The rumor mill kicks into overdrive whenever a new handheld gears up to hit the market, grinding the grist of blog-based guesswork into speculation. So while everyone knew that the PalmOne Tungsten E2 was imminent, this cat is finally out of the bag, and he's bringing all the final details with him. As the successor to and the replacement for the popular (according to the company, the top-selling PDA across all price points for the past 17 months), the Tungsten E2 boasts the same sleek and compact form factor as its older sibling but ups the ante with performance-enhancing features, such as an updated OS and a brighter color screen. Factor in impressive battery life and an affordable $249 price tag, and PalmOne has another winner on its hands. Unless you need a powerhouse PDA with integrated Wi-Fi and a faster processor, the Tungsten E2 should do the trick for any home user or mobile pro. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So we're glad to see that PalmOne didn't mess with the Tungsten E2's design. Like its predecessor, the Tungsten E2 sports a sleek and compact form factor, though it adds just a hair more weight and depth (4.5 by 3.1 by 0.6 inches; 4.7 ounces). An attractive dark-silver finish wraps up the package, although you'll need to keep a chamois on hand with this machine; we noticed its tendency to hold fingerprints and smudges. Still, the E2 is a sophisticated beast and appropriate for any boardroom--a far cry from its similarly priced and featured cousin, the , which has a more colorful and playful look.
The E2's improved 3.7-inch-diagonal TFT color screen shines brightly, taking center stage. While it keeps the 320x320-pixel resolution of the Tungsten E, the new PalmOne now displays 65,536 colors instead of 64,000, and the difference is noticeable. Everything looks sharper, a little brighter, and a little more vivid, and it's readable even in direct sunlight. Just below the screen is a virtual input area with one-touch access to the Home page, with Menu on the left side, while Favorites and a search function sit on the right. Unlike the, however, there's no handy taskbar along the bottom to quickly launch other applications or to switch the screen to Landscape mode. You do, however, get four standard customizable shortcut keys (Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notepad, by default) and a five-way navigation toggle. The keys are spacious, though set deeper within the case, rather than slightly raised above the surface, so they require a little effort to press--not a deal breaker but something to be aware of.
On top of the device, you'll find an SDIO/MMC expansion slot, a power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack that accepts Walkman-style headphones, and an infrared port. There's a stylus holder on the right, and as with the T5, the stylus is elegant and sturdy like a fine fountain pen, as opposed to the dinky, plastic variety.
Like all the new PalmOne devices, the Tungsten E2 now uses a multiconnector USB cable with one-button HotSync operation. Extras are sparse; there is no desktop cradle included in the box ($50 optional), but it comes with a faux leather flip cover, which slides into a slot on the left side, and a power adapter. With the added Bluetooth technology, you can take advantage of other accessories, such as keyboards and GPS receivers.PalmOne wasn't shy when dishing out the upgrades to last year's Tungsten E. Building on that solid foundation, the Tungsten E2 is powered by a faster 200MHz Intel XScale processor and comes with 32MB of nonvolatile flash memory, 26MB of which is user-accessible. The latter is important: it preserves your precious data if your PDA decides to call it quits, and it increases the battery life in the same breath. This amount of memory will provide you plenty of storage for your PIM needs, but you'd better stock up on a memory card or two for storing music and videos.
Integrated Bluetooth also makes a debut with the PalmOne Tungsten E2, letting you Web cruisers, e-mail addicts, and mobile professionals make the most of your time on the road. There's a Bluetooth utility to turn on the radio and to set up compatible devices. We were able to connect to a Bluetooth-enabled Pocket PC and wirelessly beam contact information with no problem. Alas, there's no built-in Wi-Fi on the E2, but we're not quick to criticize this omission. Although there's no excuse for the lack of Wi-Fi on the Tungsten T5, the E2 is more of an entry- to midlevel gadget. If you still crave Wi-Fi, PalmOne says it will update the driver to itsin May to support the E2, and the price will drop to $99. Another item worth noting: the E2 battery isn't user-replaceable. And once again, we're disappointed by the E2's lack of a voice recorder--generally a must-have in a business-friendly device.
On the software front, the E2 gets an upgrade to Palm OS 5.4, which includes DataViz's Documents To Go 7.0, though there's still no sign of Palm OS 6.0. The latest edition supports native Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (view-only on Macs) so that you can view and edit documents on the go. In addition, the program boasts an improved user interface and supports active Web links in Word documents. Also new to the E2 is the Favorites view, first introduced in the Tungsten T5. This gives you quick access to your most frequently used applications and files (up to 32), including Web links, while the traditional Applications view displays all the programs on your handheld. Other software goodies include Acrobat Reader, SplashMoney, Web Blazer 4.0, and Memos. And when you feel like a little break, you have RealPlayer for MP3 playback, Kinoma Player for videos, PalmReader for e-books, and of course, Solitaire for amusement.Overall, the PalmOne Tungsten E2 provided outstanding, though not perfect, performance in our tests. We'll get the bad news out of the way first. Although the company ramped up the device with a 200MHz Intel XScale processor, we experienced small but noticeable delays when switching screens and programs. On the other hand, video performance was smooth, and MP3s sounded loud and clear, with and without headphones and even in noisy environments.
The big news here is the outstanding battery life. For CNET Labs' test, we looped a video clip using Kinoma Video player and set the screen at 50 percent brightness. As a result, the new, larger cell ran out of steam after an impressive 5.5 hours--2 hours longer than the Tungsten E. But we were most anxious to test out the company's claim of 10 to 12 hours of MP3 playback--and the E2 delivered with an astounding 11 hours. This is in tune with some of today's top MP3 players and almost on a par with the . It's certainly the best time we've seen to date on a PDA, leaving one CNET editor wondering when she would be relieved of battery-watching duty.