Palm Tungsten W review: Palm Tungsten W

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MSRP: $419.00

The Good Long talk time; high-resolution screen; roomy thumb keyboard.

The Bad Can't use phone without earbud; lacks speakerphone; floppy protective cover.

The Bottom Line Palm's latest wireless e-mail handheld is a big improvement over previous efforts, but it fails to truly outshine the competition.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Dating back to the VII model, Palm has been at the forefront of wireless e-mail devices, but the company has never managed to get everything completely right. Enter the Tungsten W, a BlackBerry-esque wireless Palm that works on GPRS networks and also offers voice support for making calls. Is this the wireless Palm that we've all been waiting for? Well, sort of. The Tungsten W is an all-around useful communications tool, with strong PDA features and decent e-mail functionality. However, we wish that Palm had included better voice support out of the box and a server-based e-mail solution for the corporate customers to whom the W is targeted. The Tungsten W is no lightweight, tipping the scales at a healthy 6.5 ounces and measuring 5.4 by 3.1 by 0.7 inches. This device is taller and wider than PDA/phones such as the Kyocera 7135 and the Handspring Treo 300, but it's thinner from front to back. The W's size and weight are virtually identical to those of RIM's BlackBerry 5810, which has a built-in GSM/GPRS phone.

For a PDA, the Palm is a bit on the tall-and-wide side.

However, from front to back, it's wafer-thin.
Like that RIM, this Palm has a generous thumb keyboard below its screen; its large size makes it easier to hit the W's keys than the Treo's. The extra space also makes room for the Palm function buttons; a five-way navigator; and a large, high-resolution, color screen. A Secure Digital (SD) card slot on the unit's side gives the Tungsten an expandability edge over its slotless RIM and Handspring rivals.

Thumb thing for everyone: The Palm's roomy keyboard.

This cradle doesn't exactly rock; it's Palm's stable staple.
Unfortunately, Palm failed to pack a speakerphone, a receiver, or a microphone into the device, which means that you'll have to use the included earbud to make calls if you choose to activate phone service. The company will offer a special, optional $40 cover that incorporates the speaker and the mike, allowing you to put the W up to your ear and use it as you would a standard phone. However, we feel that these features should be included out of the box.

Another small gripe: While the protective cover that ships with the unit does its job effectively, it lacks a clasp and, therefore, tends to hang open and flop around. The Tungsten's cradle is fairly standard and connects to your PC or your Mac via USB for syncing. An AC adapter plugs into the cradle cable to power the device.

Room for more: Add all the memory you like via the SD card slot.

For all of its innovations, the Palm Tungsten W's specs read like those of earlier models. It has a 33MHz DragonBall VZ processor, runs OS 4.1.1--though Palm has spruced up the icons to look more OS 5.0-like--and packs just 16MB of SDRAM, 14.8MB of which are user-accessible. You may add all the memory you like via the SD slot.

What those earlier Palms lack is the Tungsten W's GSM/GPRS (900/1,800/1,900MHz) wireless radio. That said, Palm is marketing the W as more of wireless-data (e-mail and Internet) device than a smart phone or a communicator, even though the PDA has voice capabilities. The choice of service packages bears this thinking out, as users will be asked to pick separate voice and data plans from AT&T. Data plans range from $20 to $60, and you can tack on separate voice service.

The Palm lacks an earphone or a mike, so the earbud is the only way to talk on the phone.

SIM-plicity: You can access the SIM card through a panel on the back of the Palm.
Those who have POP accounts from, say, Yahoo or EarthLink can simply configure Palm VersaMail to pull in your messages from those e-mail services. For corporate users, AT&T and a third-party company called Visto offer e-mail redirectors that grab your messages from behind your company's firewall. All of these e-mail options require small fees on top of your data plan. In our opinion, this setup is less than ideal, and AT&T--as well as Palm--may have a hard time competing against rivals without going to a more straightforward and affordable data-and-minutes package, such as the one that Sprint PCS offers with the Treo 300. We suspect that in due time, Palm and AT&T will make some tweaks to the service plans and software, hopefully making the device more attractive.

A few notes about the W's phone features: All of the basics--for example, SMS, speed dialing, and one-tap dialing from Contacts--are included, as are caller ID, five-way conference calling, and call forwarding. But many higher functions, such as a speakerphone and voice dialing, are missing. And as we mentioned in the Design section, this Tungsten has no integrated earphone or mike, leaving the earbud or an optional, protective-cover accessory as the sole conduits for sending and receiving calls. On the bright side, you can access all of the W's functions (short of e-mailing or browsing the Web) while on the phone.

As a PDA, the W is on top of its game and comes with a full battery of applications for productivity, communications, entertainment, and utilities. You get DataViz's Documents To Go suite, which handles Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, as well as ArcSoft's PhotoBase for viewing images. A smattering of game demos will help you wind down after work.

The Tungsten uses its wireless Internet access to its advantage in several areas. The included WAP browser is easy to use and includes a quick list of favorites to get you going, while WebPro is a more full-featured browser that will display all of the HTML and images of the sites that it visits. ICQ is included to give you an instant-messaging option. WorldMate rounds out the list, functioning as a world clock, an alarm clock, a weather service, a phone-code reference, and a converter for currencies and units of measurement. Unfortunately, there are no MP3-playback apps since the device lacks the ability to play music and ships with a mono earbud. Overall performance was good; the Tungsten's 33MHz processor, 16MB of RAM, and older OS 4.1.1 are nothing to write home about, but they're quite sufficient for the device's functions. We noticed no hiccups or other signs of overload when switching between applications or playing games.

Big buttons: The virtual phone buttons are responsive and easy to press.

The screen looks relatively good in all sorts of light but is a bit washed out.
The Palm's screen is more impressive. Like its Tungsten T brother, the W has a smooth, 65,000-color display with a high, 320x320-pixel resolution. The screen measures 3.1 inches diagonally--larger than those of the Kyocera 7135 and the Handspring Treo 300. However, the screen could be brighter; while it's better than those found on other Palm phones, it's not as bright as the displays found on the latest Pocket PCs. It's also worth noting that the display looks great in bright sunlight as long as you hold it at the correct angle.

Web browsing was a relatively pleasant experience. You shouldn't expect graphics-heavy pages to load with broadband-like speeds, but text generally took between 30 seconds and a minute. When the graphics finally appeared, they looked pretty good on the unit's high-resolution screen.

Phone reception was decent in the San Francisco Bay Area using AT&T's wireless service, and the phone application's buttons are large and easy to press with a finger or a stylus. Conference calling worked well, too, though it took a little while to get it down pat.

Palm claims that you'll get up to a remarkable 10 hours of talk time before the battery runs dry. In our tests, we came pretty close to that number, which is impressive. We were able to wring 9 hours, 16 minutes of talk time out of the device before the batteries pooped out. Of course, talk time and battery life can vary greatly depending on how much you're using the device--and especially the backlight--while gabbing away. Nevertheless, even with Tungsten's backlight set at full blast, we got 4 hours, 10 minutes of calls, Web browsing, and regular PDA use out of the unit before the battery wound down.

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