Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Tungsten E: Palm's latest version of the Palm V (Razor)

Palm - Support - Palm Tungsten E Handheld
My Usenet postings on the T|E

I'd been nursing a Palm Vx along for years. Finally it began an accelerated digitizer death spiral -- the usual way a Vx dies. (I think some internal epoxy gives way, it's an old manufacturing defect.) Since my OTHER Vx had recently done the same thing, I had to act fast. Fortunately I'd anticipated this, and I'd researched enough to figure I'd go for a Tungsten E.

Impressions and notes below.

0. It's a huge leap from the Vx to the T|E. In particular there have been 3 big changes, ordered here by how big an impact they've had on me:

- Palm OS 5: small impact, had to replace EasyLaunch and X-Master with non-free (but valuable) alternatives.
- Grafitti 2: medium-big impact, had to buy TealScript to recover.
- Data Model changes to base applications: BIG change, I'm still working through the implications.

1. PocketMirror Pro 3.1.5 sort of works with the new Palm apps but it doesn't support the new features (larger text limits, etc). In testing I've had an unusually large number of mini-disasters when synching to both the Palm Desktop and Outlook, however I was then using an earlier version of DateBk5 (which has since been fixed to work around bugs in the new OS and major changes to application data models). Currently, after much tweaking, I can sync Tasks (To Do) and Memos (Notes), but appointments and contacts are one way from Outlook to Palm.

The built-in Palm conduits do not support category-specific selective-synchronization -- a critical (and vastly underappreciated) requirement for synchronizing a personal PDA with a corporate Exchange server.

2. The TE is about the size of the Vx, but it's lighter and flimsier. Made in China and it feels like it. OTOH the Vx was almost $400 or 450 when it came out and the TE is $200. We'll see. It's definitely pocketable. The cover it ships with has nylon threads that make quite a mess of the front of the TE.

3. Battery life is similar to a PocketPC, nothing like the Vx of old. The screen, the CPU, the memory, even the OS all seem to contribute. I suspect that after the first year of use, as the LiOn battery ages, the T|E will discharge after about 6 hours of unconnected regular PIM type use (eg. not music, communications, networking, etc). Since a new LiOn battery costs a significant fraction of a new PIM, and the battery is not designed to be replaced, the T|E device has a maximum lifespan of about 18 months.

If you have a laptop at hand, keep the PDA plugged into a USB cable when not in use.

From Palm's point of view this corrects the biggest defect of the Vx: despite their defects they still lasted too long. No recurring revenue.

In addition to the fundamental power drains, there are software bugs and design flaws that drain the battery. Under some conditions I can't identify the TE "wakes up" from an alert then doesn't return to sleep. The front keys are not as well designed as those of the Vx or m500, besides being ergonomically less effective they are always activated when the TE is pocketed. This drains the battery and may have other obvious bad effects. You need to active the Keyguard feature. This basically disables the auto-on features of the buttons, and it even makes turning on by the power switch less effective (extra click).

Lastly the Palm doesn't come with adequate controls to manange screen brightness. Happily Dimmer works very well and is inexpensive at about $10. It helps quite a bit. Turn off beam receive as well.

Bottom line: it's wasteful and environmentally harmful, but one must be resigned to replacing this device every 12-18 months. All the more reason to spend $200 instead of $500 for the T3, which has similar problems.

4. The ROM is not upgradeable. So don't expect to put OS 6 on this device! Since the device has an effective lifespan of about 18 months (see battery, above) you should plan on switching to an OS 6 device in a year.

5. The Palm Desktop has changed quite a bit. The Mac version has a huge variety of ways to browse tasks (love it!) and the calendar has categories. The T|E calendar categories are compatible with the very latest beta version of DateBk5.

6. Migrating from an existing install takes some care. You need to go to the web site (link above) and carefully follow directions. Palm should have made this easier, but at least they're documenting problems that have been longstaniding and undocumented. (Going from a Palm to CLIE and vice-versa is twice the fun.)

7. The Tungsten E power brick is 8 oz. It's not as compact as a the Vx travel charger, but not as bad as I'd expected. The T|E does recharge, SLOWLY, via the USB sync cable. So if you have a laptop you could try plugging it into an "awake" (not sleeping) laptop overnight to charge. Be sure to disable "stay awake in cradle" and turn off the T|E when charging.

8. Why can't Palm standardize on their #$!#$! side rails. The TE won't accept the Vx or m515 covers. Is this incompetence or a desire to squeeze more money from long suffering customers? I think a mixture of both, the margin on the cases and covers is probably very large. I miss the lovely cover I had for my Vx, it was the perfect balance of pocketability, protection, convenience and usability. The TE's rail is not well designed. After only a few weeks of use the standard cover is sliding in and out of the rail.

OTOH, the TE WILL accept m5xx styli.

9. The TE will NOT work with the Palm "universal connector" (so much for their promises of eternal fealty to the connector). See #4 above. However it uses a STANDARD 5-pin mini-USB connector (same as the CLIE, but I'm not sure the slightly odd looking CLIE cable will charge the T|E), so the sync cable is cheap to replace. Not bad. I've bought several cables for $6 to $10 apiece, and I use them at work, home PC, home iBook, traveling, etc. It's great to be able to buy sync cables in bulk!

10. The infrared beaming between the Palm(tm) Tungsten(tm) T3 and the Palm(tm) VII and VIIx are not compatible. In general enough data structures on the TE have changed that beaming items to any device is somewhat problematic.

11. The bundled applications have changed quite a bit. There are relatively few in ROM applications. The CD comes with many applications from external vendors (Windows only), in many cases they replace older Palm applications. The Palm calculator and Palm Expense application have both been replaced by aftermarket items (which I like less), however they're still on the CD (X:\Palm Desktop\Device Apps Common: Calculator.prc and Expense.prc). Depending on how well your desktop installation performed (results vary) these apps may be in your desktop Add-In folder. I think there are also associated prc files for each that provide english language help files.

Older apps, especially security and encryption apps probably won't work. TealLock gave me a free upgrade! A lot of Palm software vendors are offering free or very low cost updgrades to OS 3 applications.

I had to upgrade a lot of my favorite Vx utilities. CIC's WordComplete, for example, TealLock, JFile, DiddleBug, DateBk5. Upgrade costs were minimal or absent. My version of WordComplete was OLD, for example, but CIC gave me a free upgrade. I did have to buy TealScript (Grafitti 1), TealMaster (OS 5 hack management) and TealLaunch (replacement for EasyLaunch); they set me back $45. (So the real cost of the T|E for me was closer to $260.)

12. Grafitti 2 sucks. Happily TealScript is one answer. It seems to work, but I've had to manually retrain a few problematic characters. TealScript and Jot/Grafitti 2 remind me of the true genius behind Grafitti 1. There's far more to G1 than meets the eye.

13. DateBk is my utterly critical app. Unfortunately when Palm changed the data model for the standard applications they broke a lot of aftermarket products, including DateBk. They also apparently introduced some nasty bugs. Happily CESD (DateBk's author) has worked around most of the problems in beta versions. DateBk5 fanatics should delay purchases of the T|E or T3 until a final compatible release of DateBk5 appears.

14. Mac users have a much better desktop app than windows users have. OTOH, Mac users lack the small tool for updating phone link scripts. Mac users can download phone link data from:

15. On the Mac when you add a photo it's automatically sized to the TE display and each image is about 30KB. They look decent. On a PC the entire image is stored. My images are 1.5-3MB EACH, so I'll be using the Mac to put images on my TE. I created an iPhoto album called "Palm". I move photos in and out of there, and every so often I 'select all' then drag and drop them onto the Palm image/mp3 installer droplet. Very easy.

(Yes, I know some people consider the PC approach to be preferable, but the Mac allows you to store full size photos on the Palm as well as providing the great little photo sizer.)

17. The screen is almost painfully bright. Dimmer is great (see battery life discussion, above).

18. I don't like the replacement for the up/down buttons. It looks pretty, but it's ergonomically stupid.

19. You can register Documents To Go, or you can simply install and let it get it's updates. If you register you can download the full installer for the newer version. It sounds like D2G will be one of the biggest advantages of this device; it offsets some of the things I need to replace. Get the latest version, some earlier versions causes a crash when included in the system search.

20. The TE will not sync with the standard downloadable Desktop 4.1, you need the new conduits. Both old and new conduits are installed with Desktop 4.1 on the TE and T3 CDs, you can't download this installer so don't lose the CD!

21. I experimented with associating colors with categories in the Palm Desktop. I have about 10 categories in my calendar, and midway through this process the color of the appointment text was set to the background color. In addition, I couldn't click on any appointment! It turns out nothing is "wrong", the problem is design flaw! When you bring up the categories list to assign colors to a category, you are SIMULTANEOUSLY specifiying which categories to show (ALL vs. a selected category). This mixed action mode is asking for trouble, in my case the day I looked at had no appointments in the filtered category. (The colors remain, but the text vanishes.)


  1. Help! I think I charged my brand new palm tungsten e too long. i got it for a freind and left it on the charger for 3 days. Now I try to turn it on, and it wont. Any idea what Ican do? Palm says I dont have a warranty.

  2. Help! I think I charged my brand new palm tungsten e too long. i got it for a freind and left it on the charger for 3 days. Now I try to turn it on, and it wont. Any idea what Ican do? Palm says I dont have a warranty.