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Palm Tungsten T5

We love the 256MB of non-volatile memory and the cool design, but why no WiFi?

If you follow the handheld computing scene in general, and Palm devices specifically, your first question might be, "The T5 is out? Ummm.... what happened to the Tungsten T4? Did I miss anything here?" We had the same question, Our resident expert in Asian affairs speculates that Asian markets might avoid anything with the number 4 in it, as in Chinese it sounds similar to "to die." That would explain why Canon made a G3 and a G5 digital camera, but not a G4. Apple apparently doesn't believe in superstition as evidenced by its G4 line of PowerMacs.

With that little puzzle out of the way, let's see what palmOne brought us with the new Tungsten T5. It's clearly a very handsome device that reminds, in its simplicity and elegance, of the original Palm V and m500 models. Gone is the sliding case design of the Tungsten 3 and I, for one, don't miss it. Sure, you saved half an inch in length or so, but I never really understood why that was important enough to construct a relatively complicated and potentially trouble-prone sliding mechanism. And if the new shape looks familiar beyond its obvious Palm V heritage, that's because it looks almost like the good old Tungsten E, palmOne's least expensive Tungsten model. The button and control arrangement is the same as that of the Tungsten E, although the icons on the application buttons are different. The other thing that's different, of course, is the T5's impressive 320 x 480 display that's now visible in all its high res glory rather than hiding 1/3 of its real estate as the T3 does.

In palmOne's lineup, the T5 fills the role as the business-oriented premium handheld whose primary task it is to manage documents and data. Horsepower is supplied by the 416MHz version of Intel's powerful and efficient PXA270 processor. Some might argue palmOne should have gone all the way and picked the 624MHz version instead so as to reach parity with the top Pocket PCs from HP and Dell, but the T5 is definitely fast enough and palm-One's moderation might result in a bit of extra battery life.

In any case, the big news with the T5 is not its new processor or even the return to the fixed housing. It is the addition of a massive amount of flash memory. 256MB of it! Who'd have thought that a Palm would ever have that much? Now before you start skipping and dancing down the hall, let me explain that of the 256MB, only 215MB is actually available to the user, and that is divided into 55MB program memory and a 160MB internal flash drive. Flash means you never have to worry about losing your data, and drive, in this instance, means you can use the T5 like a removable drive on another computer. That's right, in a new "Drive Mode" you can plug the T5 into a USB port and use it like an external drive. You can then transfer data without having to sync. Pocket PC users, of course, have been able to bring up their device as a window on their desktop for years, but they did, and do, need ActiveSync to do so. The Pocket PC doesn't just pop up as a drive.

The idea behind all this is to make the T5 a more serious partner in a user's overall computer lineup. With this much memory, the considerable power of Documents to Go, and a reasonable amount of screen real estate, it is suddenly possible to use a Palm to do real work, the kind that you usually do on a notebook. The Tungsten, of course, is still no notebook replacement, but there may well be times when its small size makes it a better traveling companion than a big old laptop.

Old Palm users may or may not like the Favorites and Files applications that quickly let you view important information, browse files and folders, and access whatever it is you need right now.

With its big display and powerful processor you'd expect the T5 to do multimedia duty, and it does. You can listen to MP3s and RealAudio without any expansion cards. No built-in camera, though. Truth be told, until cameras built into PDAs get a lot better, we don't miss it.

What we do miss is WiFi. The Tungsten T5 has Bluetooth like the T3, but in this day and age a top-of-the-line model must have WiFi. There is no excuse for that.

Except for this one omission, the Tungsten T5 is a marvelous machine with a great display, plenty of power, plenty of memory, great looks, and greatly improved connectivity. -Kirk Linsky