Palm Tungsten C review: Palm Tungsten C

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.8
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 9.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Built-in Wi-Fi; built-in keyboard; much improved screen; fast processor and lots of RAM; great browsing performance.

The Bad Headphone/voice jack is mono; no integrated microphone for memos; headset and MP3 player not included.

The Bottom Line Audiophiles may be dissuaded by the lack of an MP3 player and stereo sound, but business users will fall for the Tungsten C's blazing performance.

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Review summary

The gap between Palms and Pocket PCs just got narrower. Pocket PCs spent some time at the lead of the PDA pack in terms of screen quality, processor speed, and onboard RAM. But the Palm Tungsten C matches its Pocket PC competitors virtually spec for spec. And with integrated Wi-Fi, a new transflective screen, and a fast 400MHz processor, this latest Palm may offer even the more powerful Pocket PCs some stiff competition. The lack of stereo audio will dissuade music lovers, but for business users with a Palm bent, to C is to love. From a design perspective, the Tungsten C has a lot in common with Palm's wireless Tungsten W. Their shapes are the same, but the Tungsten C lacks the wireless phone nub, so it measures only 4.8 by 3.1 by 0.65 inches. It's also slightly lighter at 6.3 ounces. The news here is a brighter, more uniform transflective screen with a 320x320-pixel resolution and a palette of 65,000 colors.

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The Tungsten C is about the same size as the W, but it doesn't have the antenna nub.On the down-low: The C is somewhat slender, so it's pocketable.

Below the screen is the same thumb keyboard found on the Tungsten W. It's relatively roomy, and most of the keys have multiple uses; for example, you can key in common typographic symbols and use Palm shortcuts to bring up the menu or change screen brightness. But you can still use Graffiti if you like. Below the keyboard are four function buttons and a five-way navigator, all also inherited from the Tungsten W. The buttons come set to launch Palm's calendar, contacts, VersaMail application, and Web browser, but as with earlier Palms, you can remap them to launch other programs.

A speaker is on the back of the unit, and a Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard (SD/MMC) expansion slot, an IR port, and a mono headphone/microphone jack are on the top. Unfortunately, there's no built-in microphone, and no microphone headset ships with the Palm. We like the fact that the SD/MMC slot will accept a storage card of up to 512MB and is also SDIO-capable.

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Protect yourself: Don't leave home without your protective jacket.Common cradle: Palm includes the standard cradle for both syncing and recharging the battery.

A protective cover, an AC adapter, and a cradle also ship with the Tungsten C. As with most Palm devices since the m500 series, the cradle is for both syncing and recharging the device, so you must pack it if you plan to recharge while traveling.

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Type away: Why use Graffiti when this nice keyboard is staring you in the face?

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The SD/MMC slot will accept a storage card of up to 512MB or an SDIO module such as a camera.

The Tungsten C resembles the W, but inside, the unit differs considerably from earlier Palms. Gone is the Texas Instruments processor, replaced by a speedy 400MHz Intel XScale chip that's backed up with a whopping 64MB of RAM. Palm has also updated the OS a bit; version 5.2.1 includes a couple of improvements, such as changeable color themes and a new Graffiti that uses more-natural pen strokes.

Better yet is the Tungsten C's integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b), which puts this model in the same league as the HP iPaq H5450 and Toshiba e750 Pocket PCs. With Wi-Fi, business travelers can sidle up to far-flung hot spots to surf the Web or communicate with the home office. Palm VersaMail 2.5 lets you send and receive e-mail and manage several e-mail accounts. The application also includes enhancements such as HTML rendering and support for more types of attached files. And Virtual Private Networking is enabled via the Mergic VPN client, so you can access your company LAN and use authentication and encryption to ensure a secure connection.

There's a speaker on the Tungsten C, and you can download a free MP3 player, but the unit's Achilles' heel is its mono headphone jack, which is also smaller (the size of most cell-phone headset jacks) than most handhelds'. Palm's optional $15 headphone is mono and has only one earphone. On the upside, the headphone is relatively cheap and includes a microphone for recording voice memos (though a built-in mike would do this just as well). Palm also says third-party developers are working on a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) solution that will allow you to make phone calls using an access point and the voice/audio headphone.

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There's a speaker on the back of the unit, but alas, you need an optional headset to record memos.

On the software side, the Tungsten C can boast a fairly burly bundle. Familiar staples are here: Dataviz Documents To Go 5.03 lets you view and edit documents and spreadsheets on the device, and Chapura Pocket Mirror enables syncing with Outlook. But the Tungsten C also has a considerable collection of productivity and entertainment software. In addition to what we've already discussed, there's the Palm photo viewer, Kinoma Player and Producer (for encoding MPEG video on your desktop and viewing it on your Palm), Bachman PrintBoy (for sending documents to your network printer by Wi-Fi), and Handmark Solitaire. Considering the Tungsten C's impressive specs--a 400MHz processor and 64MB of RAM--we weren't surprised that the unit performed well in our tests. Movies played smoothly in Kinoma Player, but that was just the beginning. The C also earned good marks when we evaluated its screen, its browsing abilities, and its battery life.

All Tungsten-line screens have a high resolution of 320x320 pixels and a 65,000-color palette. But the latest Palms--the Tungsten C and the Zire 71--have transflective screens that are clearly superior to the earlier Palms' reflective, sidelit displays. The previous models often showed strange light refractions and had somewhat uneven lighting, but the new transflective screens look brighter and are lit more evenly, making both text and pictures easier to view.

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Better screen: Palm made the jump to a high-res transflective screen that looks great.

In informal testing at a Starbucks T-Mobile hot spot, the Tungsten C's wireless-networking and Web-browsing abilities were, for the most part, impressive. We had a slight problem with searching for networks, but once we entered a network name, the Palm saw it immediately and connected in seconds. Once connected, PalmSource's nimble browser made short work of loading the pages. In performance testing, the Tungsten C loaded our graphics-laden Web pages at an average of about 43 seconds per page. That may not sound great, but it's the fastest we've ever seen on a handheld, and it's more than twice as fast as the performance of the Toshiba e750 and the HP iPaq H5450. And with the graphics disabled, the Tungsten C's load speed doubled. One caveat: Though the Palm can download files, it can recognize only PRC and PDB files; if it doesn't recognize a file, the download stops.

The device's 1,500mAh rechargeable battery also performed well. Palm states that the battery should provide "a full day of consistent Wi-Fi connectivity, or six days of average handheld use." To see how long the juice could flow, we looped a Kinoma Player movie and set the brightness to the halfway point. The show played for an impressive 6 hours, 31 minutes before the low-power warning popped up.

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Where to Buy

Palm Tungsten C

Part Number: P80900US Released: Apr. 23, 2003

MSRP: $499.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Apr. 23, 2003