SAN FRANCISCO (10/27/2003) - If you're wavering between a Palm and a Pocket PC for your next PDA (personal digital assistant), Palm Inc. makes the decision even harder with innovative models that address prior products' weaknesses. I tried out shipping versions of the US$399 Tungsten T3 and the $199 Tungsten E, as well as the more consumer-oriented, $99 Zire 21. (If you need Wi-Fi, also called wireless fidelity, and/or phone capability, none of these Palms will be a good fit.)
Palm's business-oriented Tungsten T3--like its predecessors, the Tungsten T and Tungsten T2--features a case that slides open; but this time, when you pull it down, you get extra display area instead of a dedicated Graffiti input area. With the slider fully extended, the screen resolution is 320 by 480, beating the 240-by-320 displays of Windows Mobile 2003a-based Pocket PCs. Spreadsheet jockeys who use the bundled Documents to Go software will appreciate the extra real estate. If you run older apps that can't use this display, a pop-up Graffiti entry area fills the extra space.
The T3's industrial redesign puts four program launcher buttons and the central navigation wheel below the display.
Software changes include a small taskbar that sits at the bottom of the collapsed or extended display and contains icons for one-tap access to frequently used functions and features. These include the home screen, the search window, drop-down menus, a simplified Bluetooth configuration screen, input choices (keyboard, the traditional two-pane Graffiti screen, or the newer Graffiti 2 screen with separate input areas for lowercase letters, uppercase letters, and numerals), and--an especially nifty little innovation--a switch that lets you toggle between the traditional portrait display and a new landscape orientation (which shifts the taskbar to the screen's right).
The T3 introduces long-overdue upgrades to Palm's venerable Address and Datebook applications. Renamed Contacts and Calendar, respectively, they're now much better suited to the needs of serious business users.
Contacts has new fields for more types of addresses, Web sites, birthdays, and custom entries. Calendar has roomier fields for memos and notes, and a new agenda view shows your next appointment even if it's on the following day. You can color-code appointments, too. Outlook users get new Palm-built software to sync these new fields (which can also sync with a new version of Palm's desktop app).
In addition, the T3 comes with software capable of running Java applets, an enhancement that should expand further the already large universe of Palm-compatible software. And like other recent Tungstens, the T3 ships with music and video playback software, a small but surprisingly decent speaker, and a headset jack (but no headphones).
Outfitted with a powerful 400-MHz Intel Corp. XScale CPU (central processing unit) and 64MB of RAM, the T3 is a good deal and stands as worthy competition to many of the beefier Pocket PCs on the market, such as the Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) IPaq 5i50. But for prospective buyers who would be happy with less weight and a little less power in a handheld, Palm introduces the Tungsten E. Measuring less than 0.5 inch thick and weighing only 4.6 ounces, the E competes with similarly priced thin-and-light Pocket PCs such as HP's IPaq H1945 and ViewSonic's V35.
The noncollapsible E has half as much RAM (32MB) as the T3, and carries a less powerful processor (Texas Instruments' OMAP 311). It hot-syncs via a univeral serial bus cable instead of Palm's universal charging cradle, and it has a separate charger. The display resolution is 320 by 320 on top of a fixed input area, and you don't get the new taskbar. The navigation buttons' layout resembles that of older Tungstens. The E does use Palm's new PIM apps, however, and like the T3 it has an SD memory card slot for expandability.
I'd recommend the E to someone who wants a shirt-pocket PDA capable of robust contact and calendar management, as well as multimedia playback. Power users who like a large screen (and don't care about a keyboard, phone functions, or Wi-Fi) should check out the T3. And for budget-minded beginners, Palm has updated its Zire line with the Zire 21. Like its similarly priced predecessor, the 21 delivers basic PIM functionality on a monochrome screen with no backlight or Secure Digital card slot, but the upgraded model has more memory (8MB versus 2MB) and a faster CPU.