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palmOne Tungsten E2 PDA

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Review posted April 13, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

A good PDA just got better. It's always a pleasure when we can say that, and the Tungsten E2 gives the Tungsten E just what the doctor ordered for improvements. In fact, as a mid-range PDA selling at a near budget price, the Tungsten E2 is one of the best deals on the market. It has a bright high resolution color display, an expansion slot that's compatible with memory and networking cards, it works with native Word, Excel and PowerPoint out of the box and has Bluetooth for checking email on the go and surfing the web if you've got a Bluetooth enabled cell phone as its companion. For $199 US, that's a good deal.

The $199 Tungsten E has been extremely successful in its 1.5 year tenure, out-selling most other handhelds on the market. PalmOne made important evolutionary improvement to this proven PDA with the E2, and these improvements aren't merely spec jumps but things that will be important to most owners in everyday use. The Tungsten E2, following the palmOne Treo 650 and Tungsten T5, has non-volatile memory which means that your data will be safe even if the PDA runs completely out of battery power. These palmOne models and the import Sharp Zaurus line of Linux PDAs are the only PDAs on the market to use 100% non-volatile memory, which means other PDAs will lose your data if the battery runs flat.

Palm Tungsten E2
back of Tungsten E2

 

Battery life is another sticky issue for recent PDAs: as screens get larger and brighter, CPU speeds increase and wireless is integrated, battery life suffers. The Tungsten E had respectable battery life and could make it 3 to 5 days on a charge with average use. PalmOne claims to have doubled battery life from the Tungsten E (not including Bluetooth usage since the E doesn't have Bluetooth) thanks to an increase in battery capacity and more frugal circuitry. Given that the E2 has a faster CPU and brighter display, that's both impressive and welcome.

Add in Bluetooth with a friendly user interface, a faster CPU and the new palmOne Multi Connector for compatibility with recent Palm accessories and you've got the Tungsten E2.

In the Box

The Tungsten E2 comes with a US charger, USB sync cable with HotSync button, software CD, Getting Started guide, PDF user manual, flip cover, and stylus.

Design and Ergonomics

Despite the larger battery and added Bluetooth radio, the E2 is nearly identical in size to the Tungsten E. They share the same design and finish— a good decision since the original E's size and looks were very well received. The palmOne E2 is one of the smaller handhelds on the market and at 4.7 ounces, won't drag your pockets down. The device has the same chrome crossed with polished aluminum finish and it looks great, though it does show fingerprints. The top cap is shiny black plastic and this is where you'll find the SD slot, power button and headphone jack. The unit feels comfy in the hand, and comes with a gray rigid leather flip cover that fits in the left side rail. The stylus, a metal and plastic affair, slides into the right side rail and is a good weight and size.

 

 

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The Tungsten E2 has an oblong 5 way directional pad that's easy to operate, has good tactile feedback, and is equally easy to press in all directions. Four buttons surround the d-pad, and launch the calendar, contacts, notepad and tasks (you can reassign the buttons to any program). Using the E2's key lock feature, you can tell the device to ignore button presses (other than the poewr button) when the unit is powered off . That way it won't accidentally power on when traveling in your bag, pocket or brief case. The speaker is on the back, and the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack is on the top. Oddly, the Tungsten E2 lacks the charging and alarm reminder LEDs found on most other PDAs.

size comparison

Size comparisons. Above: the SUV of PDAs, the HP iPAQ hx4700 with VGA display, Dell Axim X30, Tungsten T3 with slider closed and the Tungsten E2.
Right: top to bottom: Tungsten T3, Tungsten E2, Dell Axim X30 and the iPAQ hx4700.

size comparison with other  PDAs

Horsepower and Performance

The Tungsten E2 runs on a 200MHz Intel XScale processor that's responsive and adequate for business tasks, accessing PIM info, music playback and gaming. It's a faster performer than the 126MHz Texas Instruments based Tungsten E and we had no performance complaints, though you will have to wait a few seconds for native PowerPoint files with images to open. Unless you're a hardcore video playback fan, the E2 should be up to the task. The device runs Palm OS 5.4.7 (Garnet). Still no OS 6 Cobalt devices in sight from palmOne, though if and when it does appear, it will likely be on a high end model or a smartphone.

Display

The E2 has a high res 320 x 320 pixel transflective color display capable of displaying up to 65,000 colors. The display is bright and color saturated, attesting to palmOne's claims that the Tungsten E2's display is 30% brighter and 40% more color saturated than the Tungsten E's display. Is it one of the very best displays we've ever seen on a PDA? No, but it's darned nice for the price and makes viewing photos and videos a pleasure. It will please most folks and you won't do better unless you want to spend considerably more on a PDA.

Sound and MP3 Player

Sound through the rear-firing speaker is loud and clear, so you won't miss your appointment alarms when the sound is set to high. For stereo playback of MP3s and other media, you'll plug in earbuds or headphones using the Tungsten E2's standard 3.5mm headphone jack. When using a set of iPod earbud headphones with the E2, we were amazed and nearly deafened by its sound volume. Have no fear, you can lower the volume for a little ear-kindness; but if you love to rock to loud tunes using the included RealOne player for MP3s, the E2 will please you. This is one of the loudest handhelds we've heard through a set of headphones! Sound quality through headphones is also quite good with very low background noise and strong bass. If you want to EQ your tunes to really bring out the sound quality, try a 3rd party MP3 player like NormSoft's excellent Pocket Tunes or other players. You can check out our review of Palm MP3 players here.

Expansion

The E2 is much more expandable than the original E and you won't have to consider buying a pricier Palm solely to gain expansion. The SD slot supports SDIO and palmOne released a driver for their SD WiFi card which has E2 support in mid-May, 2005. Of course you can use the slot for SD memory cards if you need more storage space, and the E2 worked fine with a variety of cards in our tests. Expansion possibilities aren't limited to card slots. Traditionally, accessories that use the sync connector have been popular; and these include sync/charge cables, keyboards and modems/modem cables for use with cell phones. Since the E2 shares the palmOne Multi Connector used on other recent models, it won't be left out in the cold when it comes to wired accessories.

Software Bundle

The Tungsten runs Palm OS 5.4.7 and comes with Palm Desktop 4 for both Mac and Windows. The Windows version of Palm Desktop includes conduits for syncing to MS Outlook if you prefer.

The PDA comes with palmOne's enhanced PIM applications for contacts, calendar, memos and tasks management, all of which can sync to Outlook or Palm Desktop. The enhanced apps include palmOne's Agenda view which shows you the day at a glance and is similar to the Pocket PC Today Screen (see image, right) and color coded appointments in calendar views. In addition, DataViz' Documents To Go 7 Professional is bundled. This excellent Office suite allows you to create, view and edit native MS Word and Excel files (no file conversion needed). You can also view PowerPoint presentations, but not edit them when in native desktop format.

Favorites, which made its first appearance on the Tungsten T5, is included with the E2. This application functions as a launcher with shortcuts to your favorite applications, such as Documents To Go, music, Photos & Videos ( using Media, palmOne's photo viewer and video player) and Web. It also has room for additional individual applications which you can launch with one tap. The Favorites app has three additional pages where you can add more shortcuts to the files, folders or apps of your choice (see image, lower right). Of course, you can use the traditional Palm OS home screen if you wish or your favorite 3rd party launcher.

For Internet, you get both a web browser and an email client. Web (Blazer 4.0) is the web browser, and it has optimized and wide (desktop) page layout modes. The browser supports Javascript, bookmarks, history, cookies, proxies and SSL. VersaMail, palmOne's popular email application is included. It supports POP, IMAP and SMTP servers, multiple email accounts, automatic email fetching and notification of new mail and filters.

Like all recent palmOne models, the E2 has Graffiti 2 handwriting recognition. You can write in print (not cursive) in the Graffiti area at the bottom of the screen, or turn on the write-anywhere feature by tapping the icon in the taskbar. In addition, you can bring up an on-screen QWERTY keyboard or number pad when you don't want to use handwriting recognition. If you have some serious writing to do, you can buy palmOne or Think Outside's IR or Bluetooth folding keyboards.

Palm agenda view

The calendar's agenda view, using an optional background image.

favorites screen shot

Above: Favorites, palmOne's launcher

Bluetooth

Similar to the Tungsten T5 and Treo 650, , the palmOne E2 has a friendly Bluetooth program that will help you connect to Bluetooth access points, GPS units, PCs with Bluetooth adapters and Bluetooth enabled mobile phones. When you launch Bluetooth by tapping its icon on the Home screen, you'll see the main Bluetooth screen shown on the upper right. Here you'll turn the Bluetooth radio on and off, specify the device name, set discoverability and select a network service (once you've selected or created one).

To pair the E2 with another Bluetooth device such as a cell phone, you'll tap on the Setup Devices button and you'll be taken to the screen shown at the lower right. The palm groups connections into three types in device setup: Phone Setup, PC Setup (for PC connection and Bluetooth HotSyncing) and LAN Setup. Phone Setup walks you through connecting to your phone so you can use it as a wireless modem for the palm. Supported brands are Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and "Not shown ". If you select "Not shown" you'll be prompted to run palmOne's Phone Link Updater on your PC to download more Bluetooth phone drivers. Once you select your brand, you'll select your phone model from a list and move on to the pairing process. Then you'll create a new network connection using the wizard which first asks your country, then offers a list of common GPRS providers and settings for that country. In addition, the E2 comes with a dialer application that allows the PDA to tell your phone to dial a phone number via IR or Bluetooth. Speaking of IR, you can also use a mobile phone with an IR port as a modem for the PDA.

In addition, the Tungsten E2 supports Bluetooth connections to Bluetooth access points for wireless Internet access (LAN setup), as well as connection sharing and HotSyncing to PCs and Macs over Bluetooth.

Battery Life

The palmOne E2 has a 1020 mAh Lithium Ion battery. That's a relatively high capacity battery for a PDA with a 200MHz processor and a mid-sized color display, so it's no wonder the device reminds us of the Energizer Bunny. As we mentioned, palmOne claims to have doubled the battery life of the Tungsten E, and we believe they've succeeded. We used the device heavily for days and didn't have to charge it once. We attempted to do an MP3 playback test, long the favorite of reviewers, where we set the PDA to play a set of looping music tracks (screen turned off) through headphones until it runs out of power. Rather than stay up until 2am waiting, we terminated the test because the E2 was still playing after 12 hours. To give you an idea, after 5 hours of playback, the E2 still had 74% charge remaining.

Leaving the Bluetooth radio on had little effect on battery life, and the radio only consumes significant power when actually in use. In our tests, active Bluetooth use decreases battery life by 25%, which is fairly standard for a PDA. Now for the negative: the E2, like all palmOne brand PDAs doesn't have a user replaceable battery. Argh! These days, most Pocket PCs have user replaceable batteries and we hope palmOne will someday follow suit. Yes, a user replaceable battery does increase both the size and cost of a handheld. Why might you want this feature, then? If you will be away from AC for a long time, and need to swap in a spare battery while on the road, you'll care. Two to three years from now the battery runtimes will decrease (that's true of all Lithium Ion batteries) and if you want to replace the battery, you'll need to send it back to palmOne or purchase a do-it-yourself kit which involves opening the PDA up and performing minor (very minor) surgery. Not the end of the world, but it does matter to some users.

screen shot

Above: the main Bluetooth screen. Below, the screen you'll see if you press the Setup Devices button shown above.

screen shot

Conclusion

The palmOne Tungsten E2 is an excellent mid-range PDA. You get a lot for $199 and likely won't be running to buy software or hardware add-ons to make up for the unit's shortcomings as is the case with budget handhelds. While not for power users who crave the very fastest processors, even higher resolution displays and integrated WiFi, the E2 is perfect for the "average" user who wants to keep track of appointments, tasks and contacts, work with MS Office documents, play games, listen to MP3s, and even surf the web, IM and use email on the go with the help of a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. The unit is both attractive and compact, and the included flip cover will keep the screen safe.

Pro: Persistent storage memory means data stays safe even if the battery runs down. Great battery life, bright and colorful high res display. Supports SDIO and you'll be able to use palmOne's WiFi card as a result. Bluetooth is reliable and easy to set up. Uses palmOne's new standard Multi Connector for greater compatibility with plug-in accessories. Documents To Go is included with the unit so you'll be able to work with MS Office documents including those in native (unconverted format). Good price for the features and functionality, overall.

Con: Battery is not user replaceable (when will palmOne support this feature?!). No alarm LED.

Web Site: www.palm.com

List Price: $199

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Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD. 65K colors, screen size diag: 3.5". Resolution: 320 x 320 pixels.

Battery: 1020 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA255 200 MHz processor. 32 MB Flash ROM with 26 megs available). Palm OS 5.4.7 (Garnet).

Size: 4.5 x 3.1 x .59 inches. Weight: 4.7 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. RealPlayer included for your MP3 pleasure. Has auditory alarms (but not vibrating alarms). No voice recorder.

Networking: Integrated Bluetooth 1.1. WiFi not integrate but you can add on palmOne's SD WiFi card for $99.

Software: Palm OS 5.4.7 (Garnet). Included are the usual suite of Palm applications, including Contacts, Calendar, Clock, Tasks, Memo, Note Pad, Favorites, Expense, SMS, Calculator, Web (Blazer 4.0), VersaMail, Media (photo viewer and MPEG movie player), and Palm Reader. A generous bundle of 3rd party apps including Documents to Go Professional 7.0, Graffiti 2, RealOne Player, AddIt (for downloading and purchasing software on the PDA), and a 14 day trial version of Klondike Solitaire. Palm Desktop 4.1 for Windows and Mac included. MS Outlook conduits included for Windows.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, supporting SDIO.

 

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