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PDA Reviews

Palm Tungsten T3

Reviewed Oct. 1, 2003 (Updated April 2005), by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Check out our review of the Palm T|X, Palm's latest high end PDA which replaces the T3.

In November 2002 Palm introduced the Tungsten T, which sported a slider design, Palm OS 5 and a high res 320 x 320 pixel display. The unit was popular, offering a lot of power and a small rugged design. The T2 came out this summer, offering some minor improvements over the original T. Now, the much rumored and hoped-for T3 is here, offering the same compact slider design, but with Palm's first high res + display, running at 320 x 480 pixels. The T3, at $349 US list, offers extreme portability and a groundbreaking display that should be a hit with many users. While Sony has been offering high res+ NX and NZ series Palm OS Clié models for quite some time, this is the first Palm OS PDA to run in both portrait and landscape modes.

Palm Tungsten T3

But the T3 isn't just another pretty face with a clever design, it has a 400 MHz XScale processor, 64 megs of memory and an MP3 player, making it a direct competitor in the feature-set and horsepower wars with Pocket PCs. It runs Palm OS 5.2.1, and has Graffiti 2 which allows you to write characters more naturally, and write them anywhere on screen if you wish.

 

size comparison

Comparing size: The T3 and the Sony Clié NX80V .

size comparison

 

 

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Design and Slider

Many of you are probably familiar with the Tungsten T slider design. The bottom section of the unit (you can see the joint area in the photo, just above the navigation buttons) slides down to reveal the full display. While the slider on the Tungsten T and T2 merely covered the silk-screened Graffiti writing area, there's actual usable display area under the T3's slider. If you use the T3 with the slider closed, the unit operates in 320 x 320 mode, and when you open the slider, the unit switches to full screen 320 x 480 display mode. Quite an impressive feat of engineering! The T3 has virtual Graffiti, which means that the Graffiti area is drawn on the display using software rather than being permanently silk-screened on the unit (this is the same way the Sony high res + models work).

The unit feels very durable and solid in the hand. The slider is made of metal with plastic runners inset into the back of the unit. The unit locks open when fully extended, and locks closed when you slide it shut, so you won't have to worry about it accidentally sliding. Given the solid design, and the strong track record for the original T model, it should hold up well under use.

The unit comes with a gray leather flip cover that attaches on the back and flips over the top. The cover has a rigid insert to further protect the display, and the inside is soft suede with a molded inset over the button area to avoid accidental button presses.

The Tungsten T3 has a 5 way directional pad that operates smoothly and is easy to press while offering good tactile feedback. Four buttons surround the d-pad, and launch the calendar, contacts, notepad and tasks (you can reassign the buttons to any program). The record button is located on the upper left side and is somewhat recessed. Like similarly located record buttons on Pocket PCs, I frequently accidentally pressed it when handling the unit. The T3 does offer key lock, so you can set it to ignore button presses if you wish. The speaker is located above the display on the right side, and so isn't muffled by your hand or a case. The mic is located above the record button on the left side.

You can set the T3 to automatically turn on when the slider is opened, and turn off when it's closed. The unit feels very good in the hand: it's quite light, and just thick and curvy enough to allow you to hold it comfortably. The spring-loaded telescoping metal stylus is one of the best on a PDA, it's comfortably wide and has good weight and feel in the hand.

Horsepower: Zoom, zoom, zoom!

The Tungsten T3 has a 400 MHz XScale processor, which is the top of the line for PDAs these days. High end Pocket PCs run this processor, as does the Palm Tungsten C. While Pocket PCs need more horsepower due to the greater demands of the OS, Palm OS is more frugal, and thus this unit really rips. In fact, most of us won't find a way to fully use all its speed until more demanding applications are written. Video playback using Kinoma is great, and demanding games such as Warfare Inc. run smoothly with none of the occasional audio stuttering or jerky scrolling you might notice on other Palm OS PDAs. Sega Action Games, which don't run terribly smoothly on the Tungsten T, do run at noticeably faster frame rates with more immediate control response on the T3.

The T3 has 64 megs of RAM, with 52 megs available to the user. Given the relatively small size of Palm OS applications, that's quite a lot of space! Of course if you're going to carry around a lot of MP3s and movies, then you'll need plenty of space, and the T3 has an SD slot for memory cards.

Display

As mentioned previously, the Tungsten T3 has a 320 x 480 high res+ display. The display is sharp and has very good color saturation. It's a transflective display that's reasonably bright, but not as bright as high end Sonys or the Zire 71, and shows no discernable color bias. I'm very impressed at the stability of the resolution switching. When closed, even high res+ apps run in 320 x 320 high res mode. Open the slider to switch to 320 x 480 mode and high res+ apps run in full screen mode (the built-in apps can switch on the fly, but for games, you will need to re-launch the app to change the app's resolution).

If you're running an application that offers only 320 x 320 resolution, the Graffiti area will fill in the unused portion of the display, and you can set the unit in left or right handed mode, so the Graffiti area can be on the left or right of the display area. The Sony Clié UX series works the same way. However, the T3 beats the UX because it can display both in portrait and landscape mode. Simply press the resolution switcher on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen to change screen orientation. Lovely! When used in right-handed mode, the buttons are on the right in landscape orientation, and vice versa in lefty mode.

Bluetooth

As with the Tungsten T and T2, the T3 comes with built-in Bluetooth wireless networking. Connect to your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, an access point to access the Internet, send and receive SMS messages or chat with your Palm Bluetooth-enabled buddies using Blue Chat. Range was quite good, and I was able to connect to a Red-M access point from distances of 40 feet and 1 floor to access the Internet. Web browsing speeds were quite good, though not quite as good as WiFi, of course. Bluetooth does take its toll on battery life, and the T3 doesn't last as long as the T and T2 when surfing the web using Bluetooth. After 1 hour of surfing (with a 1 minute timeout set so the radio would drop the active connection unless I needed to load a new web page), the battery life dropped 30%. There is no Bluetooth activity light on the T3. You can turn Bluetooth on and off using the Bluetooth icon in the taskbar.

Improved PIM Apps

The basic Palm OS PIM apps on other models (address book, date book, to-do's and notepad) haven't really changed since the days of the original Palm Pilot. PalmOne (the new name for the company that makes PDAs) and not PalmSource (the company that makes the Palm OS) has revised the PIM apps for the T3 and Tungsten E models. Yay! These are welcome enhancements that all users will appreciate. In fact, they've also been re-named as Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and Memo.

The Calendar features an Agenda view, which is similar to the Pocket PC Today Screen. The month view has been enhanced to show appointments with color coding by category, and smaller calendars of the previous and following month shown below the current month. There's also a year view of the calendar with the current month and day bolded (appointments don't show in year view).

The Contacts application allows you to enter both home and work addresses for a given contact (with other Palm OS PDAs there's only one address per contact), and there are new fields for instant messenger IDs, birthday and web site.

If you wish to sync to Outlook rather than Palm Desktop, you won't need additional software since the Windows version now includes an Outlook conduit (email in Outlook is synced with VersaMail on the Palm).

Palm has always done a great job with user interface, and their new task bar designed for the Tungsten T3 is a real gem. Don't want to open the slider to quickly access common tasks? Use the taskbar, shown at the right, which resides at the bottom of the screen and allows you to turn on the write anywhere feature of Graffiti 2, activate/deactivate Bluetooth, get time/battery status/memory status, rotate the screen and pop-up the Graffiti writing area with a single tap on an icon.

The Universal Connector and Expansion

The Tungsten T3, like other Tungstens and m-series Palms, has a universal connector which attaches to the cradle for syncing, and to accessories such as modems and keyboards. This means that you should be able to use existing accessories designed for universal connector Palms.

The cradle looks the same as other Tungsten and m series models. The power adapter plugs into the cradle's cable so you'll charge the PDA by placing it in the cradle.

Like all Palm OS PDAs, the T3 has an IR port for beaming (you can now beam multiple contacts) and using IR accessories such as keyboards and modems.

The T3, like all m-series and Tungsten PDAs, has an SD slot that accepts SD and MMC cards (SD is recommended) and supports SDIO for such things as SD WiFi wireless networking cards.

MP3 and Voice Notes

The Tungsten T3 has a built-in stereo MP3 player, a single front-firing speaker, and a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. RealOne Mobile Player is included, and there are other 3rd party MP3 players available if you prefer those over Real. MP3 playback volume through headphones is quite good, and is louder than the original Tungsten T and Zire 71. You'll need to store MP3s on an expansion card, but given the relatively large size of MP3 files and the low cost of SD cards, this shouldn't be a huge problem for most users.

The T3 has a voice recorder which records at decent quality, and has a record button on the upper left side. If you're planning on recording long conversations or meetings, do get some SD memory cards to store those larger audio files. You can tell the Voice Memo to automatically record to a memory card, if present.

The T3 supports audible alarms (polyphonic), LED alerts and vibrating alerts.

 

agenda view

 

Above, the new Agenda view in the Calendar application. Below, the new taskbar.

taskbar

 

T3 calendar

Above, the enhanced calendar.

 

Battery Life

The T3 has a non-user replaceable Lithium Ion Polymer battery. Battery life isn't that great for a Palm brand PDA, and the unit doesn't last as long per change as the original T and T2 models, which share the same 900 mA battery. The screen is significantly larger and the processor is much faster than those models, and that does significantly impact battery life. As mentioned, surfing via Bluetooth will shorten battery life, while accessing basic PIM apps will not effect battery life as much. I played Warfare Inc., a demanding game, and used up 40% of the battery in 1 hour of play. One hour of surfing used up 30% of the battery. I hope that future versions of the T3 have a larger capacity battery or a user replaceable battery. Palm does offer an extended battery sled which slides onto the T3 and connects to the sync port. The extended battery does double runtimes and can charge the Tungsten's internal battery.

Software Bundle

The Tungsten T3 comes with a great software bundle. Most of the built-in applications run full screen, and so do some other included apps such as Documents To Go 6, VersaMail 2.6 and Palm Web Pro 3.0. All applications run fine in both portrait and landscape modes.

Web Pro, Palm's web browser, has greatly improved since the version that shipped with older Tungstens. It still offers proxy-based web browsing (which optimizes content and reduces download sizes and times), but now you can turn off the proxy if you need to directly access a corporate network, or merely want to see web pages formatted in a more desktop-like manner. There are options for Handheld View and Normal View. Handheld View optimizes content, and re-formats the page as a long narrow page (to avoid side-scrolling). Normal View doesn't use the proxy server, and gives you a more normal web page view . It's certainly the best choice when surfing in landscape mode, since content in Handheld View won't come close to filling the width of the screen. Normal view is slower since it doesn't use the proxy optimizations, but it's still quite usable.

VersaMail, Palm's capable email client, supports multiple email accounts and both POP3 and IMAP protocols. You can use it to check your email directly, or sync emails from your desktop inbox to the PDA. You can set VersaMail to automatically fetch your email on a schedule, setup filters and have it notify you audibly of new mail.

For you video buffs, the Tungsten T3 comes with Kinoma Player and Kinoma Producer.

Documents To Go Professional 6.0 is included with the T3. It's one of the most popular MS Office suites for Palm OS, and version 6 supports native Office file formats, so you won't need to convert documents (and lose formatting) when editing them on the Palm. Docs To Go allows you to both view and edit MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

The Tungsten, like all Palm brand PDAs, comes with desktop software to sync the unit with both Windows and Mac OS.

Conclusion

Pro: There's a lot to like about this unit! It has a 400 MHz XScale processor (that's as fast as you can get these days), plenty of memory and perhaps most strikingly, a large high res+ display that works seamlessly in 320 x 320 mode, as well as 320 x 480 in both landscape and portrait orientation. The unit is surprisingly compact and light. Built-in Bluetooth is great for surfing in conjunction with a BT enabled mobile phone, and allows you to sync wirelessly to a BT-enabled Mac or PC. Con: Battery life could be better, and battery could be user replaceable.

Web site: www.palmone.com

List price: $349 US

 

Specs:

Display: Backlit, high res 320 x 480 pixel color transflective display with 16 bit, 65,000 colors. Can operate in both landscape and portrait orientation.

Performance: 400 MHz Intel XScale processor. 64 megs of RAM, 52 megs available to the user. Flash upgradeable ROM for OS.

Size: height: 4.3 in. closed, 5.2 in. open. 3.0 in.wide, 0.66 inches thick. 5.5 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, voice recorder, 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. MP3 capable, with RealOne as the included player. Supports alarm sounds, LED alert and vibrating alerts.

Expansion: 1 SD slot supporting SDIO

Battery: 900 mA Rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer.

Software: Palm OS 5.2.1. Included are the usual suite of Palm applications, including Contacts, Calendar, Clock, Tasks, Memo, Note Pad, Expense, Calculator and Palm Reader. Bluetooth software, SMS app, VersaMail 2.6 and Palm Web Pro browser included. A generous bundle of 3rd party apps including Documents to Go Professional 6.0, powerOne Personal calculator, Acrobat Reader for Palm, Handmark's Solitaire, Kinoma Player and Producer, IBM WebSphere Java J2ME runtime and more. Palm Desktop 4.1 for Windows and Mac included. MS Outlook conduits included for Windows.

Modem / Wireless: No modem included. Bluetooth is built-in, so you can use your Bluetooth capable cell phone as a modem or buy Palm's accessory 56k dialup modem.

 

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