April 21st, 2005

PDA Pundit: A New Palm for the Unconnected

Sr. Editor Yardena Arar

The connected PDA may be the next big thing, but for hundreds of
thousands of people, the ability to easily access e-mail or browse the
Web from a handheld simply doesn't matter.

Did I say hundreds of thousands? Try nearly two million. That's how
many Tungsten E handhelds PalmOne has sold since the model, which
doesn't offer any wireless capabilities, was introduced in the fall of

No wonder: At $199, the E was the entry-level model in PalmOne's
business-friendly Tungsten line--as opposed to the more
multimedia-oriented Zire handhelds:

The E delivered a fair amount of bang for the buck, including a decent
color screen, a Secure Digital Card slot, and the latest versions of
the Palm address and datebook software.

Today, the E gets a slightly upscale sibling: the Tungsten E2. It's
not a major departure from the earlier model--why fix what isn't
broken?--but it does boast a few significant improvements, along with
a $50 price hike to $249.

First on PalmOne's list of noteworthy features is an improved display.
Indeed, in a side-by-side comparison, the E2's 320-by-320-pixel screen
looks brighter and more brilliant. But the E's screen, also 320 by
320, isn't chopped liver--and who goes around holding PDA screens side
by side? (If you do, you're probably eying a more upmarket handheld

A Good Memory

But I can identify a couple of more-useful selling points, chief among
them the addition of 32MB of flash memory--the type of memory that
doesn't forget your data, even if the device completely loses its
charge. This is the type of upgrade you'll appreciate if, like me, you
sometimes forget to charge your PDA.

Which brings us to another upgrade: the battery. PalmOne is saying the
E2's battery lasts at least twice as long as the E's between
charges--in part because it's a better battery and in part because the
nonvolatile flash memory doesn't require as much power. According to
PalmOne, the E2 should be able to play MP3s for 10 to 12 hours between
charges (versus 4 hours with the E). I haven't had the E2 long enough
to test this claim.

The E2 isn't quite as disconnected as its predecessor. PalmOne has
given it a Bluetooth radio so you can HotSync wirelessly to a
Bluetooth-equipped notebook, print to a Bluetooth printer, or connect
to the Internet via a Bluetooth mobile phone. If you'd like a better
connection, PalmOne will sell you an SD Wi-Fi adapter for $100 in
another month or so.

PalmOne has equipped the E2 with a good mix of software for work and
for play. The business apps include Palm's VersaMail e-mail client,
and DataViz's Documents to Go for working with Microsoft Word and
Excel documents and viewing PowerPoint presentations and PDFs. The fun
stuff includes RealNetworks' RealPlayer for listening to music, plus
the Klondike solitaire game. (Okay, Klondike isn't that much fun--but
it's fine for frittering away time in the waiting room.)

No Multitasking Miracle

The E2's specs are impressive, but in my admittedly brief hands-on
trial of the product, I noticed a few glitches. When I was listening
to MP3s stored on an SD card, the E2 would occasionally crash without
warning. I wondered if this was an overheating problem, but the unit
didn't seem particularly warm. Stay tuned.

Also, when I set the music to play in the background and then accessed
another application--Documents to Go, for example--I noticed some
stuttering. I suspect that the E2's 200-MHz Intel XScale processor
might not be robust enough to handle this sort of multitasking without
a hitch.

One other thing about playing music: The E2's speaker is on the back
of the unit, which makes it difficult to place it on a surface and
listen to some tunes. You end up smothering the audio.

Overall, I'd say the Tungsten E2 is a solid choice for business users
on a budget, but it falls somewhat short as a substitute for a decent
portable digital audio player. For that, you'll have to turn
elsewhere--for example, to our latest "Top 10 Audio Players" ranking:

For more Palm PDA news and reviews, browse PC World's Web site:

Have a question or comment? Write to Yardena Arar:
pdapundit at pcworld.com

Read Yardena Arar's regularly published "PDA Pundit" columns:

"Until last October, Christ had a very limited involvement in my life. I believed in God; I just never had to prove I believed. Belief is an absence of proof."
-- Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling

See More: PDA Pundit: A New Palm for the Unconnected - 04/21/2005