Tungsten W can go wireless and Graffiti-less

The Palm Tungsten W gives up to five hours of talk time and many more hours on standby.

Henrik G. DeGyor

This PDA's features, apps and competitive price make it a contender against high-end Microsoft Windows CE devices

After testing Palm Inc.'s new Tungsten W for a couple of weeks, I can tell you from long experience with Palm OS wireless devices that it's unlike the Palm VII and i705, and not merely because it incorporates a telephone.

The Global System for Mobile and General Packet Radio Service phone capability is the most radical addition, although phones with Palm OS applications have been around for a few years.
Unlike those devices, the Tungsten W started out as a handheld computer.

Besides integrating a phone that uses AT&T Wireless service, the Tungsten W has a thumb keyboard similar to that on the BlackBerry pager from Research In Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario.

Gone is Palm's Graffiti area on the screen. Users who insist on Graffiti still can tap a scratchpad. Personally, I can input data with Graffiti faster than via the tiny keyboard.

The Tungsten W has a 33-MHz DragonBall VZ processor, 16-bit color display and SD card expansion slot for memory, toys or applications. That makes the Tungsten W a legit contender against high-end Microsoft Windows CE devices from Hewlett-Packard Co. and others.

At $549, the Tungsten W also is competitively priced.

As for the device's phone, you can choose the app, pick a number, dial and talk all with one hand, never touching the keyboard. A four-way navigator rocker switch with a concentric button for choosing lets you quickly navigate the phone book.

That feature'once you get the hang of it'is much faster than you might think. For new numbers, there's an on-screen touch keypad, or you can use the keyboard.

My contact file, which is relatively small, has about 700 names and numbers. The Tungsten W was able to pinpoint any number from A to Z in seconds.

I dislike touching handheld screens with anything but a stylus and especially not with my cheek, as some devices with phone apps force you to do. The Tungsten W comes with an earpiece-microphone dongle.

An optional leather cover incorporates a microphone and speaker if you want to hold the device to your ear like a regular phone, so your cheek rests against the cover and not the screen.

Packed with features

Palm engineers have packaged the phone apparatus and full-color personal information manager into a case that's the size of the far lamer i705.

A nice bonus: The Tungsten W can use the i705's keyboard, cradle and synchronization cable. That's a welcome development from a company whose upgrades have often meant tossing out old accessories.

The antenna, which incorporates a green-red LED signal indicator, is a sturdy and unobtrusive nub atop the device.

When fully charged, the Tungsten W's rechargeable lithium-ion battery can give five hours of talk time and many more standby hours, Palm officials said. During my tests, the batteries held out that long.

I tried the phone app on a Metroliner train between Washington and New York. The reception was a function more of AT&T's spotty service than of anything inherent in the Tungsten W.

Browser and e-mail

The device also is equipped with Palm's VersaMail e-mail and Web browser, which I didn't test. I've used the browser with good results on the monochrome i705 with its low-bandwidth Mobitex service, so I would expect far better performance from the Tungsten W's sharp color display and AT&T cellular service.

Voice and data service are priced separately: phone service at $19.99 per month, and data service from $29.99 for 10M up to $99 for 100M. With a low-priced plan, be careful when browsing image-rich Web sites. A Palm press release said the price of the Tungsten W is discounted when bundled with wireless plans.

An accessories disk came bundled with the device. It contains apps such as DataViz Documents to Go, which lets you create or edit Microsoft Office files.

Merging functions

All of which brings up the question: Is this the one device you can carry to do it all? Say you are willing to tote along a flat-folding Palm keyboard. Would that be sufficient to let you dispense with a clunky notebook PC for travel or telework?

For some managers, the Tungsten W probably will come close to the Holy Grail. Others will find it can't replace a notebook. Likely it will succeed in meshing a pager, personal digital assistant and phone with few drawbacks.

One nice feature is that while on the phone, you can use other apps that don't require connectivity. But the form factor and dialing system don't match the ease of use and portability of a high-end cell phone.

Still, the Tungsten W is definitely a cool and slickly engineered gadget. If you want to carry one electronic device, it's worth a look.

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