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Palm Tungsten T3 PDA

Golly, what big screen you have

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Reg Review Palm's innovative enterprise-oriented Tungsten T PDA had a good screen, but at a resolution of 320 x 320, it look rather small compared with Pocket PC devices' larger displays. While last summer's T2 replaced the original display with a much superior transflective LCD, the size remained the same. Instead, Palm chose to wait until the autumn release slot to offer a Tungsten with a bigger, iPaq-beating screen.

The result is the Tungsten T3, which not only provides a larger display - 320 x 480 now - but revamps the T series into the bargain. It's the upgrade the T2 should have been but wasn't.

Superficially, the T and the T3 are the same. Both are compact, metal-shelled devices designed for easy information look-up, but slide open to reveal a text-entry area. Alas, even closed, T family members aren't much shorter than the older m500 and V series devices, but they do feel more compact than their Pocket PC rivals. The T3 is a little longer than the T, but fractionally thinner and narrower. Both T and T3 offer Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

They also feature a headphone socket, microphone and voice record button (now enlarged on the T3) on the left-hand side of the shell. The SD card slot - now with a protective internal flap - telescopic metal stylus, IR port and power button are still on the top.

There the similarities end. In place of the T's dour gun-metal colour scheme is a brighter, lighter tone for the T3. The T's five-way navigation control and row of application buttons has been replaced by an oval design that wraps the buttons around the navigator, which now takes you through the application categories as well as helping you quickly select application icons. Navigation is undoubtedly faster on the T3 than the T.

From OMAP to XScale

Apps run more quickly too, thanks to a 400MHz Intel XScale processor, probably a PXA255, though Palm isn't saying. What it has admitted is that the chip is underclocked, in order to provide a better battery life. To what extent the processor has been throttled back isn't known - it certainly feels faster, more responsive than the T's 144MHz Texas Instruments OMAP chip, but more than twice as fast. And it's possible the machine adjusts the CPU frequency according to the processing load - again, Palm is keeping mum.

Kinoma Player 2.0 performance test yields a frame rate of 77.5fps on the T3, a 56 per cent increase over the T's score of 49.7fps. However, since the 126MHz Tungsten E scores 68.5 per cent, both T and T3 scores a disappointing - the former a result of the slower SD card sub-system in the T, and the latter as sign, perhaps, of just how far the T3's XScale processor has been underclocked. In each test, we played the same 2.4MB full-screen movie off the same SD Card.

More obvious is the much-increased memory capacity, to 64MB. Only 52MB of that are free for use - the remaining 12MB is used by the system, though NoSleep Software's FileZ declares it free - but almost all of that 52MB is available from the word go. Palm has squeezed all its PIM applications and bundled extras like VersaMail, SMS, Photos, PhoneLink, Kinoma Player and Documents to Go into the T3's 16MB Flash ROM (the T had 8MB).

Palm also installs RealOne in the ROM, but since this app doesn't work with the PDA's main memory, satisfying itself only with SD memory cards, its presence is a bit pointless. Doubly so when the SD card preference was set in the days when Palm PDAs couldn't access more than 16MB of RAM. Now they can - and do - Real needs to tweak its software accordingly.

Speaking of SD cards, there have been problems reported with the T3's slot and 256MB cards. While an update has shipped for the Tungsten E, nothing has been made available for the T3. Palm is at least investigating the problem.

And make sure you download Palm's updated Outlook software before using your T3 - we've heard of significant problems incurred if you use the ones that shipped with early versions of the machine.

Oh aye, a changed UI

Switching the T3 on reveals the device's modified UI. Along the bottom of the screen is a nine-button bar. The first takes you to the application list, cycling through the categories each time you press it. Hold it down and you get a mini-menu listing the six most recently launched apps.

The second button activates the Find panel, while the third pops up the menu bar. Button four displays the time - handy with apps that don't already show it - and clicking it displays a panel showing the date, battery charge (with a percentage figure, at long last), available memory, the screen brightness slider and a quick sound on/off control.

The next button sports an exclamation mark and signals alerts. Past that is the Bluetooth button, which invokes a panel allowing you to turn the radio on or off and connect to the Internet via a phone - a feature missing from the T; you had to go into Preferences or an Internet application to do it. The seventh button toggles full-screen text input on and off, the eighth flips the display from portrait mode to landscape.

The last button alternatively shows and hides the virtual Graffiti text-entry area. Palm had to implement this to allow the full 480-pixel height of the screen to be used to show other things, but the result isn't as aesthetically pleasing as a printed text-entry panel. While the keyboard panel has a neat 3D look - and doesn't take up any of the top portion of the screen - the other panels are far from pretty. The four application buttons are monochrome - it's a colour screen, guys - but you can now change them. Pressing one and holding down the stylus pops up a list of applications - choose one, and its icon becomes the new button. Palm has also added a 'wide' mode, dropping the four application buttons for an upper case, lower case, number entry triptych that looks OK, but takes a little getting used to.

Holding down the text-entry area button in the button bar calls up a mini-menu which allows you to select which of the three entry panel styles you want to use. You can also make your selection in a new Preferences panel, Input. Incidentally, the Color Theme Preferences panel has no effect on the colour of the Graffiti area, which doesn't even appear when the PDA's slider is closed.

Dismissing the text-entry panel forces the PDA to fill in the gap with data, whether it's application icons, a photo, a page of the diary, a colleague's contact information, or whatever. Of course, not all apps support the larger display height, and the T3 is smart enough to pull up the entry panel automatically whenever it launches a program that can only deal with a 320 x 320 display. Alas it's not sufficiently clever to hide it again when that app is closed down.

Updating the PIM

The T3 runs Palm OS 5.2.1, and incorporates a number of changes to the platform's core PIM applications. To-Do, for example, is now called Tasks a la Windows Mobile, Address is Contacts, Memo Pad is called Memos, and Date Book has been renamed Calendar. The latter brings its old day summary screen to the fore, adds a list of new emails to the read-out of the day's appointments and to-do items, and sets them all over a colourful background undoubtedly intended to mirror Windows Mobile's Today screen. Actually, we like this, and also the fact that you can set either it, the day, week or month screen as Calendar's default view, a feature missing from the T. Events can have categories applied, and there's a new Location field.

Like Contacts - which adds more fields, such as Birthday, and the ability to quickly rename custom fields - Calendar makes good use of the extra screen space when the text-entry area is hidden. The full-year view is nice, and the month view gets previous and next month mini-views, just like a real diary. Tasks can now be listed by date as well as by category.

Not all Palm apps make use of the longer screen - Expense, PhoneLink (which is nice to see finally installed by default), HotSync, Dialler and CardInfo don't, for example. Calculator uses the space to show past calculations.

DataViz' Documents to Go does support the new screen size - and, more to the point, finally allows you to work with native Microsoft Office file formats, cutting out the conversion process employed by previous versions of the software during synchronisation.

Incidentally, if you're interested in our initial thoughts on Graffiti 2, you can read them in out Tungsten C review. We confess we might be becoming less keen on it. Or rather, on Palm's implementation. We always assumed that using multiple stylus-strokes for certain characters, 'T' for instance, was a feature of Jot, the software on which Graffiti 2 is based. Yet the old single-stroke method is Graffiti 1 is supported by Jot, as recent tests on a Windows Mobile 2003 device revealed. In that respect, the Pocket PC's version of Jot is closer to Graffiti 1 than the Palm version of the software is.

Bluetooth

With PhoneLink now installed by default, access the Internet via a dial-up ISP or - better - a GPRS connection is a doddle. Having tried to set up Bluetooth to communicate with a cellphone for Net access on a Windows Mobile 2003 device, Palm's version - which, unlike Microsoft, realises there are networks outside the US - is a doddle. A Wizard takes you through pairing the T3 with your phone - it knows about all the major brands - and setting up a network connection. PhoneLink is pre-programmed with GPRS access for a wide range of cellular networks, and we were up and accessing the Web in moments.

Well, we would have been had Palm pre-installed its WebPro browser as standard, but it's on the bundled software CD and will be zapped over when we next do a HotSync. Speaking of CDs, Palm now provides separate discs for Windows and Mac users, allowing users of either platform to install everything from a single CD not two.

That screen in full

We've grumbled about the virtual data-entry area, but it's a small price to pay for the extra screen space. The transflective display is superb, with a very wide horizontal viewing angle - it's a bit narrower in the vertical - and all the extra room. Photos in particular benefit from the extra real-estate, especially when you switch to landscape mode, which makes showing friends your pictures a more enjoyable. Reading email is easier on the wider screen, too.

Switching to landscape redraws the button bar along the right-hand side of the display (what was the top). Again, the PDA draws in the data-entry area when it launches an app that can't cope with the extra space, this time stacking the Graffiti panels vertically on the right. The usual QWERTY keyboard becomes an alphabetical grid four-keys wide.

The T3 ships with a grey leather screen cover that attaches to the back of the device and wraps over the top. It's a bit naff, but definitely easier to get on and off the screen than the more stylish plastic cover that shipped with the T.

Verdict

Palm claims a battery life of around five days, but you won't get that with Bluetooth left on. We got just under two days. But then we use Bluetooth quite often, so it's easier to leave on. We just have to recharge more often. A nice touch would be button on the device to turn the radio on and off, a feature found in a number of Centrino notebook PCs which Palm would do well to add to the T series.

Battery life is crucial here, because it explains why the T3' 400MHz CPU doesn't appear to be running at full tilt. We expected the T3 to feel rather faster than it actually did. The PDA feels more responsive - it's certainly not slow - and smoother than our T, but the gap between the T3 and the low-end Tungsten E was less obvious. PDAs aren't about raw horsepower, of course - but it would be nice to know that the power of the 400MHz is there if and when you need it.

Despite these issues, the T3 is still Palm's best high-end PDA yet, because it manages to offer such a large display with only minimal compromises to the compact slider design introduced with the original Tungsten. Putting as many apps as possible into ROM to free up as much of that 64MB of RAM for user data is a big plus too.

And with prices on the street down to as low as £285, the T3 represents excellent value. ®

Rating 80%
Pros — Large, two-angle 320 x 480 display
— Lots of memory (52MB)
— Great Bluetooth support
Cons — Performance limited
— Battery life could be better
— Less compact than the Tungsten T
— Aesthetically challenged virtual Graffiti area
Price £329 including sales tax; €466.70; $399

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