Palm’s power line-up: Tungsten E, Tungsten T3, Zire 21

If you’re wavering between a Palm and a Pocket PC for your next PDA, Palm makes the decision even harder with innovative models that address prior products’ weaknesses. I tried out the $799 Tungsten T3 and the $399 Tungsten E, as well as the more consumer-orientated, $199 Zire 21.

Palm’s business-orientated Tungsten T3 — like its predecessors, the T and T2 — features a case that slides open; but this time, when you pull it down, you get extra display area instead of a dedicated Graffiti input area. With the slider fully extended, the screen resolution is 320x480, beating the 240x320 displays of Windows Mobile 2003-based Pocket PCs. Spreadsheet jockeys who use the bundled Documents to Go software will appreciate the extra real estate. If you run older apps that can’t use this display, a pop-up Graffiti entry area fills the extra space. The T3’s industrial redesign puts four program launcher buttons and the central navigation wheel below the display.

Software changes include a small taskbar that sits at the bottom of the collapsed or extended display and contains icons for one-tap access to frequently-used functions and features. These include the home screen, the search window, drop-down menus, a simplified Bluetooth configuration screen, input choices (keyboard, the traditional two-pane Graffiti screen, or the newer Graffiti 2 screen with separate input areas for lowercase letters, uppercase letters and numerals), and a nifty switch that lets you toggle between the traditional portrait display and a new landscape orientation.

The T3 introduces long-overdue upgrades to Palm’s venerable Address and Datebook applications. Renamed Contacts and Calendar, respectively, they’re now much better suited to the needs of serious business users.

Contacts has new fields for more types of addresses, Web sites, birthdays and custom entries. Calendar has roomier fields for memos and notes, and a new agenda view shows your next appointment even if it’s on the following day. You can colour-code appointments, too. Outlook users get new Palm-built software to sync these new fields (which can also sync with a new version of Palm’s desktop app).

In addition, the T3 comes with soft­ware capable of running Java applets, an enhancement that should expand further the already large universe of Palm-compatible software. The T3 ships with music and video playback software, a small but surprisingly decent speaker, and a headset jack. Outfitted with a powerful 400MHz Intel XScale CPU and 64MB of RAM, the T3 is a good deal and stands as worthy competition to many of the beefier Pocket PCs on the market.

For those happy with less weight and a little less power, Palm’s new Tungsten E measures 1.2cm thick and weighs only 131g and competes with similarly priced thin-and-light Pocket PCs.

The non-collapsible E has half as much RAM (32MB) as the T3, and carries a less powerful processor (Texas Instruments’ OMAP 311). It hot-syncs via a USB cable instead of Palm’s universal charging cradle, and it has a separate charger. The display resolution is 320x320 on top of a fixed input area, and you don’t get the new taskbar. The navigation buttons’ layout resembles that of older Tungstens. The E does use Palm’s new PIM apps, however, and like the T3 it has an SD memory card slot for expandability.

I’d recommend the E to someone who wants a shirt-pocket PDA capable of robust contact and calendar management, as well as multimedia playback. Power users who like a large screen (and don’t care about a keyboard, phone functions or Wi-Fi) should check out the T3. For budget-minded beginners, Palm has updated its Zire line with the Zire 21. Like its similarly priced predecessor, the 21 delivers basic PIM functionality on a monochrome screen with no backlight or SD card slot, but the upgraded model has more memory (8MB versus 2MB) and a faster CPU.

In brief: Tungsten T3
High-resolution Palm display and useful software define this power-user Palm. No Wi-Fi or keyboard.
Price: $799

Tungsten E
A well-priced lightweight colour Palm for users who value a skinny PDA.
Price: $399

Zire 21
A budget monochrome Palm suitable for beginners who don’t often work in the dark.
Price: $199

Vendor: Palm
Phone: 1800 350 535

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