While the T5 is the best PalmOne PDA yet, it's not enough to reverse the PDA decline
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Skipping the Tungsten 4 (the number is considered bad luck in Japan and other Far Eastern countries), PalmOne's latest Tungsten T5 blends the style of the budget Tungsten E with the elongated 65K-colour LCD of the old Tungsten T3. In short: it's easily one of the classiest and most powerful PDAs that the company has ever produced.
But will anybody actually want it? Desperately defending its market against mounting numbers of Pocket PCs, PalmOne knows that it must continually innovate to stay competitive. Analysts at IDC report that the PDA market remains in trouble, its market share hit heavily by more powerful, and popular smartphones.
So it's not enough these days to jack up the memory allocation and redesign the chassis. Any PDA that wants to survive these dark times needs to be more than just a battery powered calendar. People also expect high-end multimedia mastery as part of the deal.
Since Dell parachuted into the eorganiser market with its Axim range, a budget Pocket PC has been a better allround choice. Palm-powered PDAs have regularly lagged behind their Microsoftfuelled rivals as far as power and performance are concerned. But the T5 closes the gap between the two significantly. In fact, rivalling the functionality of Microsoft-powered handhelds seems to be the overriding theme here.
The T5 has some impressive technology, such as the fast 416MHz Intel PXA270 processor. It's not as speedy as the 624MHz and 520MHz versions used in the latest Axim X50 PPCs, but the Palm OS is far less demanding than Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 SE software. The highlight, however, is undoubtedly the 256MB of memory, the highest allocation of memory in any Palm-powered device to date. 64MB of this is internal memory (55MB of which is user-accessible), and this is supplemented by a 160MB flash disk, which gives you 215MB of RAM to play with.
Shipped without the usual docking cradle, PalmOne has also given the T5 the ability to act as a USB drive or memory stick. Simply connect the supplied USB cable, plug it into a PC and you can simply drag 'n' drop your digital content to the handheld rather than mess around with synchronised installs.
This 'Drive Mode' isn't the only Pocket PC-like feature. Version 5.4.5 of the Palm OS includes a new 'Today' screen, which summarises any imminent appointments, tasks and unread emails. There's also a Favorites menu option (mapped to the left quicklaunch button), plus a handy file manager application. While hardly revolutionary, they're all good improvements.
It's a shame that PalmOne couldn't delay the launch of the T5 to take advantage of the forthcoming OS 6.0, but the T5 is still crammed with useful software - the Blazer web browser and VersaMail will help you stay connected, RealPlayer and the Photo/Video viewer will enable you to view your digital content on the move.
Of course, there are some compromises. While the T5 features Bluetooth, it lacks any Wi-Fi, meaning you can't easily integrate it into a home network. There's an SDIO slot, which will support a wireless card in the future, but the T5 also lacks a voice recorder and there's no camera. The battery can keep the T5 up-and-running for close to five hours - hardly impressive.
True, it's a well-built, flexible PDA that takes the best of Palm's handhelds and combines them into a single model. But you can buy a Pocket PC with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for less.
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