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Palm Tungsten W

Reviewed March 2003, by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Update: on April 28, 2004 palmOne discontinued the Tungsten W. Check out their Treo 650.

In November 2002 Palm introduced a new high end line of PDAs called Tungsten. The Tungsten T was the first model to come out, and the Tungsten W wireless PDA following on Feb. 28th, 2003 in the US. The Tungsten W replaces the i705 as the wireless handheld of choice offered by Palm. Unlike the Tungsten T, the W runs Palm OS 4.1.1 rather than OS 5.

The W is housed in a sturdy plastic case and is about the same size as both the Tungsten T in its open position and the i705. Its attractive, business-like appearance should appeal to corporate users. The nub antenna is fixed (it doesn't telescope and is not removable) and is very sturdy. The LED on the antenna turns green and blinks slowly when wireless is active, is solid green when charging and blinks slowly in red when you're out of wireless range.

Palm Tungsten W
Palm Tungsten W back

 

Wireless

Palm provided the wireless service for the i705 and Palm VII, which ran on the Mobitex pager network at a max speed of 9.6k. These are data-only plans that work only in the US. The W wireless service is provided by AT&T Wireless in the US, and you'll sign up for a plan just as if you were activating a mobile phone with AT&T. Via GPRS, the W is capable of an average of 40 to 60k data transfer speeds, which makes browsing web sites much more enjoyable compared to the older Palm wireless units.

It's a triband GSM/GPRS world phone that should work anywhere in the world where GSM service is available. Since it's a GSM device that uses a SIM card, you should also be able to insert a locally activated SIM when traveling overseas. The W doesn't have a built-in speaker and mic for use as a phone, so you'll have to use the included headset (ear bud and mic) to use the W as a phone. Palm will be coming out with an accessory cover that will allow you to hold the W to your head for conversations if you don't fancy digging out the headset every time a call comes in. I suspect that most users will look at the Tungsten W as a wireless data device, and secondarily as a mobile phone, which is what Palm intends. It is not designed to compete directly with smartphones such as the Samsung i330 or Treo 270 and 300, but rather with the Blackberry and Danger hiptop. That said, voice quality is quite good on the W, and the radio pulls in a strong signal. GSM service in the Silicon Valley area had been quite weak, so it seems that AT&T has really beefed up the wireless infrastructure before offering GSM devices in this area— kudos to AT&T Wireless!

How much did wireless services cost? They ran from $20 to $100, depending on how many megs of data/month you want. Voice service is not included in the data plan, and those start at an additional $20/month.

 

 

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Wireless Software Included

How about software for this nifty wireless PDA? The W comes with the Web Pro web browser made by Novarra, just as did the T. It's an excellent web browser that loads pages quickly, is stable and supports basic web standards. You'll also get Palm's VersaMail 2.0 e-mail application which supports multiple accounts, has built-in setups for popular ISPs, and supports POP and IMAP. If you're into WAP, you can use the included Palm WAP browser to visit WAP sites. It supports certificates and public key authentication to WAP gateways. There's also a SIM manager app, an SMS message app, ICQ for Palm and VeriChat which supports instant messaging via Yahoo, AIM and MSN Messenger. The chat app can run in the background and notify you of new incoming messages. The Mobile application gives you an onscreen mobile phone keypad interface along with a Dial, Speed Dial, Lookup and profile button. You can select from 6 different profiles so that you can have different ring tones (or vibration), volume levels, voicemail forwarding for locations such as home, work and car.

The Tungsten W supports web clipping apps (sometimes referred to as WCA or PQA apps). These are very efficient apps originally developed for the Palm VII and i705 that allow you to access a variety of sites and online services using very little bandwidth. They're generally free and quite small. Visit Palm's website or palmgear.com for a list of available web clippings.

Horsepower and Battery Life

The Tungsten W, runs Palm OS 4.1.1 enhanced to support its high res display. Like the older i705, it has a Dragonball processor running at 33 MHz. For the price, I was hoping for Palm OS 5 and an ARM family processor, such as that found on the Tungsten T.

While the lack of horsepower and latest OS is disappointing, Palm OS 4 supports web clippings while OS 5 does not, which may be a worthwhile tradeoff since web clipping apps are so efficient in terms of data transfers. Also the Dragonball processor is less demanding in terms of power, and likely contributes to the W's excellent battery life. Since the wireless radio and always-on technology are big power consumers, the battery life is truly amazing. Palm claims 10 hours of talk time for the large 1500 mA battery, and I'd say they aren't exaggerating. Having used the Tungsten W to make a few short calls, surf the web for 2 hours, send and receive a few SMS text messages, play games for an hour, view presentations using the included Documents To Go and HotSync to install software at least 10 times, the battery level has only dropped 5%! I've kept the wireless radio turned on at all times too.

Display

This is Palm's first high resolution 320 x 320 pixel color display on an OS 4 PDA. The brightness is adjustable and you can turn the backlight on or off as you desire. It's a nice display similar in quality to the Tungsten T, however it can't compete with Sony Cliés with transflective LCDs such as the NX series, NZ90 and TG-50. Previous Palm brand PDAs running OS 4 had 160 x 160 pixel screens. While OS 5 supports high res displays, OS 4 does not, so Palm used PalmSource's OS 5 APIs for graphics support on the W. All applications (including games) we tested ran fine, and high res versions of software did run in high res mode on the Tungsten W . Some high res games did run slowly on the W, however.

SD Slot

The Tungsten W has an SD slot that can accomodate SD and MMC memory storage cards as well as SDIO cards such as the Palm Bluetooth card.

The Universal Connector and Connecting Accessories

The Tungsten W, like recent m series Palms and the Tungsten T, has a universal connector which attaches to the cradle for syncing, and to accessories such as modems and keyboards. Most universal connector accessories should work with the W, including i705 accessories.

The USB cradle is the same as other m series models such as the m515 and the Tungsten T. The power adapter plugs into the cradle's cable so you'll charge the PDA by placing it in the cradle.

If you're an IR sync and beam fan, you'll be happy to know the W has an IR port that played well with our notebooks and other Palm OS PDAs here in the office.

Keyboard, Jot and D-Pad

I am not a huge fan of thumb keyboards, but the W has an excellent keyboard! Palm has done an excellent job of competing with the Blackberry in this respect and the keyboard is similar to the Blackberry. The keys have good tactile feedback and are spaced far enough apart that you can type with the meat of your thumb rather than your thumbnails (I have thin fingers, so your mileage may vary). It's a standard QWERTY keyboard, with numbers on the top row of letters, and punctuation and common symbols on the remaining rows of letters. To enter letters, common symbols and punctuation, you'll press the blue button on the keyboard. To enter a single number or punctuation mark, you'll first press the blue button, then the key. If you want to enter a string of numbers, hit the blue button twice, then type away. You need not simultaneously press the blue button and your desired key— a great usability touch.

The Tungsten W doesn't have a dedicated Graffiti area. Instead it comes with Jot, an excellent character recognizer that allows you to write anywhere on the screen. You can use either standard Graffiti characters, or Jot's characters which are similar to natural print writing.

Since there's no Graffiti area, you won't have silkscreen buttons. Instead, you'll access the Find, and Menu functions usually found on the Graffiti area by hitting the blue button and the appropriate keyboard key. Another nice usability touch is that you need only press the Home key on the keyboard to return to the home screen: no blue key required for this oft-used function. There are four buttons below the keyboard to launch the Calendar, Contacts, VersaMail e-mail and the AT&T Wireless app.

Like the Tungsten T, the W has Palm's wonderful new 5 way directional pad that makes navigating and playing games a dream. It supports movement in 4 directions, and pressing the center of the pad functions as the action button. If you press and hold the D-pad for a few seconds, it'll return you to the home screen.

Conclusion

Pro: Many of us have been waiting a long time for a color wireless device from Palm. The Tungsten W gives us this plus a high res display. Battery life is truly excellent, and runs for several days on a charge even when using wireless data services. Good bundle of wireless apps such as browsers, e-mail, SMS and phone app. Supports web clippings, which help keep the bandwidth charges down. Can double as a mobile phone. Includes Documents To Go 5 for working with Word and Excel docs. Con: For the price, I'd like this unit to have an ARM compatible processor and OS 5. The 33 MHz Dragonball seems a bit slow in comparison. Like most wide area wireless solutions from cellular providers, your monthly bill won't be cheap if you intend to use the wireless features frequently. The battery is not user replaceable.

 

Specs:

Display: Backlit, high res 320 x 320 pixel color TFT display with 16 bit, 65,000 colors.

Performance: 33 MHz Dragonball processor. 16 megs of RAM (14.8 available to the user), 8 megs flash upgradable ROM for OS. Palm OS 4.1.1

Size: height: 4.8", 3.07" wide, 0.65 inches thick. 6.4 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker. Supports alarm sounds, LED alert and vibrating alerts.

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Polymer, 1500 mA. Not user replaceable.

Software: Palm OS 4.1.1 enhanced to support high res display. Includes the usual suite of Palm applications, including Address Book, Date Book, Clock, To Do List, Memo Pad Calculator and Palm Reader, SMS app, ICQ for Palm, Palm WAP Browser and Web Pro Browser included. A generous bundle of 3rd party apps including Documents to Go Pro 5, Chapura Pocket Mirror (for syncing to Outlook), Handmark's MobileDB, powerOne Personal Calculator, Acrobat Reader for Palm, AcrSoft PhotoBase, Jot and more. Palm Desktop for Windows and Mac included.

Network: GSM/GPRS Voice and Data. Service provided by AT&T Wireless in the US.

 

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