Brighthand Reviews the Tungsten T

by Ed Hardy Reads (36,711)

Tungsten T The Palm evolution continues with the release of the Tungsten T. Yes, despite being its most innovative handheld in years, with built-in Bluetooth, a high-resolution color screen, and an ingenious design that morphs between a compact “viewing” mode and full-sized “entry” mode, the Palm Tungsten T is nevertheless evolutionary, tracing its roots back to the legendary Palm V. And despite all of its new technology, the Tungsten T also manages to adhere to Palm’s “magic formula”: a pocketable, easy-to-use handheld with long battery life. It’s a wonderful combination that makes the Tungsten T Palm’s best handheld yet.


Form

Palm’s learned the value of design and it shows in the Tungsten T. It’s encased in a gunmetal shell, a trait of its m500 predecessor, which gives it not only a solid feel but a classic, refined look as well. Palm’s so proud of the design of its new handheld that it even created an attractive new display box for it, with windows on the top and front to view it through. And Palm says that retailers appreciate the box’s open design for two reasons: shoppers can “window” shop and it also serves to deter theft.

Tungsten T The Tungsten T resembles Sony’s S series handhelds in that it is short and mostly rectangular, with a slight curve to its base and top. In fact, it’s the shortest Palm branded handheld to date. And although the tapered waistline found on the m500 series is gone, it’s still quite easy to hold. In a tale of the tape, it measures 3″ wide, 0.6″ thick and 4.0″ tall (4.8″ tall when open). And it weighs a mere 5.6 ounces, perfect for the hand or the pocket.

Like its Palm V and m500 predecessors, the Tungsten T is elegant in its simplicity. All you’ll find on the front of the device is its display and the four standard Palm application launch buttons surrounding a dish-shaped five-way navigation pad, the key to the Tungsten T’s proclaimed one-handed operation.

The most innovative new feature of the Tungsten T is its “slider” design. Pull down from the bottom and the device grows, revealing its Graffiti entry area. Push it back up and it shrinks, making it compact. And there’s substance behind this flash. Palm’s research found that 80%-90% of the time users are simply viewing information on their handheld, rather than entering data. Makes sense. So, by sliding the data entry area out of the way, Palm has found a unique way to create a smaller device, at least most of the time.

Tungsten T The sides are also nearly bare, with a headphone jack and voice memo button on the left side the only exceptions. The bottom is smooth as well, save for the standard connector port for connecting to the cradle and other accessories, while the top of the device houses its power button, stylus, infrared and Bluetooth ports, and Secure Digital expansion slot. And to go along with a device that changes size, Palm created a stylus to match. It fits compactly inside its silo, but press down on its spring-loaded top and up it pops, full length and ready to go. Kudos to Palm designers for this unique solution.

Tungsten T Palm’s also included a clip-on plastic screen cover (see picture at right) that still allows the device to be used while in place, or snaps on the back. It’s clear and it’s cutout to expose the five-way navigator, so you can look up a phone number, address or appointment without removing. You can also press down once on the button in the center of the nav pad to display the date and time, in large, readable text and numbers, or hold it down and the home screen will display so you can launch any of your apps.

Overall, we give the Palm Tungsten T an EXCELLENT rating based on form.


Function

For the past two years, the knock on Palm has been that it hasn’t keep up with technical advances; even Palm admits it. While Microsoft and its Pocket PC licensees have released devices with integrated wireless, brilliant color displays, fast processors and oddles of memory, Palm has struggled with business and market issues, often neglecting the current state of handheld technology. However, with the Tungsten T, Palm has made an incredible leap forward and has caught up with, and possibly passed in a few key areas, the top Pocket PC manufacturers. Still, if you’re looking for dramatic changes with the release of Palm OS 5, you may be disappointed. There’s nothing remarkably different about its user interface (UI) besides the crisper new fonts and icons–and, as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing. Palm OS 5 is all about support for faster ARM processors and higher resolution displays.

Speed. The Tungsten T is powered by Texas Instruments’ OMAP1510 processor running at 144MHz and backed by 16MB of RAM. Yes, thanks to Palm OS 5’s support of ARM processors, Palm is finally able to break through the 100MHz mark (its fastest processor prior to the Tungsten T was a 33MHz Motorola DragonBall). We haven’t discovered the tools to benchmark the new Palm OS 5 machines but TI claims it provides 432 mobileMIPS. The OMAP1510 processor combines a TMS320C55 digital signal processor (DSP) core with a TI-enhanced ARM925 device. Palm, meanwhile, claims that Palm OS 5 combined with the new ARM processors improves application performance by up to 300 percent.

Memory. While the Tungsten T comes with the most memory of any Palm Powered device — 16MB of SDRAM — it is still considerably shy of that found on top-end Pocket PCs, which come with 64MB. Palm’s contention is that the Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard slot offers unlimited Storage capability, and who can argue with that logic now that SD and MMC Cards have tumbled in price. Still, even we were hoping for more.

Multimedia. The Tungsten T is a highly capable media player, or so we’re told. While the OS and the processor appear RWA — ready, willing and able, the Tungsten T does not offer the multimedia applications needed to bring it all together. Unlike Microsoft, which bundles its Windows Media Player with Pocket PC, PalmSource does not include an audio or video player with its Palm OS platform. We’re told that Kinoma is finalizing a version of its Player for Palm OS 5 and RealAudio is working on a Palm OS 5 version of its RealOne player, but as of yet there’s no way to play MP3s and video clips. [Update: Kinoma posted a version of its Player for Palm OS 5 today (Oct. 28) which I previewed at Palm’s 2002 Analyst Day in New York. Video ran smoothly at more than 30 frames per second. An MP3 player may be a longer wait.]

Screen. Thanks to Palm OS 5, which now supports 320 x 320 pixel screens, Palm was able to move to a brighter, crisper display. By quadrupling the resolution from that of its previous displays, Palm’s Tungsten T offers a whole new level of clarity, readily apparent in the updated fonts and icons and when viewing pictures. The TFT LCD is certainly Palm’s best screen to date, capable of displaying 65,536 colors, which is what’s required for realistic photo rendering. But it’s a reflective rather than transflective display, so while it offers better viewability outdoors than its main competitor, the Compaq iPAQ 3900 series Pocket PC, it lacks the iPAQ’s brightness and contrast indoors. Still, it’s an excellent display–truly one of the best we’ve seen–and it comes with a unique see-through protective lid that clips on the sides.

Communications. Palm was an early, and vocal, supporter of Bluetooth, and the Tungsten T is a fulfillment of its commitment to Bluetooth. It’s meant to be teamed with a Bluetooth enabled cellphone as part of a capable two-piece solution. Palm includes several Bluetooth applications, from a virtual collaborative whiteboard to a multi-user chat, to enhance the experience.

Tungsten T Expansion. The Tungsten T continues Palm’s support of dual expansion. First, there’s the SD/MMC slot, which is capable of handling SDIO cards, like Margi’s Presenter To Go card and Veo’s upcoming camera card, as well as typical memory cards. And if you’re concerned that Palm may have foresaken its Universal Connector with the new Tungsten line (as it did with the Zire), don’t worry. The Universal Connector remains in all its intended glory, and the Tungsten T handled all of the accessories we threw at it, including the Palm modem.

Power. Battery life remains a cornerstone of the Palm philosophy and the Tungsten T is no exception, thanks in strong part to the stinginess of TI’s OMAP processor. The T’s rechargeable lithium ion battery should get the typical user about a week’s worth of usage between charges. In our casual testing, we found that under identical processing patterns we achieved 1-2 more days of battery life from the Tungsten T than from a Compaq iPAQ 3970 Pocket PC. Unfortunately, the T’s battery is not user replaceable, and it can only be charged through the connector (there’s no separate AC port), so you’ll either have to charge it through the cradle or purchase a travel charger.

Applications. Palm includes an excellent suite of applications on the Tungsten T, along with the applications that come on the bonus Software Essentials CD. This includes DataViz Documents To Go, Adobe Acrobat Reader for Palm, Bluetooth applications BlueBoard and BlueChat, VersaMail 2.0, ArcSoft PhotoBase, Palm Reader, Web Browser Pro, WAP Browser, Dialer, and Palm SMS, along with several other trial games, including Monopoly and Scrabble from Handmark. But, alas, no MP3 or video player, and no Instant Messenger or VPN client, although IBM’s SameTime IM client and Motient’s VPN client are, or will soon be, available as third-party solutions.

We’ll bring you more details on the software later this week.

Overall, we give it a GOOD rating based on function.


Value

Tungsten T At $499 the Palm Tungsten T is a high-priced consumer handheld, in the same price range as Compaq’s iPAQ Pocket PCs and Sony’s top-end Clies. For this you get built-in Bluetooth, something previously only found in the top-of-the-line iPAQ 3970, and the fastest processor and best color screen to date on a Palm branded handheld. And of course there’s the Palm operating system, which remains the easiest to use for handheld devices — just ask its tens of millions of users.

However, the Tungsten T lacks the software needed to exploit its multimedia capabilities, an obvious shortcoming. We understand this is coming but it should have been ready and bundled with the T.

Still, Palm believes that many consumers will pay a premium for the Palm brand, and the Tungsten T’s style, just as they do for a BMW, and who are we to argue.

Overall, we give it a GOOD rating based on value.


Bottom Line

The Tungsten T handheld combines a stylish design with modern technology, while remaining true to Palm’s “pocketable, easy-to-use, long battery life” philosophy. Its only shortcomings are the lack of available software to take advantage of its new multimedia capabilites, and a price tag that’s not for everyone. But then, not everyone can afford a BMW either.


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