Palm Tungstens feature navigation tool

Palm Inc. late last month unveiled two new handhelds under its Tungsten brand that introduce phone features and built-in support for the wireless technology Bluetooth to its lineup.

The debut of the Tungsten devices is part of an effort by Palm to realign its product offerings with separate lines for consumers and corporate customers, or so-called “power users.” Earlier in October, Palm released its Zire line of PDAs (personal digital assistants), which start at US$99 and are designed for entry-level consumers.

The Tungsten T is slimmer and more compact than previous handhelds from Palm. Sized at 4 inches by 3 inches, it can be extended another inch to expose a hidden Graffiti pad for inputting data with a stylus pen. It is priced at US$799 and will be available immediately, according to Palm Canada.

The Tungsten W, at US$549, features a thumb-sized keyboard and supports GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) to make voice calls and send and receive e-mail. Palm announced that Rogers AT&T Wireless was selected as the Canadian carrier to offer the device, although Canadian pricing was not immediately available. The company did say the devices would be available in the first quarter of 2003.

Both Tungsten devices feature Palm’s new five-way navigator, a dial on the face of each device that can be used to navigate the display with one hand. Both also sport 320-by-320 pixel, 16-bit color displays, 16MB of RAM (random access memory) and an SD (Secure Digital) drive.

The devices also are Palm’s first to include built-in support for Bluetooth. When they use the PDAs in conjunction with a Bluetooth mobile phone, users can browse the Web, send and receive e-mail and dial a phone number directly from the address book.

The Tungsten T is the first device from the company to make use of the latest version of the Palm operating system, Palm OS 5, and use the ARM Ltd. chip architecture now supported by Palm OS 5. It runs Texas Instruments Inc.’s OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform) 1510 chip, a 144MHz processor, which promises to offer better audio and video support, the company said.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company is using the previous version of the operating system and the long-used DragonBall 33MHz microprocessor for the Tungsten W.

“The focus in development was really on getting wireless connectivity and the application suite right with the Tungsten W,” said Anthony Armenta, a Palm product manager, defending the company’s decision not to use Palm OS 5 and the ARM chip architecture for the voice-and-data PDA. He noted that nearly 20 per cent of all Palm OS applications still don’t support the new operating system.

“(Palm OS 4.1) gives you the best compatibility with applications,” he said.

Theodore Babiak, a Toronto-based real estate agent with Royal LePage, has been using the Tungsten T for about a week and appreciates the ease with which Microsoft Word and Excel documents can be loaded onto the device, as well as the Adobe Acrobat reader software.

“I have home inspection reports for my listings, and it’s a really good feature to be able to carry this Palm around with the information on it rather than run around with as much paper. I’ve always wanted to lighten up my briefcase, and in this form-driven business, I see this as making my job much easier,” he said.

Babiak also noted improvements to the Tungsten’s screen and writing recognition, as compared with previous Palm releases.

The Tungsten line may face some stiff competition from the growing number of handheld makers that will be offering new models for the holiday shopping season, said Todd Kort, principal analyst with research company Gartner Inc.

Handspring Inc. last month slashed US$100 off the price of its Treo Communicator 180, a phone-PDA combination device with a black-and-white display, bringing its price down to US$249. Dell Computer Corp. and ViewSonic Corp. each have promised to release Pocket PC-based handhelds this month priced as low as US$249.

“With a US$500 price point, I think (Tungsten) is in trouble,” Kort said. “Dell is going to reset the market expectations for PDA pricing. I think the Tungsten product was conceived during a time when Dell’s entry was not anticipated.”

– IDG News Service, with files from Kristy Pryma

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