Palm Refreshes Tungsten, Zire PDAs

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From left, the Tungsten E, Zire 21, and Tungsten T3.
Photograph: Marc Simon
Choosing a handheld is getting tougher: Palm is releasing two new corporate-oriented Tungsten models, plus the entry-level Zire 21.

All available now, the new models of personal digital assistants are the high-end Tungsten T3, priced at $399, and the Tungsten E, priced at $199. The updated Zire model, the Zire 21, has a faster processor and four times the memory of its predecessor in the entry-level handhelds, but retains the $99 estimated street price.

Update Highlights

The two new color Tungstens have larger screens--50 percent larger than those of previous models. The Zire 21 uses a faster, 126-MHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor and boosts the budget PDA's memory to 8MB.

The Tungsten T3 runs on an XScale processor and comes with 64MB of RAM (52MB available to the user). Bluetooth setup is embedded (but not Wi-Fi). The Tungsten E has 32MB of RAM (28.3MB available) and is designed to support one-handed navigation.

Palm has updated much of the bundled software, including the appointment and address books on the Tungsten. New functions are designed to make it easier to sync with Microsoft Outlook. Also, users can download a Tungsten-compatible Java Virtual Machine free of charge.

The Zire 21 has updates to the Date Book, Address Book, Note Pad, and To-Do List, as well as Palm OS Version 5.2.1. It is the successor to the no-frills Zire introduced last fall.

Tungsten 3 Specs

The Tungsten T3, like its predecessors the Tungsten T and T2, features a case that slides open. But in this design, pulling down the case reveals extra display area instead of a hard-wired Graffiti input area. With the slider fully extended, the screen resolution is 320 by 480, beating the 240-by-320 displays of Windows Mobile 2003-based Pocket PCs. Spreadsheet jockeys who use the bundled Documents to Go software will particularly appreciate the extra real estate. If you run older applications that can't use the larger display, a pop-up Graffiti entry area fills the extra space.

The T3's industrial redesign also groups the four buttons and the central jog wheel underneath the display into a configuration that looks like a small sports arena.

Among the most visible software changes is a small taskbar that sits at the bottom of the display (whether it's collapsed or extended) and contains icons for one-tap access to frequently used functions and features. These include the home screen, the search window, drop-down menus, and a simpler Bluetooth configuration screen. It also provides input choices (keyboard, the traditional two-paned Graffiti screen, or the newer Graffiti 2 screen with separate input areas for lowercase letters, uppercase letters, and numerals). A switch lets you toggle between the traditional portrait display and the new landscape orientation (which shifts the taskbar to the screen's right). This is handy for viewing some photos and spreadsheets.

Tungsten E Features

The Tungsten E isn't collapsible. It has less RAM than the T3 and a less powerful processor (the Texas Instruments OMAP 311 ARM processor). Palm representatives describe it as aimed at "cost-conscious professionals."

It hot syncs via a USB cable instead of Palm's universal charging cradle and has a separate charger; the display resolution is 320 by 320 on top of a fixed input area, and it lacks the new taskbar. The navigation buttons are similar to those on older Tungstens.

Still, the E uses Palm's new PIM apps, and like the T3 has an SD slot for expandability. It also bundles RealNetworks' RealOne Mobile Player.

Software Updates

The T3 features upgrades to Palm's Address and Date Book applications to rival their Pocket Outlook counterparts. The renamed Contacts and Calendar programs are designed to be better suited for serious business use.

Contacts has new fields for multiple e-mail and snail-mail addresses, Web sites, birthdays (that automatically appear in Calendar), and custom entries. Calendar now has roomier fields for memos and notes and a new agenda view that always displays your next appointment, even if it's on the next day. You can schedule appointments that straddle midnight and color-code them to reflect a category. Outlook users get new Palm-built software to sync these new fields (which can also sync with a new version of Palm's own desktop application).

Like other recent Tungstens, the T3 ships with software to play music and videos, plus a small speaker and a headset jack (but no headset).

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