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The Palm Tungsten T2 PDA

by Drew Dunn
2003/10/24

The Palm Tungsten T2 is the successor to the Tungsten T, Palm's initial entry into the latest generation of high performance, high resolution PDAs.  The T's legacy is plain to see in the appearance of the T2.  In fact, if you set them side-by-side, you would be hard pressed to tell the two apart.  Other than a slight difference in the metal case's color, the T2 looks like its older sibling.

Of course, inside, there is a big difference.  Most notably, the Tungsten T2 has 32MB of SDRAM to the T's 16MB.  The T2 uses the same screen as the new Tungsten C and Zire 71 PDAs, an improvement over the original Tungsten T (although I'm told that screen was no slouch).

The display is a 320x320 transflective LCD panel.  Palm claims true 16 bit color, supporting over 65,000 colors.  I have to confess that, compared the M130 that this T2 replaced, the difference is like night and day.  The display is visible under quite a range of ambient lighting, from complete darkness to diffused sunlight and from any but the most extreme angles.  While the display was washed out in bright sunlight, it was still visible with a little creative shading from my hand.

The T2 is powered by Texas Instruments' OMAP 1510 processor, as was the original Tungsten T.  This processor is an interesting combination of an ARM925 CPU running at 144MHz and a C55x DSP at 200MHz.

The Tungsten T2 supports SD and MultiMedia cards.  It will accept memory cards up to 512MB.  That could come in handy because the T2 has audio support built in.  Palm includes a copy of RealPlayer for Palm, supporting MP3 files.  While the T2 features a small speaker on the front of the unit, a headphone jack supports standard mini-plug stereo headphones.  Third party players are available which support other audio formats, including Ogg Vorbis for Open Source fans.  The audio quality from the built-in speaker is nothing too terribly good, although considering the size of the speaker, it certainly could be much worse.  The headphone output was actually able to drive my Grado SR-125 headphones quite loudly, something that surprised me, since they are a notoriously difficult load.  Compared to the Neuros HD 20GB digital music player, the Tungsten T2 was a little light on the bass.  I noticed that Palm specifies the lower frequency response of the audio circuitry to be about 160Hz.  Even so, you're probably not looking at the T2 as a portable music player - to me, this is more of a bonus, and a reasonably well performing one, at that.

On the topic of sound, the T2 also features a voice recorder.  A small button on the left side of the unit activates a microphone that will make a digital recording.  I made a few recordings with groups of one to six people and found that it worked quite well.  The only drawback that I found was that it was easy to inadvertently press the button and bring up the recording screen.  While this did not make an actual recording (the screen requires an additional tap), it was something of a nuisance until I got used to holding the T2 a little differently.

An infrared port is on the top of the PDA, along with the expansion card slot and the stylus silo.  The stylus protrudes ever so slightly from the top of the T2 and is released by pressing on it.  The end of the stylus is spring loaded and pops up about a half inch.  The user then just pulls it out.  It is replaced by dropping it in the silo, then pressing down on the end until it clicks into place.

The T2 uses the same cradle that Palm has provided with its handhelds since the M100.  The PDA ships with the USB cradle, although a serial version is also available.  Other options include USB and serial cables.  The T2 charges through the cradle via a 5 volt wall-wart charger.  Car chargers are also available.  The lithium-ion battery went from fully discharged to completely charged in about two hours.  Under "average" use, it took several days for me to discharge to 25% charge.

One feature that will certainly affect battery life is the built in Bluetooth network.  Bluetooth seems to be one of those technologies that seems to be having a difficult time finding a purpose, but it does seem quite appropriate for PDAs.  The technology is not as power hungry as 802.11 WiFi, primarily by virtue of its limited range (around 30 feet).  Security is about as good as WiFi, meaning that it can be dangerously absent or reasonably secure, depending upon the user's needs (or lack of concern).  I was able to connect the Tungsten T2 to a Windows XP computer using a Belkin USB Bluetooth adapter.  The T2 can use USB for synchronization and also to access the Internet, courtesy of the VersaMail IMAP/POP3 email client and the WebPro browser.  I had no problem browsing web pages (including Java content) and downloading my email, although the Bluetooth connection is not particularly speedy.  Web pages that snapped right up on my computer (via a high speed DSL connection) were fairly sluggish, almost like normal dialup speed.  Part of this seemed to be a limitation of Bluetooth and part of it was that the WebPro software reformatted most web pages to properly display on the 320x320 screen.  I found the best performance to be from web pages that were designed with PDAs in mind, such as Yahoo's PDA portal.  The Tungsten T2 uses Bluetooth 1.1, which is the latest version.

Email was quite easy to use.  VersaMail takes a page from Microsoft by using a wizard-like application to step the user through configuring a POP3 or IMAP email account.  Sending and receiving messages was not much more difficult than doing so from a PC.

The only real difficulty in connecting to the Internet was that Palm does not provide any instructions on how to do it!  Fortunately, there are several resources on the web that provide step-by-step procedures for enabling Internet Connection Sharing on Windows and setting up the T2.

The Tungsten T2 is quite small, a feat managed by its sliding lower section.  The area containing the buttons slides up and down, concealing the Graffiti area.  This takes almost a half inch off the length of the device.  Including a mechanical feature like this almost seems like asking for trouble, but close examination shows that there are no less than four physical connections between the slider and the main body of the T2.  Also, Palm says that they designed the slider to successfully open and close at least 100,000 times without failure.  It's possible to navigate the T2 without opening the slider, by using the five-way button pad and the stylus.  I still haven't quite got the hang of it yet, so I usually find myself opening up the slider and navigating the traditional way.  Even if I never catch on, the slider does make the Tungsten T2 more convenient by decreasing the size and making it fit in a pocket that much easier.  The overall dimensions of the T2 are 4.0" (4.8" extended) x 3.0" x 0.6" and 5.6 ounces.

Before plopping it into a pocket, though, Palm gave some consideration to protecting the screen.  The T2 ships with a clear polycarbonate shield that snaps onto the front of the PDA for protection and swaps around to the back for storage while using the device.  It's not quite as convenience as the old-style flip covers, but it does the job.  The cover has a hole in it for access to the five-way pad, for one finger navigation with the cover on.

The Tungsten T2 comes with the usual group of software applications.  The WebPro and VersaMail applications are pre-loaded in ROM, saving precious memory for your important stuff.  The T2 uses OS 5.2.1.  The Notepad application, one of my favorites on the M130, is markedly more usable with the T2's high resolution screen.

The accompanying CD-ROM provides Documents to Go (a Microsoft Office integration tool), Palm Photos, the RealOne media player, the Kinoma Player (for video clips), Adobe Acrobat for Palm, Palm Reader and Handmark's Solitaire, as well as several other applications.  If you use a Bluetooth-enabled phone, the Phone Link software will step you through the process of using your phone to connect to the Internet, browse, send SMS messages and collect email.

The Palm Desktop software (version 4.1) makes synchronizing even easier with the Quick Install program.  Basically, all you need to do to install an application or file is to drag it to the Quick Install window.  The program will take care of any necessary conversions and ready the file for installation on the next hot sync.

Overall, the Tungsten T2 is a winner.  It looks good, it performs well and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.  It fits into a price point that seems to have been notoriously difficult to fill over the past year or two.  It has plenty of memory, a zippy processor, an excellent display and outstanding ergonomics.  Extras like Bluetooth and audio give it a high end feel for a mid-range price.  It is priced about US$30 more than its predecessor but adds more than that in improvements.  When it was initially introduced, it retailed for US$399.00  As of this writing, the Tungsten T2 retails for US$329.00, but with a little searching can be found for about US$50.00 less.  I highly recommend it.

 

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