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Palm unveils first PDAs in new Tungsten line

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When Palm talks, the industry listens. And users sometimes drool. Today, Palm is announcing two new devices, one evolutionary, the other revolutionary. Both new devices are the first members of Palm’s new Tungsten line, meant for high-end, sophisticated power users.

InsertArt(1676707)EXCEPT FOR THE OBVIOUS family resemblance, the Tungsten T handheld and the Tungsten W phone are two very, very different devices.

The Tungsten T is, according to Palm, is designed to be perfect for one-handed use and their most compact device ever. The first thing you notice is that the Graffiti writing area is missing. But don’t worry; this is the first Palm that slides open. The lower portion of the device contains 4 application buttons and a brand-new 5-way navigator. The bottom slides downward to turn the device on and reveal a Graffiti box and the soft buttons. When closed, Palm says, the T is in its Data Retrieval Mode. An open lid turns the Data Entry Mode on.

As for actual size, the Tungsten T is 4 by 3 by 0.6 inches and weighs in at 5.6 ounces. Opening the lid tacks on another 0.8 inches to the height. For the record, the m515, Palm’s previous top-of-the-line color device, is 4.5 by 3.1 by 0.5 inches and weighs 4.9 ounces. I wouldn’t want to have to decide which device is the most compact Palm ever.

But, forget about the size. The Tungsten T is an entirely new device. First of all, it runs on Palm’s first 32-bit operating system: Palm OS 5.0. The new OS allows Palms to begin catching-up with some of the things rival Pocket PCs can do, such as watching short video clips, downloading digital audio or photo files and even playing graphics-intensive interactive games. Plus, because of the new operating system, this Palm is the first to sport a new class of processor, a Texas Instruments 144 MHz OMAP1510, ARM-compatible (like a Pocket PC) processor. The TI chip reportedly has low power consumption numbers. Palm claims the T’s rechargeable lithium battery will last for seven days of normal application use.

There’s 16MB of memory built-in, with 14 MB of it available for storage and an expansion slot that lets you use SD cards for additional storage. The brand new, higher-resolution screen is now 320 by 320 pixels, four times the resolution of the old 160 by 160 pixel screen. It shows — actually using the device, you can tell the difference immediately.

A built-in voice recorder plays standard WAV files either through the built-in speaker or headphones; sound files are automatically saved to your desktop computer when you synchronize.

The T also has Bluetooth in addition to the standard infra-red port. The short-range, wireless networking system allows the T to communicate with other nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices such as a new breed of cellular phones, keyboards and printers.

All of your favorite Palm built-in applications have been rewritten to work under OS 5.0, with updates of the standard Address Book, Date Book, To Do List, etc. There’s VersaMail 2.0 (POP and IMAP support), WAP and a Web browser, plus SMS and phone dialer software. A lot of this stuff comes on a separate applications CD, new for Palm devices.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS I’ve been able to play with the Tungsten T for only a few hours, but I can report that the screen is amazingly good for a Palm OS device and data retrieval is pretty quick. Even the standard sounds coming out of the Palm (the little alerts when synching starts and stops) sound better through the T. The handheld is built like a rock and the open/close mechanism slides effortlessly.

However, the T does feel a little heavy for its size. And I wish there were more Bluetooth-enabled devices out there to make that feature worthwhile.

The Tungsten T has a retail price of $499. For comparison purposes, the older m515 sells for $349. At least the T comes with a snap-on, clear plastic cover that protects the entire front of the closed unit but allows you access to the bottom buttons. However, I wish the cover was hinged instead of snapping onto the back of the device.

PALM GOES CELLULAR The Tungsten W is an entirely different animal. It is Palm’s first cellular product — essentially a handheld with a headset-only, tri-band GSMGPRS world phone built inside.

On the outside, the W is 5.43 by 3.07 by 0.65 inches (including the antenna) and weighs 6.4 ounces. It feels bigger in person than it looks in the photo. Inside, there’s 8 MB of ROM and 16 MB of RAM. The W runs on Palm’s older 4.1.1 OS on a Motorola Dragonball VZ 33MHz processor. The screen is the same new dazzler as in the Tungsten T above and there’s a big lithium-ion polymer battery inside.

The W excels at e-mail and messaging. It comes with VersaMail for consumer POP and IMAP mail systems, VersaMail VPN for small businesses, plus some of the other applications from the Tungsten CD including Dataviz Documents To Go (for Word and Excel documents) and Arcsoft’s PhotoBase for images.

As you can see from the photo, the W is also the first Palm device to come with a keyboard. It’s just below the screen, where the Graffiti box should be. I guess they agree with many other handheld manufacturers that wireless data devices work might work better with a keyboard. For me, it’s a little more accurate and somewhat faster than using a stylus.

The W seems to be a nice design, but I feel it’s incomplete — especially when you compare it to the competition. Handspring’s Treo (180, 270 or 300) is smaller, lighter and miles ahead in usability.

Plus, and this is a very big plus, you can hold a Handspring up to your ear. Palm tries to get around it by saying the W allows you to “multi-task! A hands-free headset allows you to talk and type.” I’d rather have a phone I can hold up to my ear - with a built-in speakerphone for when I need to multi-task. I’ll stick with my Treo or my Nextel i95cl.

The estimated retail price for the Tungsten W is $549, not including any discounts or subsidies from your cellular carrier. Palm will be announcing cellular carriers for the W in the near future.