Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Tungsten E2: Brain transplant report

[Updates are at the end of the post. After 3 months the digitizer is dying.]

My mind was ailing. Specifically, the SONY CLIE TJ-27 was on death's door.

When the last of its styli was lost, then it would go to the junk drawer. I was ready for the end. I cursed each moment with its hell-spawned stylus - a demented offspring of a toothpick and needle. The earth itself had rebelled against that satanic tool -- there were no replacements anywhere. If I did not already despise SONY for their spyware scam, I would loathe them for that stylus.

And yet, I did not entirely welcome the end. I knew that the noble lineage of the US Robotics Pilot was fallow. True, the CLIE was a twisted shadow of its grandfather -- the Vx, and its great-grandfather -- the III, but what better options were there? The much disliked Tungsten E2? (Let us not speak of the father -- the ill-fated Tungsten E -- nor of the bastard IIIxe.)

Two days ago the last CLIE "stylus" was lost. Yesterday my Tungsten E2 arrived. I've been fighting with it since. It's no trivial thing to transplant a fundamental component of a distributed geek consciousness. I had to rip out the tendrils of the CLIE, flog recalcitrant software, hack through crashes and bugs and learn the eccentricities of the latest degnerate product of Palm's incompetence. (I hope the intern who came up with the "Favorites" application learned something valuable during their ill-fated tenure.)

It seems to be working now. This is what I've found:
  • It should have at least 128MB of working memory. Instead it has something like 28MB or so. This alone earns the E2 a place in hell.
  • It's slow. I stare at the screen, waiting for it to refresh. It's slower in its routine operations than the Palm III was.
  • The idiotic Favorites application hijacks the home button. Now instead of cycling through application categories, tapping the silkscreen icon launches the Favorites. Stupid intern.
  • Palm used 3MB of precious static storage for the 'Media' application?
  • The "expansion memory card" is so badly integrated into the OS that it makes DOS expanded and extended memory look brilliant. Words fail me. How could so much money and so many resources, have yielded so little progress? I hope they at least had some really good parties.
  • Some TealLaunch things don't work. Mostly it works. I need it since the power switch is said to be as flaky as that of the Palm V, the Palm Vx, the m500 and a few other Palm devices. It's a signature feature of that demented vendor that they can't buy a reliable on/off switch.
  • TealScript works fine. Merciful heaven, I can can continue to avoid "Graffiti Two" (aka Jot).
  • It comes with exactly one stylus, but it is a beauty. (I have nine styli on order.)
  • The screen protector material they provide is a pain to write on. I'm going to cut off the input portion and go back to my old Scotch satin tape cover.
  • The connector is fiendishly evil. Completely proprietary and completely stupid. It looks ugly, it looks cheap, and each time I remove the cable I hold my breath. The Tungsten E used a USB mini-B connector that worked brilliantly. The engineer who specified the Tungsten E connector was used as a human sacrifice in Palm's dark satanic rituals of inspiration. The engineers of the T|E2 learned their lesson.
  • If you use Bluetooth and write to the memory card the giant battery drains fairly quickly.
  • The device does trickle charge through the USB connector, but it's incredibly slow. USB provides 100 mAmp, the charger provides 500. It's a 1000 mAh+ battery, so trickle charging takes a very long time.
  • The Bluetooth did work with my OS X machine, I could sync AvantGo via Bluetooth and I could transfer a JPG to the PDA. I suspect Bluetooth sync would work well (avoid that sync cable!!). See: Send files between a Palm T3 and a Mac via Bluetooth
  • I had a lot of crashes during my installs and setups. I think the Teal Software apps I rely on may have trouble with the T|E2 and its weird persistent memory. (So what was wrong with a tiny little capacitor?)
  • When I installed BeyondContacts I got the error message: "Unexpected error occurred - $80004005". The support site didn't have anything on that error message. I reinstalled, this time skipping the sync step and letting the install complete. It worked then.
Attempting to stuff all my data into the paltry limits of the T|E2 taught me a few things about Palm's memory card infrastructure:
  • ePocrates Sx/Dx can be moved to card but NOT Rx
  • I could move this data: jfile databases, splashphoto images, media files, AvantGo data (AGConnect on the Palm has the magic setting), Documents to Go files.
  • I couldn't move most applications. AvantGo seemed to move ok, but failed when I did a sync. The only thing that worked was a completely self-contained solitaire game. The expansion card is really for data, not apps. As far as I know it's not backed up either!
  • Expansion Card Locations for Palm OS Applications eBook provides some useful hints.
Did Palm's product managers get anything right in the past ten years?
  • The security and encryption settings are pretty decent. Looks like they borrowed from TealLock.
  • The tasks views are marginally better.
  • They finally include an alarm clock (World clock).
  • The outlook sync that was so messed up in the early versions of the Tungsten E seems to work.
  • It will beam a contact to an older Palm device. I don't think the T|E could do that at first.
That's it for now. My new cognitive module has been implanted and I'm coming to terms with its limitations. I have a bad feeling, however, that I'll be doing this again in six months.

Update 3/10/06 and 3/15/06
  • IR sync works, thought interestingly IR support was disabled in my Dell laptop at the BIOS level. It is extremely slow. Suitable for emergencies only.
  • The device is crashy, but no lost data yet. I am using hacks to get around the problems with the unreliable power switch and Graffiti Two.
  • I bought two Zip-Linq P33 chare-n-sync retractable cables. They have an extra connector that fits the power input and causes the PDA to display its 'charging' icon when trickle charging. I don't think it charges any faster than the standard cable however.
  • The battery drains quickly when doing IR sync.
  • HotSync Manager won't auto-launch and it vanishes on me. That's new on this machine. Bad sign.
  • This new device ships with an amazing bug that was patched three months ago. If one enables 'intrusion detection' the device will, sooner or later, lock the user completely out of it. Wow. That's one patch that can't be delayed.
  • It sure is slow.
Update 3/10/06b:

I'm starting to bond with the Tungsten E2. I can tell because it's already causing me pain. Since the HotSync Manager wasn't stable, I downloaded 4.14E from the Palm site. Allegedly this was the same as the 4.14 I installed. I then tried reinstalling, and the adventure began ... [Note: I used to keep my data files in a special location to help w/ backup, Palm Desktop supports this as an option.]
  1. Installer completely removed existing application.
  2. Installer copied over my data profile and then proceded to tell me it was going to apply it to a new device. (In other words, the installer assumes that the first sync after any installation is with a new device!!)
  3. Installer moved a number of applications to a special folder of 'incompatible apps'. In fact all but one of them is very new, is marketed for the latest OS, and, as near as I can tell, does work. (One of them, Word Complete, is indeed risky. Alas, I can't live without it and, like so many Palm apps, it's zombie software.)
At this point I smiled gently. This was all so nostalgic, so Palm like. I quit the sync but didn't reboot my machine. (I should have, even though the installer didn't make me.) I then moved everything out of the new folder that had been created in the Palm application directory and copied in the good data from my last sync. I then resumed ...
  1. The installation had broken BeyondContacts -- same error as above. I reinstalled BeyondContacts. No joy. I restarted and tried again. That worked.
  2. The Palm HotSync Manager is now starting automatically and not vanishing after use.
  3. The rest of my sync worked out fine.
Update 3/15/06
  1. It's producing a high pitched noise - from the display. Suggests a short lifespan!
  2. Sync is bad again. I remember this from the Tungsten/E. It is throwing all kinds of sync errors. PocketMirror did NOT do this. I may download PocketMirror and try that. I hate Palm.
Update 6/22/06: At age 3 months the portion of the screen covered by the 'details' button is no longer responding reliably to screen taps. In other words, the digitizer is dying. Within a month it won't be worth much. It' out of the 90 day warranty, but still covered by my AMEX extended warranty.


Anonymous said...

What was so bad about the IIIxe? I liked mine a lot...

JGF said...

Good question! My wife and I have had so many Palm devices (probably about 11 in all, including 2-3 used Palm Vxs) that they all run together. About half were bad, the good ones were the III, the V, the Vx and, oddly enough, the Samsung i500.

I couldn't remember the problem with the IIIxe, but I remembered posting about it on usenet. I googled on my name and found the post

The IIIxe was when Palm's quality control went south, we had a bad one. There were quite a few IIIxe devices with the "flaming logo of death".

ChrisCP said...

I realize this is an old blog post, but I just found it during a google search and felt compelled to defend my darling IIIxe that you've insulted here. Grr. :)

About 300 years ago I bought a Palm IIIe. I used it constantly, trouble-free for about a year and then got a IIIxe and gave the IIIe to my sister. She'd had it for a while when she started having trouble with it. Meanwhile, my IIIxe was as trouble-free as the IIIe had been when it was mine.

I continued to use my IIIxe for the next few years. At some point, my sister bought an iQue PalmOS-powered GPS device. It worked well for a while and then, you guessed it, started giving her trouble. Meanwhile, my IIIxe was still going.

My sister's moved once since I gave her the IIIe and hasn't figure out what box it ended up in, but she has instructions to send it to me if she happens across it.

While she was having trouble with tht eIIIe and then the iQue, I not only continued to use my outdated IIIxe, but I got add-ons for it; modem, keyboard, gamepad, two different cases, screen protectors, styli even though I've yet to lose one. My IIIxe never let me down. The only times it ever lost data were the result of *me* not changing the batteries soon enough. It *had* warned me repeatedly beforehand, but I ignored it. Hotsync cradle and Backup Buddy fixed it each time.

It is now March 28, 2009 and I'm typing this up on my IIIxe attached to its GoType! keyboard, while sitting in bed. I dread the day it quits on my becuase now that Palm's gotten out of PDAs and into smartphones (smart? yeah, right. I spit on Apple for convincing the masses that a phone could do everything when in reality it doesn't do much of anything particularly well, including make calls.), I don't believe there's an adequate replacement for my trusty IIIxe. I'm not the only one who feels that way. Check out user reviews, old and fairly recent on epinions, amazon, etc., and you'll see that your experience was the exception rather than the rule.

JGF said...

There's a bit of selection pressure here, since people writing about IIIxe's in the past few years have the good ones -- those that survived.

It was a good design, but Palm had big manufacturing quality control issues by then, so they made a lot of bad ones.

Nowadays, of course, any survivors were the cream of the crop.

Palm died for many reasons, but one of them was their quality control sucked in the twilight years.

I absolutely agree there's no modern replacement for the Palm device. The market has abandoned the personal organizer niche in favor of Microsoft Exchange client (corporate, Blackberry), pocket computer/entertainment (iPhone), fantasy (Android), dreams (Palm Pre) and sclock (all the rest).

The only non-phone option is the iTouch.

Apple does have the potential and definitely the ability to make the iTouch/iPhone a Palm replacement, they just don't have the desire.

I wish I were more optimistic about the Palm Pre, but I'm sure rooting for it. A successful Palm Pre would cause Apple to take the steps needed to create a Palm-Classic replacement.