palmOne Tungsten E2 Review

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Tungsten E2 (view large image)

 

Tungsten E2 Screen (view large image)


Best selling. Best value. Most popular with new users.

Sounds more like a tag line for the Toyota Camry than a handheld computer. But much like the well selling Camry, the palmOne Tungsten E was very accessible and made a very effective impression on those who were looking for a PDA. Combining a great price and a nice package of included software, the Tungsten E basically ran away with sales records selling over a million units in the past 17 months. And even more like the Camry, when it comes time for updating and redesigning, you can either take the drastic route (see the last two generations of the Ford Taurus to see what happened there), or take the evolutionary route and just fine tune things here and there. For the Tungsten E2, palmOne took the latter route and refined an effective formula resulting in one of the best buys in the PDA world.

The refresh of the Tungsten E comes in the form of the Tungsten E2. If you will, think of the 2 as meaning version 2.0. There were many aspects of the original TE that needed refinement such as; battery life, faulty screens and buttons on some models, and the lack of Wireless Options such as Bluetooth or WiFi for getting online. the Tungsten E2 addresses these issues, and does so without missing a beat.

Compared to the Tungsten E the Tungsten E2 has:

  • A faster processor, 200MHz versus 126MHz
  • More available memory, 29.7 versus 28.8, though both have a total of 32MB (the non-usable memory is used as heap space)
  • Non-volatile memory, so important data won’t be lost if the battery dies
  • A screen with true colors and higher brightness levels (30% brighter and 40% better color saturation)
  • A bigger battery with software improvements for better battery handling
  • Bluetooth wireless technology for connecting to other Bluetooth devices such as phones, PDAs, and printers
  • The new palmOne multi-connector (which is much faster than the previous mini-USB connector)
  • New software features, like Documents To Go 7.0 and the favorites view in the application launcher

So what do I think about it? In short, this is an attractive update to a very popular model and the price stays reasonable (suggested retail price of $249). There are still some rough edges, but the positives more than make up for it. Read on to find out specific thoughts, and participate in the discussion to give you own thoughts.

In the Box

The TE2 comes in an attractively designed plastic casing that seemed much easier to open than some other casings. The TE2 is well displayed and the other materials are in a maroon box.

This is what’s in the package:

  • Quick Start Guide
  • PalmOne software installation CD
  • USB sync cable that now uses the palmOne multi-connector found on the Tungsten T5 and Treo 650 models
  • Power cable
  • Flip cover
  • Graffiti 2 stickers
  • One palmOne Universal Screen protector
  • Software installation CD

Getting started is as simple as making sure that the E2 is charged and then installing the software to your computer for its first HotSync. Unlike previous models, it is best to make a clean install of the Palm Desktop software and all the conduits, as well as to remove any backup folders that you may have via a previous version of Palm Desktop. If you are a current owner of the T5, I would not recommend uninstalling Palm Desktop as the versions are the same.

Design & Construction

The design of the Tungsten E2 is very similar, near identical, to the Tungsten E. It’s a tiny bit larger and heavier, but even side by side it’s hard to tell a difference. Generally the E2 feels solid and well built, certainly appropriate for this price point. It’s easily pocketable and will be much smaller than similarly priced competition from Windows Mobile PDAs.


Tungsten E left, Tungsten E2 right

The front of the Tungsten E2 features the re-done display, above the fixed graffiti entry area. The E2 has four quick launch buttons and a d-pad with enter button. The d-pad is quite usable for productivity functions, but it’s a little large to use with one thumb for gaming, probably impossible if you have smallish fingers. Not that playing a game with two fingers ruins the fun, but it’s worth noting.

The back houses the speaker at the top, which works pretty well. There are four small raised bumps around the screws in the corners. This small design feature lets the speaker sit up off a flat surface so sound isn’t as muffled. Underneath the palmOne sticker is the reset pin.

As noted, the Tungsten E2 is the third PDA to feature the multi-conenctor. This port allows expansion with accessories like cradles and keyboards.  palmOne is working to make more accessories to better leverage this connector going forward.

The power button on top of the E2 is substantially better than the ones found on other recent palmOne units. It’s recessed only a little bit, enough to protect from accidental powering on of the device. The Secure Digital slot, infrared port, heaphone jack and stylus silo also reside on the top of the E2.

The all metal stylus resides along the right side of the unit. The stylus is heavy and well-balanced, quite nice actually. The top screws off to reveal a reset pin.

Along the left side of the E2 is a notch for the included flip cover. With the cover removed, the notch is pretty subtle, so the PDA looks fine with or without the cover.

Hardware

Processor: 200 MHz Intel XScale
Operating System:

Palm OS v5.4 (Garnet)

Display: 3 inch 320 x 320 screen
Memory: 32 MB non-volatile RAM (26MB available)
Size & Weight:

4.5″ x 3.1″ x .59″, 4.7 ounces

Expansion: One Secure Digital slot, multi-connector
Docking:

USB cable

Communication: Bluetooth 1.1, infrared
Audio: Internal monaural speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Battery: Lithium-Ion battery, not user replaceable
Input: 4 application buttons; 5-way directional pad; touchscreen

Processor

Those who had the original TE had a few complaints, one being poor battery life, and the other being that in some applications, the TE was quite slow to respond. PalmOne fixed that by adding a 200MHx Intel processor. It feels much faster than the similar processor that is in the Zire 31. In fact, the speed of just opening applications and large databases is better than the 2x as fast (CPU wise) T5. I don’t know what palmOne did to the non-volatile memory (the same type that is in the T5 and Treo 650 which enable you to keep your data even if the battery goes), but it is a very large difference in running similar applications. In my testing, I timed the speed to load a 200k Monopoly game from the memory card and the T5 took nearly 8 seconds, the E2 took less than 4. I also ran my Bible+ software to see how well the E2 would stand to opening large reference files saved on a memory card, and I have to say that I was quite impressed. Load speed was quite good in all applications. The area that the performance seems to lag is when you exit applications that are stored on the memory card, or large applications in main memory. In both cases, there is a white screen pause before the launcher screen would re-open.

Operating System

The Tunsgen E2 runs Palm OS v5.4, Garnet. While many have been hoping for palmOne to include the new Palm OS v6, it didn’t happen this time around. I’m not convinced OS 6 would benefit the Tungsten E2 very much anyway. Garnet is very stable and provides a good user experience with the E2.

Display

One of the biggest complaints leveled against the T5 is that the screen is too blue, and too dim. In the sunlight it would wash out and the colors were not very accurate. With the E2 palmOne fixed all of these issues. So much so, that I was just having fun looking at the screen for a good hour before I did any notes for this review. I liken it to going from a black and white Palm IIIxe to a color Palm m515 a few years ago. It wasn’t just that it was color, but that the colors popped out at me. The reds, blues and whites were so accurate that it made playing Bejeweled 2 even more fun. Looking at pictures was also a treat as you could see texture in darker pictures as there was better color separation on the E2’s screen. PalmOne did an excellent job here with the E2’s screen. I would like to trade my T5 in just for another T5 with this kind of screen. In comparison to the TE, palmOne claims a 30% boost in brightness and a 40% improvement in color saturation. From what I can tell, these numbers certainly hold true.


Tungsten E left, E2 right


Memory

As already noted, the Tungsten E2 comes with non-volatile RAM. Of the 32MB included, 26MB is available to the user. The non-volatile RAM issue is significant because now users wll be protected from losing data as a result of a dead battery. This issue has flustered PDA owners for years. PalmOne is moving in the right direction, thankfully solving this issue as they refresh their product line. This is definitely the new standard for PDAs and should be copied by others.

The only thing missing is drive mode, something palmOne debuted in the Tungsten T5. Drive mode makes it much easier and faster to transfer files to and from the device RAM and SD memory card.

Docking/Sync

The Tungsten E2 ships with a USB sync cable and a separate AC power cord. The multi-connector with the TE2 differs from that of the T5 in that both of the cables connect separately. With the T5 you have the option of putting the power cable into the sync cable and then having one piece to worry about plugging in and out. With the TE2, you always have to plug and unplug both separately; I have found that the TE2 cable does fit a bit more securely though. The solution offers flexibility, in that users only need one cable, the other, or both. There are no extra plugs to worry about. The TE2 will trickle charge over USB as well, so the power cord may end up not being used very often by some users.


TE2 with sync and charge cables


Up close on the sync cable, with button to initiate sync process

Communication

I had the original TE before I bought the Tungsten T5 a few months ago. Besides battery life, my main complaint was that it was just too hard to manage wireless activities. I had to line up my phone with the infrared (IR) port of the TE so that I could download email and such. It was a very inflexible solution and made me wish even more that I had Bluetooth so that I could connect to my phone and surf the web and get email.


The Bluetooth logo at the top indicates Bluetooth is on

The Tungsten E2 remedies this by adding Bluetooth to the connectivity mix. Honestly, it is so easy to setup a wireless connection that I would love to see E2s bundled with Bluetooth phones and data plans. I went from turning on BT to getting online in less than 5 minutes. It’s really that simple. Go to the Bluetooth setup wizard, input your information, and then get online. I wish taxes were as simple; they might actually get done earlier. Unlike the T5 which also has Bluetooth, there is no status bar to indicate that Bluetooth is on. Instead, palmOne places a Bluetooth icon next to the battery icon at the top of the screen. There is also a toggle command for turning on Bluetooth by doing the command stroke (make a line from bottom left to top right of the graffiti area; looks like /’) and then tapping the bluetooth icon there.


Main Bluetooth screen


Device setup wizard

The Tungsten E2 includes the Blazer 4 web browser and VersaMail email client. The Blazer browser is standards compliant and can get into most websites (those that are coded only to let Internet Explorer, or have complex plugins and scripts may cause some problems). You can choose the Optimized mode which minimizes the site into one column, or choose the Wide mode which gives you the site as it would appear on your desktop. Depending on the site, I have found that wide mode to be the most optimal.

VersaMail is similar to Outlook Express. You can set it to receive POP and IMAP mail. You can also set an Auto Get Mail function so that it would automatically connect to your wireless phone or access point and fetch your email at a specified time.

The biggest failing of a wireless technology such as Bluetooth is that battery life gets eaten faster. With the Tungsten E2, the rate of battery drop off when Bluetooth is on is a bit faster than the T5. I attribute that to the intensity of the screen, more so than the battery. But if you turn off Bluetooth when you are not using it, your battery life will not suffer at all and of course dimming your screen will make it last longer as well.

For those looking for WiFi, you will be able to use the palmOne SD WiFi card with the E2. The battery hit will be much more, but you do gain some quite speedy connections whenever you find that hotspot.

Audio

In the audio area, the sound is actually quite full. In contrast to the T5, the E2 is not as loud, but the ranges heard are much better. I played MP3s from my 1GB Lexar SD card and they sounded quite good from both the speaker and the headphone jack. Like the T5, if you use ear bud headphones, you will have a very loud sound with only 1/3 of the volume up. Though some do not like the rear facing speaker, it sounds good even when the back is covered. There are tiny dimples near the screws on the back of the device that prop it up a bit when laying flat. This design surely lets sound seep out a little better than lying flat on a table.

Battery

Another major improvement is the much increased battery life. In my days of testing, battery life was much better than the previous TE, but slightly worse than the T5 when Bluetooth was brought into the equation. In my unofficial Bejeweled 2 testing (the latest version has a screen saver mode that makes it quite easy to test devices side by side); the E2 far exceeded the battery life of the original TE. So much so, that I got bored waiting for the E2 to give me a low battery warning and stopped the test not long after the 3.5hr mark when the TE dropped out.

Software

PalmOne has included a nice software bundle with the TE2. The unit comes pre-installed with the following applications:

  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Tasks
  • NotePad
  • Memos
  • palmOne media for photos and videos
  • RealPlayer for MP3s (SD card required)
  • Web Browser (Blazer 4.0)
  • Bluetooth Manager
  • Calculator

Additionally, the included software CD has the following titles:

  • Palm Desktop
  • Acrobat Reader for PalmOS
  • AddIt
  • Documents to Go 7 Pro
  • eReader
  • Getting Started Guide
  • QuickTime
  • PalmSource SMS
  • Handmark Solitaire
  • Tutorial
  • VersaMail

We’ve already covered most of the software highlights, with the exception of one. There is an excellent program called Favorites that made it to the E2 from the T5. Favorites is a listing of four (4) sets of eight (8) programs grouped in such a way that you can easily go to them with just using the 5 way button. It is incredibly simple to customize and even more fun to use. By default, Favorites is set to launch when you hit the Star icon in the Graffiti area. This small application launcher makes it much easier to organize popular programs and web links in a way that makes sense to the user.


Favorites launch screen


Conclusion

So, let’s hear the end of the matter, do I like it or not? A resounding yes is my response. When I heard that palmOne would be charging $250 for this, I thought it was a bad idea ($25 too much). But then I really got to thinking, you got a heck of a lot with the original TE with only $200. This one adds data protection (remember, if you lose power you don’t lose information), wireless connectivity (Bluetooth 1.1), and improved display, better battery life, Documents to Go 7, eReader, and Favorites.

Pros:

  • Non-volatile RAM
  • Improved display
  • Better battery life
  • Bluetooth
  • Priced well

Cons:

  • No drive mode software
  • Some Tunsgten E accessories might not fit properly

Bottom Line:

I recommend this as an immediate upgrade for anyone who has a TE and is quite happy with it. You will wonder how you got along without some of these features. For those looking for an inexpensive PalmOS handheld, you really cannot beat this value-packed package. Will the E2 break the records set by its predecessor? It has a good chance to. The key will be getting it into the eyes and hands of those who already have the original and letting it sell itself.


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