PDA Review - Palm Tungsten E Review

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Original posted October 2003
Last Updated : 02 July 2012

PDA is short Personal Digital Assistant or Electronic Organiser which became extinct technology with the development of the smart phone.

Introducing the Palm Tungsten E

News Flash : (13/4/2005) The Palm Tungsten E2 has just been released.  It is a substantial change to my version, the original E.  No obvious changes physically though.  Almost everything is in under hood.  Basically new never die memory system (OK), bluetooth (so what ?) and a web browser (yay), photo contacts (yay), background picture menus (yay), supposed to have longer battery life (yay), brighter screen (yay - I'll need sunnies).  Will I upgrade ?  Stay tuned for a possible Tungsten E2 review...  However one thing is certain it is an improvement from the original.

Now enough excitement back to the normal review.

I have finally retired the HP Jornada 568 PDA.  (If you're reading this you have probably read the PDA comparison on the Pilot and the Jornada)  After looking at all the latest PDA releases I had narrowed the contenders that were to suitable for my use.  Competition is great isn't it !

The final choices where the HP 22xx and 19xx series, the Sony Clie NX series, the Palm Zire series and the Sony Ericsson P800 and Nokia 92xx series.  The Tungsten series didn't figure until I checked out E series and lucky I did !

A bit of history for you : Me and the Jornada never really got on together.  It cost heaps A$1300 when it was first released.  It was the best at the time surpassing even the then Compaq Ipaq 3 series.   However as you all know HP bought out Compaq and they immediately stopped making the Jornada line.   I didn't think was a good move considering the number of Jornada owners.  Anyway I wanted very much to like the thing, it did everything I wanted and more !   It was a big jump from the Palm III I had previously.  (I didn't bother with the Palm m5xx of m1xx series because they just didn't cut it.)  However as history shows there where just irritations with the Jornada that never really went away.

On the chance I read that Palm had released some new products and checked them out.  I didn't really consider replacing the Jornada just yet as I was hoping for a 3 year life span. When I saw the specs and read the prelim reviews it all bode well for a closer investigation.   Finally demo'ed in my hands and realised the crisp + bright screen and errorless demo and most of the relatively cheap price, convinced me that this was the future.

Why do this it's not Hayabusa or motorcycle related ?

The answer is simple, none of the reviews of this type of exist, even for older models.  It also helps you guys and gals when considering your own purchases.  Although I don't get paid or sponsored by Palm, Microsoft etc... I am free to speak my mind on whether their product is good bad or indifferent.  If its good, hey it gets a good review, likewise if it stinks it gets a bad one.  The Jornada for example I reckon was border line hence indifferent.

Review Pt.1 - 20 October 2003

I have realised that this review is gonna take more time to finish than I thought.  So its going to have to be divided into parts. 

There is much to like about the Tungsten E.  The 2 best features are not having to close every  program I've run AND no need to press the reset button !

The PocketPC promoters boast the multiple running programs 'feature' of having to close every application as multi-tasking, I don't see the point for every application as it just slows thing down.  In fact everything works so much quicker and stable when only one program is running.  On the Jornada as with any other MS based PDA the application stills stays 'running'  so by the end of the day you have 6 or more things open but hidden from view, and in my case when it crashes the next day the data you've input is gone too.  Yes, even when you press the X.  If this was optional like windows with the minimise button I bet till will save a few headaches.   The best example is the syncing function on the Jornada.  It keeps this program running despite being unconnected to the PC, if you haven't synced for a few days with this 'running' and you want to sync again it crashes.  So you have to manually remember to close it or face a reset.

The Tungsten E 'multi-tasking' is optional for applications and the way I like it.  So yes you can play your MP3s while looking up addresses or working the words etc... The music even keeps  playing when it auto closes the screen.  Furthermore if you exit applications it 'seems' to multitask by resuming where you exited the program last.  However the best bit is that it hasn't crashed yet.  Admittedly I've only installed the programs that came with it, but then the Jornada was never this stable with only the packaged programs.

A few things have come to light over the week was battery power.  It doesn't seem to last all that long. (New toy syndrome)  Admittedly the battery is still new and I presume that over the initial few charges it should come up to par.  So with the screen on 1/2 brightness which is honestly too bright for me I turned it down to 1/4 and its still very bright to see what effect it has on battery life.  It appears to give 1/2 hour extra.  I estimate battery life to 4-5 hours of use in total.  (See the 22 November update below for up to date stats)   Again this is subjective as I've been testing out the multimedia features, updating all sorts of data collected over the years, adding and removing pictures playing with the MP3 features etc...  In reality I would never use it to play music or play the games or videos so I assume battery life can only get better.

I would have like encryption software included in the package.  Although the security of data appear secure it is not encrypted.  The standard security features appear very secure via lock out passwords but there is scope for a data jumbler.  Admittedly the other PPCs in this price don't have one either but Yes the other Tungsten's have it so why no this one ?  The Jornada had one, then you'd expect it for the price, but it wasn't very stable.   So I am seeking a additional encryption software.  Anyone wants some advertising ?

Next review I'll be trying out AvantGo app so stay tuned.

Review Pt.2 - 20 October 2003

Well, another week goes by and still the Tungsten stays stable.  Even with the AvantGo software installed everything still works perfectly.  The only complaint I have is the some vague OS menus, which I presume is due to the way some of the programs where created.  Also I like like the simplicity of categorising information especially the way you can 'privatise' almost globally, any record you want. Ie. you can lockout memo files or any variety of information like certain contacts from view, that require a password to view completely.   Or you can hide it completely and securely from view, so you wouldn't know the records existed. 

AvantGo is an information viewer that extracts website content and allows you to read it on your PDA.  I won't go no too much except to say its a free service for a 2mb worth of info but you can opt to pay an annual fee for 8mb which is good offer if you travel alot.  But personally I don't think the content is all that essential but as I said handy if your trip to work includes long train or bus trips.

The best application on the Tungsten E is DocsToGo.  This program is a MS-Word, Excel and Powerpoint editor it also does stuff in its Palm based format which is just as good and quicker.

Review Pt.3 - 27 October 2003

Recalling and inputting data is easy.  I actually use the DocsToGo spreadsheet for a multitude of stuff now.   Didn't bother on the Jornada for a number of reasons (I only kept a trip log on it).   Entering data when necessary is also very easy.  The writing recognition on the Tungsten is very good and I've got the hand of it already !  Never bothered on the Jornada or the original Palm because it never really worked for me.

The sound volume is surprisingly good for such a small device.  Why ? because I like a organiser that beeps loudly especially for reminders and alarms.  However the standard clock application is pretty lame.  Not going beyond the basic system sounds and only setting the alarms at 5 minute intervals.

One feature of the MS based PDAs is the ability to put up different backgrounds on the screen.  The Tungsten does not have this feature as standard.  I also regarded this MS feature as a novelty and never bothered change it again after the first month as the text colour could be changed for all the menus hence can't read one some screens.  I find the text and menu colour changer on the Tungsten must better option.  However in some ways I wish the Tungsten did have changeable backgrounds as standard because the screen is really nice.

Review Pt.4 - 2 November 2003

Ok - I have been having a look further at the differences between PDA CPU processors. The MS based ones seem to bottom out at 206Mhz whilst the top of the range at 400Mhz. The Tungsten E is ‘only’ 126Mhz (The Jornada was 206Mhz).

Now, call me a luddite but how come the Tungsten E does things and displays things faster the Jornada and just as fast as the 400Mhz models ?   Admittedly I still only use it for the basic functions like addresses and phones and appointments, notes and now spreadsheets ! So I guess you should not judge a PDA by its processor speed. Judge it by how well it performs for the tasks you use it for.

The quasi-metal case should really be metal. But then none in this price range have them either.  The battery life is not long enough. It is still stable… I’m getting anxious.

It spooked me on Monday morning as it warned me of an impending day light saving change. So it does work.

I listed the - Needs SD card or 'expansion card' before being able to play MP3s in the bad section previously but I can understand that after inputing all your data in main memory there's not enough space for a useful number of MP3 files.  I guess the issue is why restrict it to only via the SD card ?   Eg I have about 17 megs left in main memory so it would be nice to fill it with a few classic tunes without resorting to a extra card.  Besides lets face anyone who wants to use it to play music of videos for that matter will get a card anyway.

Speaking of videos, you have to convert to another format before being able to play it in the Kinoma Player program.  It doesn't take very long to convert but can't see why it can't play mpgs or other formats in their native files.  I presume you can get other programs that will be able to this.   Anyway, a 3 minute video in the medium size format (90% of the screen size) takes about 10 megs.

Bear in mind that the PocketPC versions cannot play avi, mpgs etc... in their native format either.  It requires a 3rd party multi-media player.

The Palm menu system is simplistic and easy to use but it could look a tad more sophisticated and customisable without additional software.

I also like the feature of being able to securely hide phone names and numbers - not that I have any worth hiding. EG. Is the Kylie Fan club contact details really worth hiding ? (Just joking - honest)

Review Pt.5 - 9 November 2003

I will be describing and judging the apps that came with the TE over the next few weeks, mainly because its fun. So stayed tuned.

Software

The Calendar application
The Calendar application works great. It has the standard day, week, month, year and an ‘agenda view’ summaries the days and coming events, tasks and email. You can change what is to be displayed on this screen. However I feel the best part of this application is the ability to set which view you want appear when you press the button.

I always work on the month view hence use this as the default. I also noticed that if you have specified a birthday on the contacts app it will also appear as a untimed event in the calendar – very good.  An added bonus is that you can classify the type of events you want to be seen. Eg. U create a category called holidays and then create the holiday appointment or events under this category. (Yes - you can change the category that it appears in if you want.) Then in the normal calendar mode you can set which categories or all of them you want to be displayed on the view. You can even colour code the category. Excellent for separating work and private events.

Hence complaints here so far. I judge it superior to the MS version.  Why ? much easier to add and modify and certainly much faster to view.

The Contacts application
The Contacts application also works well. It does everything I want a phone book and contacts application to work. Best of all its actually faster at recalling name and numbers and certainly more stable than the Jornada. The only thing which it is fussy about is when trying to add more than one address via the organiser. You have to press the plus button first. Another thing I would like in future though on both platforms is the ability to add personalised graphics to each contact like a photo !

The best part ofthis application is that you can set birthdays to each contact and it appears in the calender.  You can even set it remind you of the event on the Agenda view.

The Tasks application
The is a checklist type application.  It works in a silmilar fashion to the Calender app.  Instead of a calender you get a list of things which you've entered. It can be divided by catergory, due dates, alarms assigned, repeating tasks and so forth.  Most of all you can allocate a priority to each task.

Although I prefer to use the Calender for most things, I use Tasks for insequential but important stuff like remiders to get the hair cut etc... saves cluttering the calender at least.

The Memos application
This app allows you enter in notes on anything you want.   You can group them into different catergories and even secure them from prying eyes by ticking another private box.  The Private setting is the Palm wide function linked to the central security application.  So once activated in the security app it hides all Private records.  The best part of this app is that your note doesn't get lost in the filing system as per the MS based PDAs and it names the note according to the firs tline in your note which is very handy. This app is seriously superior to the MS version.

The Notepad application
This application allows you to draw notes or pictures. So you next Mona Lisa could start on your Palm. I use it to draw measurements for renovations and room designs. It has an amazing amount of functionality for a hand drawing program such as attaching alarms, beaming and even security.

The only thing I find annoying is that it defaults to a new note screen when activated. This goes against the other apps which display a list of the files first allowing you to choose a new one or look at a previous note.

Utilties and System Applications

Card Info Application

This I thought was pretty pointless as it only shows the attributes of the SD card. Eg memory used and only the number of files and recognised file types. This can already be accessed on the main menu anyway. If this application would actually provide some file manager functions eg. An actual list of the files and the ability to cut and paste copy beam etc the contents would help a lot. A card reader is needed if you want to manage the files. Sync -ing Palm to Windows or Mac via Palm Desktop.

PalmDeskTop
In order to maxmise the functionality of the TE you need to install the Palm desktop software. Need ? because the program creates 'conduits' to install the extra software and sync data between the 2 devices. For example to get DocsToGo on the Palm you have to install it from the PC first. Why its not pre-installed I don't know.

I don't mind as the previous versions of Palm Desktop for windows has always been a decent calendar and contacts program. However it is not and Email program. Although you could use Outlook for calendar and contacts and Email, I don't recommend it has it's holey. As in buggy and has security flaws. Being the victim of these flaws many years ago, I stopped using it and shifted between Netscape Mail, Eudora and Pegasus mail. I have stuck with Eudora as it is supremely easy to back up. Plus its cheaper than Outlook and works just as well. Eudora even have a free Palm Email/Browser Package these days.

The best thing about the Palm sync is that it actually works. Both Palm and PC have the same data. This applies to DocsToGo, Memo and Notepad and a variety of other apps. I like the fact that Excel or word files are identical after syncing.

November 2004

AvantGo Application
Yay!- you say an update ! (Nov 04)  The TE has been so boringly reliable that its difficult to really write anything potential owners should really worry about.

Anyway, the TE doesn't come with an built in web browser or any built-in wireless connectivity except InfraRed - which works brilliantly I must add. So I decided to add in the AvantGo application.  Simply put this program is basically a web browser but reads data formatted in a compressed format ?  The data is updated to the TE via a program 'conduit' that was installed when you installed AvantGo it to your PC.  Avantgo content is hard to describe - I just it contains current affairs or news articles from major sites, it has daily cartoons and so forth.  You have to register with the AvanGo site in order to customise what sort of content you want downloaded when you sync.  Sites such as Astrology, BBC News, NASA, CNET, New York Times Sydney Morning Herald, Wired News all provide content.

The only problem is that you have to be connected to the internet for the stuff to update - but I guess that's taken for granted...  Check it out - its free and seems like a stable program on the TE.  Put it this way instead of drooling over bike mags before bed I now read the latest news and gossip before bed. er.. Shouldn't have said that...

Hardware

Palm hardcase
As I didn't want to damage the TE in the backpack so I bought it ! Cost about $50 The case is Aluminum and scratch resistant. However it has a weird closing and opening mechanism. Looks sturdy enough to last a few years. It does add bulk but that's the compromise.

The case is not a snug fit either which is a disappointment, so I have had to add some foam inserts to stop the Palm from rattling inside when closed. Also the design means that getting the stylus out is more difficult than needs to be and you can't charge the TE with the case closed.

In hindsight don't bother with this particular case because the catch mechanism on the first series of these Palm branded hard cases break off after while. (Nov 04) Unfortunately I had the first series - bugger.

The middle button !
The middle button on the D-pad (Directional pad) doubles as a clock activation Button ! Press it will show the time and date for about 3 seconds before turning off again. Very useful.

On mine the Up button on the D-pad required a firmer press than the other buttons to work. However its gotten much more responsive now. Understand may of the initial production run for the US had difficult to down button, which is opposite to mine. I also have a similar problem with the Contacts button, again this has gotten better.

Interesting that the 2nd TE I bought for my friend has correct button pressure for all but a more unresponsive power ON/OFF button. I can only assume that the QC is not 100% as yet.

Something that you may not work out is that the SD/MMC Card slot is spring loaded. So you don't need nails to take out the card.

Battery Life
How long does the battery last for the Tungsten E ?
Well, based on the BatteryGraph v1.21 it'll go for 5 1/2 hours to empty. 
Usage based on an 7 minutes on an average of 5 times on/off a day.
Brightness set to about 5% which is still very bright.
Infrared receive off.
Using the Calendar - Address book - DocsToGo and the game Hearts by Absolutist every so often.  Not bad but still could be better for a Palm.

I charge the battery every few days even if not used and when syncing leave it to trickle change for several hours. 

Here's the link to the site:
BatteryGraph

(Update Nov 2004) Charging the TE is by the international charger or by the USB cable.  The battery is a Li-Ion battery and hence all the characteristics of this type of battery.  How to Li-Ion batteries work ? Put simply you can part charge or charge to full at any time with no memory effect.  Li-Ion battery life span is determined by how many full discharges NOT how many times the battery is actually being charged.  EG. The battery may quote 1000 charges which actually means fully discharged 1000 times but you may actually partially charge it 5000 times or more without any problems. (5000 is just an arbitrary figure) So if you charge it every night to full or partially full to prevent a full discharge actually extends the battery life !  However Li-Ion battery have a limited life span in terms of years.  Nothing lasts forever.

I my experience - I've probably fully discharged the battery 12 times one each month (except during the first month) just out of curiosity.  Every other day its been topped up or partially charged via the USB cable.  So I've 'charged' it at least 800 times over the past year.  With no problem what so ever !

Left turned off with no use the battery will remain charged for 2 weeks or 14 days or possibly more dependent on age of the Palm.  Used a minimum of 1 minute each day with the light at half brightness the battery will last for about 11 days.

If you TE doesn't work as I've described then you've got a faulty one !

Conclusion

As a personal organiser its great.  Not perfect but a better fit than the previous one that's for sure.  For me it is a bonus that it can do other things like the multi-media stuff.  The stability of OS really wins it for me.

Would I consider another Palm, probably.  What would Microsoft have to do to convince me that it's PDA is superior ?   Make it stable for the basics, make the sync application work 100% of the time.   Re-design the whole thing so the high processor numbers actually mean that its fast.  Come on when even a lowly 8Mhz? 6 year old Palm opens the address book faster than a 206Mhz PocketPC indicates something wrong.

I also want to add that I actually purchased another Tungsten E as a gift to a friend.  So there you have it no better recommendation than that.

The Good So Far

I have not had to reset yet.
There have been no application errors encountered even with the 3rd party applications that came with it.
The screen is lovely.
The software bundle is fantastic - although should come with encrypt software as standard.
The sound coming from the speaker is amazing for such a small device.  It is much much  better than your transistor radio and much much superior to the Jornada or the others.
DocsToGo has Word, Excel and Powerpoint features.  This program is superior than the versions on the PocketPC Mobile 2003.  It's hard to believe this program is better than the original MS product.
The calender, notes, telephone or contents is just as good as the MS version, but most of all much easier to use.
The stylus is made of metal with a soft touch tip.
The price is fantastic.
USB connector.
It works.

The could be better list

Had to download the SD card patch.
(Only because the original release TE such as mine had issues with reading SD/MMC cards greater than 128Megs and I use a 256 meg card, newer releases should be fine though.)
No CF card slot.
The case gets smudged easily.
The case is actually metal coated plastic ! hmm that's why it scratches easily.   (Not a good surprise but hey ! - its cheap.)
Could do with better battery life.
Standard data encryption application.
Button pressure issues. - The Up D-Pad button required a hard press than the rest, but it seems to have gotten better after a months use. (Ceases to be a problem after 12 months)
The standard semi-leather cover flap is horrible. 
I have since purchased the Palm branded aluminum hard case. Better but the organiser rattled in it when closed.  I have added sticky pads to secure it into placed when closed.
I forgot to add that the screen does 'hum' but as you can see its not exactly the end of the world.

Links to Palm Sites

www.freewarepalm.com

Note

I'm not going to label features lacking in comparison to the Jornada bad as I never used them on the Jornada so don't need them.  Eg a voice note taker.  Never used it on the Jornada as I didn't need it.  The Tungsten E doesn't have a voice recorder as standard hence the cheaper price but most of all I won't miss it. If I wanted one I would have considered the Tungsten T2 or T3 or the other Pocket PCs.

After reading the available reviews before purchase I was surprised at the division between the two main PDA camps.  The Microsoft camp versus Palm OS camp.  The MS camp seems to be very 'assertive' in its view that they make the best ones whilst the Palm camp don't seem quite as bothered with the whole thing. 

I was also particularly disturbed at the supposed some large professional sites writing up reviews and basing which is better etc.. by features alone ignoring the price factor and hence intended market.  The dedicated PDA sites seems so much better at acknowledging the price for feature issue.  So what if an organiser doesn't have Wi-fi or blue tooth, or remote themo-nuclear detonation - whatever.  Look at what it does for the price.  The bulk of us don't need or use these things - just yet anyway, or at least when there is a killer app for the bulk of us to use. 

November 2004 - I still have the TE as my only organiser.  It has been completely reliable for the entire time.  Admittedly I have had to press the reset button a few times, only because I installed some suspect programs ie free games. I still haven't run out of memory by the way.   The thing is truly a useful device.  I hope its replacement is just as good.  (The latest Tungsten T5 model really should be been called the Tungsten E2 and kept at the same price.  If this happened Palm would definitely have another hit on it hands.)

I have to say that people with one liners that are fanatical about with particular brand is better and aggressively bag the competitor should be ignored.  Competition is needed to progress the PDA.  Do we want history to repeat its self.  I remember reading how wonderful my original Jornada was and how  disappointed when I finally got one.

I've also got to note that its nice seeing how 'professional' sites seem to now include the price for feature as pointed out by myself.  I guess the 'IT professional' has still got a few things to learn from the mass market user.  As I said how come 'professionally tested benchmarks' show how wonderfully fast a PDA is and when you actually use it - it turns out to be utter crap.  Come on - a 400MHz should be able to run a contacts application fast and certainly faster than a mere 126Mhz PDA.  Then again we must be thankful for these sort of reviews too since it does help make future models better.

Another note - with the latest reviews of the Tungsten E2 I am once again disappointed at the lack of substantial and credible reviews.  Gee, comparing it with a smart phone and saying that because it doesn't have phone is bad - you gotta be joking.  Claiming that 26Mgs of memory for user apps is BAD - gee have you guys ever used this thing ?  (I've had the E for nearly 2 years with many 3rd party apps 25+ and 50 various data files using main memory and its still got 6 megs left)  Its nice having more memory but claiming it's standard issue is a bad thing - use it before you write something stupid for the world to see.  If you're going to store MP3s of course you need the extra card regardless of which PDA you have.  Far out you morons every other organiser except for the the Palm Lifedrive needs a bigger memory card.  I could go on and on about consistent deficiencies in most of the reviews but I won't - I'll just do up on of my own.

Checkout the review on its replacement Palm TX or Tungsten TX Review




 




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