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Palm Tungsten E

More basic, less elegant device that merges m500 styling with near-Tungsten T

by Shawn Barnett
FULL REVIEW--Crazy as I am about the Tungsten T series of palmOne handhelds, I have to admit that they're not for everyone. Many are paying too much for the use they'll get out of it. As happened with the Palm VII, some are buying it because they think it's the top of the line. Many bought and used the Palm VII without even trying its wireless features; far more bought the Tungsten T without using Bluetooth, and most don't even know what Bluetooth is.

These folks need only spend half the price and get themselves a Tungsten E. It's something like a return to the form factor of the legendary Palm V, with a slimmer, but wider profile and a shiny case. Now that I'm used to the Tungsten T and Sony CLIE slim bodies, the Tungsten E seems a bit too wide to me. But it's not bad looking with its sliver sheen and minimalist buttons. The flip cover folds over from the left side like many in this class have in the past, but the mechanism, while cheaper, seems to have been refined. No longer does it slide in from the top like a stylus, nor from the middle of the body as it did on the i705. Instead it slides in on a rail from the bottom and snaps into place. My problem with these side-mounted flip covers is that they always hang like a crooked picture when the unit is in the cradle, but that won't happen with the Tungsten E. There is no cradle.

Instead, like the original Zire, it has separate power and USB sockets; this time at least they're on the bottom, and close together. I'm told there will never be a cradle for it, which is a shame. The cradle gives the Palm a solid place on the desktop: a place to charge and a place to sync. It also gives the power and sync cords a tidy place to rest until the unit comes back to roost. Without a cradle, the cables are left flailing about the desk and often fall on the floor. Too often I've also had the unit fall to the floor as I spun in my chair to get the phone. I just think the lack of a cradle ensures that more Palm Tungsten E's will find their way into a drawer where the life and data they contain will slowly drain away.

That would be a shame, because the E offers some excellent value. With the exception of its lacking a cradle, it is essentially the next generation of the m500. Even the SD slot is in the same place. It's the same shape, cuts a similar profile, and has twice the memory (32MB; 28.8 available) and four times the resolution of the m515, at 320 x 320. The screen puts out 64K colors and is bright and contrasty, good for display of photos. It has an ARM-based 126MHz TI OMAP 311 processor, a little slower than the Tungsten T, but not noticeably so. Programs snap to life and all the basic functions flash to the screen. Really, the main difference between the Tungsten E and the Zire 71 is that the E lacks a camera and costs 50 bucks less. It can play audio through the built-in speaker, or through optional headphones (you can use any standard walkman headphones). It should have been a Zire given the feature set, connectors, and price.

It'll run all the Palm OS programs you want, including Documents to Go Professional Edition 6, VersaMail, and Kinoma Player. Did I say it didn't have wireless? Then how can you use VersaMail? Well, it really does have wireless, the one most folks don't think about except when beaming contacts: IrDA. With an IrDA-enabled wireless phone, you can get your email and browse the Web with the Tungsten E. The real practical difference between this and Bluetooth is that with IrDA you have to point the device at the cell phone and keep them in range; with Bluetooth the phone can be oriented however you like and even be in a backpack. For US$200 less than the Tungsten T3, many will be happy with the Tungsten E's simpler form of wireless.

The E also comes with the enhanced basic applications just like the Tungsten T3, which include categories in the Date Book and up to three addresses in the Contacts listings, making it more compatible with Outlook.

Though it's not the most glamorous Palm, the Tungsten E has a lot to offer: A great screen, slim packaging, good battery life, plenty of power, and a reasonable price. For just US$100 more, it's well worth a step up from the US$99 Zire 21. Both are fine, but the larger transflective color screen on the E and an SD slot is easily worth a C-note. The E is the first true Palm bargain since the Palm Pilot Personal that lured me into purchasing my first Pilot in 1998. US$199. - Shawn Barnett