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Palm Tungsten E2

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

SUMMARY--On April 13, 2005, palmOne replaced the much beloved Tungsten E (almost two million sold) with the Tungsten E2. And unlike movie sequels, palmOne sequels are usually better in every respect than the original. That's definitely the case with the E2. The more powerful processor provides the oomph to drive the more sophisticated Palm OS 5.4 ("Garnet"). There's still just 32MB, but it's now non-volatile flash so you won't lose anything should the battery poop out. Which isn't likely as the E2 has a much more powerful battery that palmOne claims lasts twice as long. The Tungsten E's gorgeous 320x320 transflective display carries over, but it is now significantly brighter. The E2 has the multiconnector that was missing on the original. palmOne also added Bluetooth and additional multimedia capabilities. And you get all of that for US$249!

FULL REVIEW--Palmas Tungsten E is the company's top selling model, and for the year and a half up to January, 2005, the E claimed a whopping 26% of the USA handheld market, making it far and away the best-selling PDA in the country. With a range of products from the entry-level Zire 21 at $99 to the spectacular Treo 650 at $599, Palmas Tungsten models fill the mid-range gap with feature-rich, stylish technology for those who have about $250 to $400 to spend. If the Treo 650 was a Lexus, and a Zire was a Corolla, the Tungsten E would be Palmas Camry--comfortably in the middle, affordable to most, looks good, performs well, and there are so many of them out there, there's a boatload of third party support, software, and accessories.

Although I only had a few days to play with a new E2 before deadline, I was pleased to see that palmOne did some important and needed upgrades to the E, while its attractive brushed aluminum-looking casework is virtually identical to its older brother. If you own a Tungsten E, I think you'll be as happy as I was with the improvements and changes of the E2.

The Tungsten E2 is practically a clone of the original E. The hard buttons surrounding the five way nav pad are identical on both. So are the screen size, silk-screened Graffiti panes, the SD/SDIO/MMC card slot, IR beaming port, headphone jack, power button, stylus and its silo--all look and feel the same, and are in the same place. Around back are a few tiny changes. The mono speaker's grille has been moved down a bit, the reset hole now accommodates the stylus tip instead of requiring a paperclip, and the new guy has the same recessed rail on the left side to attach the bundled flip lid, but it's not until you look at the bottom of the E2 that you notice something really different. Gone is the tiny round power jack and mini-USB port, replaced with palmOne's new "multi-connector" -- the same used on the T5 and the Treo 650.

In the E2's box are palmOne's new square-tipped AC charger, and a separate two-pronged sync cable. If you're going to upgrade from an E to an E2, know that your Eas power and sync cables are not going to work with the E2 model at all.

Outwardly, the E2 is an evolutionary, not revolutionary, upgrade. The E2 and the E are exactly the same height and width, but the E2 is 9/100ths of an inch thicker, and 1/10th of an ounce heavier. Their screens are the same 320x320, 16 bit (65,000+) color resolution, and same size. Adequate, but not spectacular.

Palm claims the E2's screen is about 30% brighter and has 40% better color saturation than the E. This is difficult to quantify, and it depends on ambient lighting conditions. Indoors in a normally-lit or darkish room, with screen brightness cranked up full on both PDAs, to me, the E2 definitely looked brighter, and showing the same JPEG images on both, I'd give a slight edge to the E2 for more realistic colors, and a punchier display. Outdoors, in bright sunlight, it still washed out, and I had to cup my hand around the screen to shade it so I could see what I was doing.

Inside, it's a whole 'nuther story. Letas take a look at the basic specs: The Tungsten E2 uses PalmOS Garnet V5.4, has an Intel XScale CPU @ 200 MHz and 32MB storage (26MB actual). The Tungsten E ran PalmOS V5.2.1, had a T.I. ARM CPU @ 126 MHz and also 32MB storage (28.3 actual). But new to the E2 is the wonder of non-volatile flash memory. Like the T5 and the Treo 650, if your battery conks out, you won't lose your data. And just like them, you could put an E2 in a drawer for a year, turn it back on, charge it up, and all of your RAM-stored data would still be there. With the E, forget it. You'd have to re-sync or re-install while wiping away the tears; without flash RAM, when the battery goes bye-bye, so does your data. Palm also claims the E2 has a beefier battery, with longer life between charges, and using an E and an E2 side by side for a few hours straight, Iall validate that.

Totally new to the E2 is Bluetooth 1.1. This low power, short-range radio technology lets you "pair" the E2 with a suitably equipped computer for wireless HotSyncing, or use other Bluetooth-enabled devices like keyboards. If you own a Bluetooth-enabled GSM cell phone, you can pair the E2 with it and use it as a wireless modem for email and Web browsing. The E2 has a built-in Bluetooth device setup wizard to make it as painless as possible, but since my only cell phone is a Treo 650 on SprintPCSa CDMA network, I couldnat try this feature (never mind that it would be ridiculous for a Treo 650 owner to use the smart phone as a modem for a Tungsten E2 anyway, since the Treo already HAS full Internet abilities built into it) but the capability is there if your phone meets the requirements.

The Tungsten E2, besides sporting the familiar icon apps interface that Palm owners have been using since day one, has inherited the attractive new "Favorites" interface, which, except for the smaller screen size, is identical the one on its big brother, the Tungsten T5. The "star" icon on the Graffiti area has been remapped to switch between apps/icon view and Favorites view, although you can remap it and/or the hard buttons to launch any other program, as you'd expect.

Favorites lets you quickly see and open files and programs that you use most often, even links to the Web. Some items are included in Favorites by default, but you can rearrange their order, move them to lesser-used pages, and even use a JPEG with variable transparency as a backdrop. Switching from Favorites to apps view is as easy as tapping the star icon again.

This upgraded version of PalmOS in the E2 makes all system alerts and requesters prettier, and also puts a blue halo around active screen buttons in most programs, making it trivial to navigate around using the five way pad, then just punch its center button to do whatever feature is haloed. Easier, faster, more visually intuitive than having to drag out the stylus and tap dance all over the place.

Software, and lots of it

The E2 comes out of the box with a robust and powerful bundle of software, with more on the included Palm Desktop CD, ready to install. With the included DataZiz Documents to Go you can view and edit native Microsoft Word docs, Excel sheets, PowerPoint presentations, and Adobe Acrobat files through a simple conversion process. The Blazer Web browser's on board, so web links in documents become active. VersaMailas there too, along with the PalmOS RealPlayer a just shove in an SD card full of MP3 files and enjoy. The E2's built in speaker sounds like an old transistor radio, as you'd expect from one so tiny, but that's why there's a headphone jack, or buy a third party FM transmitter and broadcast your tunes to your car or home stereo.

The E2 doesnat have built-in WiFi, but by the time you read this, Palm will have released a driver for their SDIO WiFi card.

At its price point, and with all these new features and improvements, Iam just plain impressed by the new Tungsten E2. A handsome and capable little machine made even better. Palm did a fine job improving the best-selling personal digital assistant on the market.-HL