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The Tungsten T is Palm's first device to run Palm OS 5.0. It's also the company's first model to feature a convertible design, built-in Bluetooth, and stereo sound. Like Palm's earlier high-end units, the Palm V and the Palm m515, the Tungsten is a sleek, elegantly designed handheld that's a bit of a status symbol. This attractive device performs well, too, but it's not quite as polished as it should be, considering its price tag.
Palm is making a noise over the slider, which opens and closes to reveal and conceal the Graffiti area. But there's no keyboard like there is with Sharp’s Zaurus. When the Tungsten T is closed, the unit is very compact and pocket-friendly, measuring just 7.5cm by 10.2cm by 1.5cm. However, at 157g, this Palm is far from the lightest handheld out there. The convertible design is not the only hardware innovation. On the slider itself -- next to the usual Calendar, Contacts, To Do and Notepad buttons -- there's a new five-way directional pad in place of the scroll buttons. The Tungsten T's screen is also greatly improved; it's bigger, at 2.5 in. by 2.5in., and sports a Sony-like resolution of 320 by 320 pixels. Other Palm firsts include a record button, a built-in microphone and a stereo headphone jack. The company also added a transparent snap-on cover to protect the screen, with an aperture to access the directional pad. However, there are a couple of design features that Palm missed. There's no Back button or command, like you'd find on a CLIE (or like the Clear button on a wireless phone), so it's hard to use the unit with its slider closed. If you're running a program and want to get back to the Applications screen, you can hold down the centre of the directional pad, and the Applications screen will pop up after a few seconds. But in order to access the menu, you must open the slider and tap its icon. Unfortunately, you can't even reassign the menu function to one of the four buttons. The Tungsten's cradle is the same as the one that ships with the m515; you just drop the device in to charge or synchronise. But all of the cradle's features and foibles are identical, too. You must plug the AC adapter into the end of the USB cable, which makes for a messy cord jumble. And if you want to charge up on the road, you have to take the whole cradle assembly with you.
As part of the OS 5.0 launch, Palm has equipped the Tungsten with souped-up components for better performance. Running the show is a 144MHz Texas Instruments OMAP1510 processor that runs at 144MHz. According to Palm, this new processor delivers a one-two combination of high performance and low power consumption. It's also optimised for the new OS and software. You still get just 16MB of RAM, but you have the option of adding plenty more via the unit's Secure Digital card slot. The most noticeable feature is the Tungsten T's enhanced screen, which boasts a high 320 by 320 resolution. Palm OS 5.0 is a big jump for the company, and it's also integral to the Tungsten T's other features. The upgraded OS now supports ARM-compliant processors, so this model, as well as future versions of the Tungsten, can have ever faster processors. OS 5.0 also offers support for wireless standards -- such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi -- and enhanced security features. The PalmSource site says that OS 5.0 allows for the Tungsten's higher resolution. However, it's worth pointing out that Sony's CLIE models, such as the PEG-T415, offer the same resolution but run OS 4.1. The other big story here is the inclusion of Bluetooth technology. In its road show, Palm has been demonstrating how you can use the Tungsten T with Sony Ericsson's popular Bluetooth-enabled T68i phone to send and receive email and surf the Web wirelessly. Bluetooth is on the verge of becoming a reality rather than a concept, and this technology's appearance in the new Palm suggests that it may finally achieve some sort of critical mass. The software bundle is good but not great. There's Palm Desktop 4.1, Chapura Pocket Mirror 3.1 for synchronising with Outlook and Documents To Go 5.0 Professional for handling all of the various Microsoft Office files. You also get a bunch of other utilities, image viewers, games and applications to help you get the most mileage out of the embedded Bluetooth. ArcSoft PhotoBase is one of the better titles; it lets you upload and view images on your Palm, either singly or as a slide show. Oddly, even though OS 5.0 and the Tungsten both support MP3 playback, Palm doesn't include a player with the device, which is still a little bit of a mystery to us. Palm says that it plans to offer software support, but the company had yet to nail down a bundled program at launch time -- a big mistake. The only audio you get out of the box is your own voice; Palm has added a record button and a mic, so you can record voice memos and save them as WAV files.
We expected a lot from the Tungsten T in terms of performance. Its screen has a high, 320 by 320 resolution and can produce 65,536 colours. And with its 144MHz Texas Instruments OMAP1510 processor and 16MB of RAM, the unit has no shortage of resources. However, some aspects of the performance were impressive, while others were disappointing. We'll start with the good. The Tungsten T's processor is an improvement not in degree but in nature. The OMAP150 is so much faster than its Motorola predecessors that some games ran too fast for us to play. The Tungsten T had no problem keeping up with video, either. With the beta version of Kinoma video player, every clip that we loaded ran smoothly. Using the video player's performance test, the Tungsten T blazed through Kinoma's sample movies -- Total Control and Wildlife Waystation 1 -- at up to 485 frames per second (fps), compared to the m515's rate of 57fps. It did seem to have a problem rendering sound in these videos: it would play for about five seconds, then cut out. However, this is just as likely a problem with the beta of the Kinoma player as it is with the Tungsten T. The device’s screen is by far its best feature -- it's not only colourful and sharp, but also bright and offers a smooth, white background. The display's superiority is most apparent when you play with the Tungsten T for a while, then go back and check out an earlier, colour Palm, such as the m515 or the m130. Compared to the Tungsten T, older units appear grainy, dim and off-colour -- the m130 actually looked green. We didn't get a chance to play with the Bluetooth feature much. Someone in the office did have a Bluetooth phone, but we got it to work with only the Dialer function. When we can get an evaluation T68i phone -- or even a second Tungsten T -- we'll thoroughly test it and update the review. Palm says that you can get a week of use from the unit between charges. We found that to be true, so long as you limit your use to about 30 minutes per day. To test its limits, we ran a video loop on the unit with the brightness cranked all the way. Understandably, the juice flowed for a short 2 hours and 51 minutes. Because displaying video is so taxing, we expected to get better battery life if we lowered the brightness and didn't loop the video. But when we lowered the brightness to 50 percent and left the Tungsten T on the Applications screen, the batteries lasted only 3 hours and 22 minutes.