With Palm's new Tungsten, the W could stand for wow

With Palm's new Tungsten, the W could stand for wow

Tungsten W, Palm's new hand-held wireless device

With today's release of the Tungsten W, Palm Inc. jumps into the battle for the perfect hand-held wireless device.

After testing a Tungsten W for a couple of weeks'and as a long-time user of Palm wireless devices'I can tell you the device is unlike the Palm VII and i705 and not merely because it incorporates a telephone.

The GSM-GPRS phone capability is the most radical addition for Palm device users, although phones with the Palm OS and applications have been around for a few years. Unlike these devices, the Tungsten W started out as a handheld computer.

Besides integrating a phone that uses AT&T Wireless service, Palm also beefed up its latest handheld with a thumb keyboard similar to that on the BlackBerry from Research In Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario.

Gone is Palm's Graffiti area on the screen and two buttons for this shorthand have been assigned new applications. For users who insist on Graffiti, you still can tap in a scratchpad. Personally, I can input data using Graffiti faster than via the tiny keyboard.

The Tungsten W's new generation Dragon Ball processor, 16-bit color display and SD card expansion slot for memory, toys or applications make Palm a legit contender against high-end Windows CE devices from Hewlett Packard Co. and others.

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

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

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

My contact file is relatively small, about 700 names and numbers. But the Tungsten W could pinpoint a needed number from A to Z in seconds.

I dislike touching PDA screens with anything but a stylus and especially not with my cheek, as some devices with phone apps require 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.

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 cords. That's a welcome development from a company for which upgrading has often meant tossing out your 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 get five hours of talk time and many more on standby, Palm officials said. During my tests, the batteries held out that long.

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

The device also is equipped with Palm's Versamail e-mail and Web browser apps, 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 expect far better performance on the Tungsten W with its sharp color display and AT&T cellular service.

An accessories disk comes bundled with the device. It contains apps such as DataVis documents to go, which lets you create or edit Microsoft Office files.

Of course, you must pay for the wireless service. Voice and data are priced separately, with phone service at $19.99 and data service from $29.99 for 10M per month to $99.00 for 100M. With the low-priced plans, you'd need to be careful using the device to browse image-rich Web sites. A Palm press release said to expect a discount on the price of the Tungsten W when bundled with wireless plans.

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 the flat-folding Palm keyboard. Would that be sufficient technology to let you dispense with a clunky notebook PC when traveling or working from home?

For some managers, it probably will come close to the Holy Grail. For others, the Tungsten W won't replace a notebook, but it likely will succeed in meshing a pager, personal digital assitant and phone with few drawbacks.

One nice feature is that while on the phone, you can use other apps that don't require connectivity. As a phone, the form factor and dialing system don't match the ease of use and carrying 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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