Palm Tungsten T3 Review
The Palm Tungsten T3
was released on 1 October 2003.
With a new expandable
screen area, it embodies the 'state of the art' for Palm OS
My trusty but aged Palm III
suffered a broken screen during my last journey. Full of
excitement, I purchased a state of the art Tungsten T3,
expecting something vastly better, more polished, and perhaps
even simpler than the absolutely idiot-proof Palm III that had
been so useful for so long.
Alas, the new unit has
sacrificed some of the brilliant intuitive simplicity of the
earlier models, in favor of adding more features and
Should you Choose a Palm or
Microsoft OS based PDA?
Your most important choice,
when choosing a handheld computer, is whether to select one that
uses the Palm or the Microsoft OS.
After various early and
unsuccessful attempts by various companies at creating a truly
useful handheld (PDA), Palm took over and redefined the market
for PDAs with its fairly limited but completely 'idiot proof'
devices that people found simple and functional.
After some years of
virtually unchallenged market dominance (with as much as a 90%
share), Palm came under attack by Windows CE powered devices
about three years ago and has been losing market share ever
since. Palm weakly responded to Microsoft's marketing behemoth
by licensing other companies to use its OS. Microsoft repeatedly
enhanced its CE product and its latest version has the unwieldy
name of 'Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC'; Palm's latest
version is simply called Palm OS 5.2.1.
These days Palm still has
the larger market share - indeed, it claims to have 72%, and
suggests MS has only 15%. Contradicting that is a Gartner Group
study that suggests, in 2000, Palm had 66%, Microsoft 12% and
Symbian 4%. Gartner go own to report that, in late 2003, Palm's
share had dropped to 52% and Microsoft's had risen to 36%.
Whatever the actual shares
may be, it seems definite that Palm is steadily losing market
share to the MS platformed products, and most commentators
expect to two systems to have equal market share within the next
Some people prefer the Palm
OS and others the Microsoft OS, which is based on the same
interface concept as regular Windows. Modern Palm units seem to
be essentially as compatible with Office and other Windows
applications as are the MS powered units, and it is hard to
declare a clear winner in terms of underlying OS
Although not a consideration
in my case, Palm based units are available for as little as $79
for an entry level unit, whereas MS platform products seem to
start at about $200.
One of the main benefits of
the Palm OS has been its rich wealth of addon programs,
developed by thousands of developers around the world. Although
the MS operating system is building an increasing range of addon
programs, there still seem to be considerably more programs for
Palm PDAs available (Palm claim over 13,000 programs have been
written for the Palm OS platform compared to only 1600 for
Some people suggest the Palm
OS is more robust and less likely to crash than the Windows OS,
and requires less processing power to work quickly. Some people
also suggest that the Palm OS is easier to learn and use.
My decision to get another
Palm based PDA was primarily based on the desire to transfer my
data from the Palm III to the new T3, saving me the need to
otherwise rekey it all.
What You Get for Your Money
The unit has a list price of
$399, and in the box comes the following items :
The Tungsten T3 complete with
installed Lithium Ion battery (worryingly, there seems no
way to replace the battery when it has worn out).
A ridiculously heavy and
bulky mains charger which only works on US voltage, not
international 220-240 volts.
A synch/charge cradle with
A protective cover for the
screen that had no instructions for how to affix to the T3
and took five frustrating minutes to fit (this is essential
to protect the fragile screen from damage). The protective
cover just rests lightly on top of the screen - nothing
holds it in place, and conceivably it could get dislodged or
damaging items could come between it and the screen when
carrying it in a briefcase.
Stickers with instructions on
how to use the Graffiti data-entry system (but where can
they be stuck - there's nowhere on the unit large enough!).
CDrom with software.
A Getting Started Guide (very
inadequate, and there is no regular printed manual or User
The T3 (with protective
cover) is the same thickness as my earlier Palm III, but is a
little narrower and shorter. It weighs about the same.
What's New and Special about
the Tungsten T3
Of course the answer to this
depends partially on what you're comparing it to. The most
notable features of the T3 include :
Larger color screen with
320x480 resolution and 64k colors, which can be used in
either portrait or landscape mode at the touch of a button
(earlier Palm units were 160x160 monochrome, other color
units are 320x320)
connectivity (but not Wi-Fi) (See our report that
Bluetooth is and how it works)
Fast 400 MHz processor (but
processor speed has almost never been a limiting factor with
Large 64MB of built in memory
standard (of which about 51MB is available for data or
programs to start with; after loading various applications
and data, I'm now down to 40MB free)
Audio (voice or music) and
video playback, audio recording
New 'improved' handwriting
recognition (seems to be just different rather than
improved) and the ability to write in text anywhere on the
screen rather than just in the text entry area
Setting Up the Unit
The last couple of cell
phones I've purchased have come with a pre-charged fully powered
battery. Not so the Palm T3 - I had to wait two hours while the
battery charged up before using it.
I carefully followed through
the instructions in the 'Read this First' guide. After charging
the T3, I installed the software onto my PC, and came across the
first problem. The instructions referred to an option that was
not offered to me in the installation process!
Things then started to fall
apart. At the apparent completion of the installation, I was
told to reboot the computer. So I rebooted the computer and
removed the CDrom. Only many hours later, when spending an hour
getting help from Palm's support people, did I discover that
this was a mistake. You have to leave the CDrom in, because,
after the reboot, it then proceeds to load more programs! Yuck.
Although only released a
month ago, several of the programs already have essential
updates/fixes that need to be downloaded from Palm's support
Data entry is an unavoidable
weakness on these small units. You have two main ways of
entering data. A simple click on a menu chooses between
presenting a miniature typewriter keyboard on the screen which
you then can tap on using the stylus to enter your data.
Alternatively, learning the handwriting recognition program
(called 'Graffiti 2') is surprisingly simple because most
letters are written exactly as you would in real life allows you
then to simply write on the screen the words you want to enter.
The text is recognized and stored as you enter it.
I have found that, after
getting familiar with the new style Graffiti 2 (the Palm III
used the original Graffiti program which is 95% the same, but
annoyingly, also 5% different) I could enter data more quickly
and easily with Graffiti than with the miniature keyboard.
If you're going to be doing
more intensive data entry, then one of the external add-on
keyboards is what you need. These are available for $70-100 and
connect either by plugging directly into the base of the T3 or
via the IR port. These keyboards typically fold into halves or
even quarters, making them small and easy to carry when not
Not yet available, but very
useful, would be a Bluetooth keyboard connection, giving more
Battery Life and Recharging
My old Palm III would last
anywhere from one to three months on a pair of alkaline AAA
batteries. The new T3 has a built in rechargeable Lithium
Polymer battery, and battery life can be as low as 2 hours of
continuous use. Palm itself suggests recharging on a daily basis
if you've got the Bluetooth switched on, and says it should last
for five days of typical usage with default brightness settings
and no Bluetooth.
I used up 50% of a full
battery charge, according to the battery power meter, during the
course of my experimentations the first day I had the unit.
Plainly you're going to have
to ensure that you always have access to some way of recharging
the unit, for fear of finding yourself with a dead battery and
It seems that there are some
adjustments to the unit that can be done with third party
software to extend battery life by way of, eg, dimming the
screen automatically, but even with all such 'hacks' installed,
battery life remains very short.
My small multi-voltage Nokia
3650 cellphone charger weighs 2.5 ounces. The bulky Palm charger
weighs a ridiculous 13 oz, and only works on US 110V power. This
is unacceptably bad design.
Help is at hand. Palm
sell a lighter weight multi-voltage charge for $30. Yes - I
will ask the obvious question : Why was the multi-voltage and
lighter weight charger not included as standard? Penny pinching
greed on the part of Palm interferes with the essential
operation of the unit.
In addition, a nifty gadget
that is a combination synch and power cable that can take power
either from a computer's USB port or from a car cigarette
lighter is also for sale, for $25. This would be my preferred
solution for power when away from the office.
Note also that with the
typical life of a Lithium battery being 500 rechargings, it
seems that the battery will need replacing within a couple of
years of heavy use. There is no way to do this at present.
Apple recently suffered a
barrage of negative publicity for requiring purchasers of its
iPod MP3 devices to buy a complete new iPod when its battery
died, and in response, introduced a battery replacement program.
Perhaps we need to orchestrate a similar internet uprising
against Palm to encourage them to offer a similar program!
Compatibility with MS Office
and older Palm Files
I looked at my new T3, then
at my computer. How to get a word document file from the
computer to the T3? Or how to create an Excel spreadsheet on the
T3 and send it to the computer? This was actually amazingly
easy. I did both of these with no problems at all (using Office
2002 on my main computer).
Now for the main reason I
chose another Palm unit - using all the information I had
already loaded on my older Palm III. There were two ways I could
transfer this to the new T3 - either by beaming it across, or by
simply importing the data files and hot synching it. Both
methods worked quickly and easily.
Bluetooth and Internet
The T3 can connect via
range wireless networking to other Bluetooth equipped
devices. I also have a Nokia 3650 Bluetooth equipped phone, and
so connected to that, quickly and without many problems.
Having confirmed that the
two devices could talk to each other, I then tried to find out
what this connectivity could be used for. The T3 could be used
as an auto-dialer for the phone, but doing this was more hassle
than simply using the phone book in the phone itself.
The 3650 could send photos
to the T3, but having done that, there was not much further use
Something that seemed more
interesting was connecting to the internet from the T3, via
Bluetooth and the 3650, using the GPRS connectivity built in to
the phone. I carefully followed through all the steps to make
this work, and, with everything apparently successfully
completed, tried to do some web browsing.
I got a puzzling 'time out'
message and strange error code. It wouldn't work. See my
attempts at resolving it below in the section on user support.
Another application is to
send SMS messages from the T3 through the 3650, making use of
its more convenient and faster data entry than that allowed
through the phone pad of the phone. I sent a test SMS message
which seemed to go through perfectly, although surprisingly no
record of it was stored on the 3650, just on the T3.
Bluetooth can also be used
to connect to other devices such as laptops, headsets, printers,
and who knows what else. It is a technology with a lot of
potential, but little actual implementation at this time.
In theory, it is possible to
use Bluetooth so that your phone is lying in your pocket or
briefcase or desk drawer, you have a Bluetooth headset on one
ear, and then you control everything from your T3 (or other
Bluetooth PDA). This concept is not yet fully supported,
although for simple phone calling (ie no three way calling,
calls on hold, etc) it can work.
For more information
on what Bluetooth is and how it works, visit our special report
The T3 has both a miniature
web browser program and also an email client that can be used
once it has established a web connection through a cellphone.
Several times I came across
things that I couldn't understand and which didn't seem to be
documented. So, first of all, I looked for any type of Help file
on the T3.
I couldn't find one! Sure,
there is some documentation that is loaded onto the main
computer that synchronizes with the T3, but apparently - as best
I can see - nothing on the T3 itself. This is unacceptable in
the extreme. With the complexity of programs, many of which a
typical user will only occasionally use, interactive help is
essential, especially because much of the time the T3 will be
used away from its supporting main computer.
I next looked for a phone
number that I could call. Nowhere could I find one in the T3.
The unit came preloaded with a phone book entry for technical
support; with my old Palm III, this showed a phone number. With
the new T3, it showed only a website - an annoyingly useless
piece of information much of the time.
None of the other printed
material supplied with the unit disclosed a phone number,
either. Eventually from their website I found a long distance
(rather than toll-free) number for technical support. Palm
provides 90 days of free support and then charges $25 per call.
After 13 minutes wait on hold I was connected to a helpful
I asked for help on how to
browse the internet through my Nokia 3650. 59 minutes later, he
determined that - even though they showed the ability to use
T-Mobile GPRS to connect to the internet, the T3 in fact don't
actually support this and so I could not connect to the
internet, other than using my phone as a regular (9600 baud)
dial up modem. This is very disappointing and 9600 baud is
almost completely disfunctionally slow.
The next time I called
support I was on hold for 21 minutes before being transferred to
a support agent. Alas, I was then cut off during the transfer,
and had to call in again and wait another 20 minutes! However,
my perseverance paid off. This second person contradicted the
first person, and quickly showed me how to get my T3 talking via
Bluetooth and the Nokia 3650 and out to the internet. Brilliant!
One of the other gadgets I
always travel with is a small pocket dictaphone. The T3 has a
built in digital voice recorder, with a capacity of about 200
minutes of voice recording, which can be increased by the
addition of an extra memory card (I'm guessing that each MB of
memory holds about 4 minutes of voice recording, so a 64MB
memory card would add just over 4 hours of extra recording
Unfortunately the sound
quality is unacceptably poor and there is no way to edit
recorded files - you can't add to an already recorded note, and
there are no buttons to fast forward or reverse through a note
either. I guess I will need to continue carrying the pocket
recorder with me.
Additional memory cards
(either Secure Digital or MMC) can be plugged in with
capacities, currently, up to 2GB.
The unit can also be used as
an MP3 player, although with its short battery life, this is not
a very practical application if you're far away from a power
There is a fancy 'World
Time' clock included, but this was disappointing. You are
required to specify your local time zone and city, but only a
very limited number of cities are available to choose from. And
so, here I am in the Seattle area, with a T3 that insists I am
in San Francisco.
The unit accepts a growing
range of expansion and accessory cards - for example, a
moderately high resolution camera looks like a fun toy to add.
Some external devices can also be connected via Bluetooth - for
example, a GPS receiver.
In addition to these
hardware goodies, one of the great benefits of choosing a Palm
OS based PDA is its huge library of extra software. All manner
of different programs exist, and usually at very low price. Here
are three sites -
Pilot Archives and
that have a wide range of programs. Many others also exist.
Palm brilliantly proved that
'less is more' with their early model PDAs. Easy to use units
providing a simple set of easily understood programs were
quickly accepted by potential users, who had no difficulty in
getting full value from their units.
Since those early days, PDAs
have inexorably become more and more feature laden, while cost
savings seem to have reduced the amount of support material
provided with each unit.
The net result is that a
modern fully featured PDA such as the Palm Tungsten T3 has
become complicated to configure and to use, while being more
poorly documented. The net result - it is no longer as
intuitive, even when used only for its basic core functions.
However, the same can be
said for Windows Pocket PC based handheld computers as well.
New color screens and faster
processors have also severely reduced battery life, increasing
the need to regularly recharge the unit and making it more
difficult to take it, alone and without a recharger, away from
In terms of specific added
business functionality - compared to my five year old Palm III -
there is nothing clearly apparent to justify an upgrade. In
terms of 'gee whiz' things that are not essential (such as color
screen and Bluetooth) there are a number of tempting new
features, but unless you're one of those people that simply must
have every new gadget as soon as it comes out, you're probably
best advised to stay with your present PDA and hope that the
next generation will have even more functionality and an
improved user interface.
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7 Nov 2003, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.