Monday, January 02, 2006

Review: Palm Tungsten T (long term)

I've owned a Palm Tungsten T for almost 3 years now. I use it every day and for several different applications. It's time to buy a new PDA (for reasons stated below) and I thought I'd write a review of the Tungsten T covering the whole range of ownership.


Initial reviews that I read about the Tungsten|T indicated distaste for the slick surface of the metal case. The case surface is quite slick and when my hands were dry, I almost dropped the device a couple times. However, I almost always use the device with the plastic screen cover attached to the back of the device. The plastic cover sticks to my hand much better than the case does, so the slickness of the case turned out not to matter.

The surface of the case loses its finish easily. At numerous places on the device, the bare metal is visible where the grey finish came off. The finish came off the most along the bottom edge of the device near the application buttons. Fortunately, the gray finish matches the bare metal fairly well, so the flaking produced a pleasing rough look.

The feel of the application buttons is still nice and crisp. All the buttons work as they did fresh out of the box. I used the center button on the D-pad more than any other button. I took to using the Tungsten|T as my main watch. So I often took the device out of my breast pocket and clicked the center button to see the time. The center button was a bit too small and too protected. In the winter, I was unable to depress the center button with my gloves on. That meant that to see the time, I had to remove my gloves. The voice recording button is placed such that I often bumped it accidentally. That would turn the device on and then I find myself in the voice memo application the next time I turned the device on. However, this was only a minor annoyance since it never actually recorded a voice memo.

The headphone jack and external speaker were the most suprisingly useful feature of the Tungsten. I didn't expect to use either one, but I found myself carrying the Tungsten in my pocket playing music while I cleaned the house. Or I'd use it on the road with a headphone to bring music with me on travels. I ended up buying a 512MB SD card so that I could put my most-played MP3s on the device (the included Real Player MP3 player was sufficient for my needs). I liked the external speaker so well that I have included it in my wishlist for my new Palm.

The power button gave me some trouble. After about two years, it began to work only intermittently. Often times, it would go for a week without working and then starting working again for a few months. Towards the end of the third year, it only worked about half the time. Fortunately, the button inside the D-pad and moving the slider both let me turn on Palm anyway.

The SD card slot worked without any troubles. The stylus silo and the stylus both worked well. The Tungsten|T has the best stock stylus I've seen with any Palm device. As I've mentioned in another blog entry, I began to dislike having to depress the stylus to take it out of the silo. The magnet in the bottom of the stylus silo held the stylus sufficiently tightly, except when I ocassionally dropped the Palm from out of my breast pocket. Then it and the SD card scattered across the pavement.

The form-factor and the sliding button pad were the most unique features of the Tungsten|T when I bought it. The first few months, I liked the sliding button pad, but after that, it was just annoying. I detail the reasons in my other blog entry on the subject. I liked the small form-factor, but the sliding pad is too much to pay. It was a clever idea, but turns out to be best in concept and less workable in application.


The screen on the Tungsten|T is very nice. I found it readable in all different light conditions. The colors are bright and crisp. It was clear enough that I replaced my collection of wallet photos with JPEGView. I always used screen protecting platic sheets on the screen, so it still has no scratches.

Data Input

The graffiti recognition on the Tungsten|T seemed quicker and more accurate than on my previous Palms. Unfortunately, after about a year and a half, the digitizer began to degrade. I would have to recalibrate the digitizer about every other day. After a few months, I needed to recalibrate every day. Now I can't write 5 characters without recalibrating. One frustrating result is that I will try to tap-off an item on my to do list and the Palm will clear off the one above or below the one I wanted. Then I have to track down the one I accidentally checked, restore it, recalibrate the digitizer, tap-off the desired to do item.

In consequence of the annoying digitizer effects and the slow input required by Graffiti, I've decided that a keyboard is probably the best type of input for a PDA. My first serious PDAs were HP 95LX, HP 100LX and HP 200LX palmtop computers. I loved the little keyboard. It was accurate and quick for data entry. I think the Tungsten C and the Treo have the right idea.


Really the only accessory that I ever used with the Tungsten was the charging/hotsync cradle. The cradle is solid and receives the PDA easily. I have two complaints. The transformer has the wall plugs attached directly to it. That means I cover two sockets on the power strip when I should only have to use one. The second complaint is that I have to bring the whole cradle with me when I travel so that I can recharge the battery. My wife had a Sony Clie PEG-N610C. With that PDA, the power cable could be detached from the cradle to make traveling more convenient. Fortunately, I can get about three days out of the Tungsten without a charge, so for weekend trips, the bulky charge cradle wasn't an issue. Basically, I think that Palm should have included a more portable charge cable with the stock Tungsten|T. I wouldn't even mind not having a proper cradle as long the charge cable was compact enough for travel.


I've enjoyed my Palm Tungsten|T. It was leagues better than my beloved Handspring Visor and it gave me higher expectations for what a PDA should be. It was solidly built and survived many bumps and drops. Three years is a decent stretch (although five years should be expected). The cost of ownership for this Palm worked out to about $7.30 per month. I'm willing to pay that.

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