garish silver body.

As a drive

palmOne is making a big deal about the Flash Drive aspect of the T5, and well they should. My only problem is that there is no easy mobile way to restore this data if some program forces you to do a hard reset. The other obvious problem is that in order to use the handheld as a flash drive, you have to have your cable with you.

Tungsten T5 in Drive Mode But provided you’re running absolutely bug-free software, and have that cable with you, it is really cool that all you have to do is plug the T5 into any computer with a USB port, launch the Drive Mode application on the T5 and your handheld’s Internal Flash RAM appears as a drive on the PC (be it Mac, Windows, or Linux). If you have an SD card in the slot, that also appears as its own drive. Very cool. Just drag and drop files to and from these drives to copy as you please. It’s about time, and palmOne is the first to do this in quite this way without software on the host computer.

As for the data in your main 64 MB of memory, which includes Contacts, Calendar, and other Palm-specific data types, you still have to HotSync to get this data on a computer, which requires that software be installed on the PC you want to share data with. This is where most store their private and critical data, so it’s probably a security issue. You could use a program like FileZ to copy the necessary files to Internal Memory, or to an SD card, but you’d still need to HotSync a Palm device to access most of the data.

Reset

I’ve spent a lot of time watching the Tungsten T5 reboot. It’s the first time a Palm device has taken longer to boot than my Windows computer. I’m not exaggerating. A full hard reset takes around two minutes and thirteen seconds, and that includes the time it takes to set the digitizer and select a language, two components of the hard reset routine, after which the boot cycle continues. The first screen is a palmOne screen, with a progress bar that runs across the bottom. Then it goes to a PalmPowered screen, then a Tungsten screen followed by the digitizer set screen. Then comes language selection, then another palmOne screen with a Graffiti area, and another without Graffiti area, and another PalmPowered screen, and finally another Tungsten screen. Reset is no longer a simple operation. To initiate a hard reset, you also have to keep the power button held down until the first progress bar is complete (about ten seconds) before you can release to bring up the dialog that tells you to press the Up button to erase the handheld. Crazy. A soft reset is not as bad, but still takes 41 seconds, while the T3 resets in ten.

Backup

As I’ve said, there is no single backup solution for this device. You have to both HotSync and drag and drop your data to a PC and keep it current to fully restore your handheld. No current software application I’ve tested will fully backup and restore even the main 64 MB of Palm OS memory area to an SD card, let alone the 160 MB Internal drive. Most current programs see the Internal drive as an SD card and backup only to it, which of course is worthless if you do a hard reset — the main reason to have a backup at all. palmOne should have included a ready solution to this problem in the OS. Who cares that a 256 MB palmOne backup card would be too expensive, they should have bundled software to make it possible to backup to any SD card, just like Sony did with their MS Backup application. They really need to stop relying on third party programmers to patch major flaws in their product design. Don’t tell me that after four years of backup cards, starting with Handspring Visor Springboard modules, nobody expected customers to need a backup card.

Upshot

The T5 is a good handheld that has a few problems at launch. It’s happened before. Even my beloved T3 was assassinating expensive SD cards at launch, but it has evolved into a device I cannot live without after a few software fixes. Though I’m not crazy about the screen of the T5, I like its size and lack of a slider. They did a good job of shoehorning a nice display into a reasonably small and light case. I could probably live without voice recording in a handheld, but I do still use it in meetings occasionally, and it’s hard to beat the portability of a WAV file that can be played on PCs or the handheld itself. But the T5 has most of what handheld users are looking for.

Still, there’s no point in stepping backward. The Tungsten T3 remains the pinnacle of Palm OS Handheld technology, flash drive or no. A simple USB flash reader, backup program, and SD card give you all the functionality of a T5 for swapping and opening files with reasonable insurance against power failure and the ever-present reality of program crashes. Omission of a cradle is a critical error as well, because this is what has always made users keep their units synchronized and charged. It has also had the effect of showcasing the little computer on a small pedestal, helping users admire and appreciate it more. It’s continuous free advertising and leaving it out to save money is a false economy.

If you are an existing Tungsten E owner who only wants a larger screen and some extra RAM, the T5 would be worth it for $100 more. If you can be sold on the value of the Flash RAM, then perhaps $200 more would be okay for a nice big screen and the prestige of the latest Palm OS handheld.

Inclusion of Wi-Fi might have made the absence of voice recording and sophisticated alarms easier to ignore, but a T3 takes an SD Wi-Fi card just as well as a T5 or Tungsten E.

I can recommend the T5 to some users, but until the Backup solution is ready from a third party or palmOne, beware of messing with too many programs that might crash your handheld. When even a simple modification to the built-in Calendar application can force a complete purge of all your data, caution is prudent.

Analysis

Despite the problems, I remain optimistic. I’m also a little excited, for two reasons. One, the announcement of the T5 lowered the price of the T3, so I’m looking forward to buying a spare in case something should happen to my much-beloved unit. Two, I’m excited because I believe the features of the T5 are both a step to the left to make room for a more advanced unit aimed at the enthusiasts and power users, and at the same time I think the T5’s Flash RAM Storage is a step in the right direction toward more permanent Storage on Palm OS devices. After all, Ford, the early pioneer of cars for the masses, finally came out with a real sports car to compete with (and possibly annihilate) the likes of the Corvette and Viper with their Ford GT. Surely the pioneer of truly mobile computing for the regular guy is taking an incremental step to the next big thing in handheld computing by merging the massive Storage of miniature hard drive technology seen in the Apple iPod with the power of the Palm OS. Right?

PalmOne Treo 600 Though I think the Treo has its place, I do fear despite my optimism that the Handspring contingent is serious about their announcement earlier this year that they are poised to move all palmOne products into the realm of the converged PDA/cell phone. While I think that converged devices have a place in the market, and its a category palmOne needs to explore, I know that not everyone needs or wants such a machine. Though notebooks are increasing in sales, for example, not everyone wants to give up their desktop, and many of us own both for various reasons. From a data standpoint, the converged device has the benefit of built-in access to the entire Internet full of data, and the Palm OS is a good way to get it, but for far more handheld owners, the beauty of a PDA is in being our Personal Digital Assistant, by carrying our personal data. That is what a bug-free Tungsten T5 will provide when the software patches are released, and when a brilliant third-party programmer makes a backup program that will backup the T5’s entire contents to a big SD card. Its successor certainly must include spinning media to hold more of that personal data, for while pursing the telephony market, it seems the re-merged palmOne missed an important market opportunity that the likes of Dell and Apple are making millions from: the simple act of tickling our ears with our favorite tunes. I can do that with a T3 or T5 with a 1GB SD card, but not on the same massive scale. There’s still time my friends. The T5 is just a first step. Will the real successor to the T3 please stand up?


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