Wi-Fi in the Palm of Your hand

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Two recent products demonstrate Palm’s focus on delivering excellent value products for low and mid-range buyers. A bargain at $99, the Z22 delivers all the calendar and contact tools for which Palm is famous. The mid-range TX ($299) is a good all-around business and personal tool and the lowest-priced Palm ever to include Wi-Fi.

Along with Wi-Fi (802.11b), you’ll get Bluetooth (1.1), a decently fast 312-MHz Intel processor and 128MB of storage.

Palm is once again renaming its handhelds, and we hope it sticks with this system for a while. It’s dropping the Tungsten and Zire titles and going with initials. That makes the TX the successor to the Tungsten T5, which currently costs $50 more and offers more storage (256 MB to the TX’s 128 MB) and a faster processor (416 MHz). But the T5 doesn’t have built-in WiFi, a huge shortcoming.

Odds are that you’ll rarely run processor-intensive apps on your Palm and that you’ll never fill it up (and if you did, you could buy a storage expansion card). But checking e-mail is something you’ll want to do daily.

Looking Good
The Palm TX’s exterior doesn’t hold many surprises, just the standard Palm good looks. You’ll first notice the vibrant 320 x 480 high-resolution screen, which always looked crystal clear in our testing.

A row of buttons along the bottom of the TX lets you call up the Home screen (press it to switch between icon and list views), calendar, contacts and the Web browser. A five-way navigation button in the middle lets you move around or select items.

The TX comes with a flip-screen cover, which you attach to a slot on the left side of the handheld. It’s nice to have, although we wish the TX came with a fuller case with a belt clip.

The top of the TX holds the power button, 3.5mm stereo audio jack, Multimedia/SD/SDIO expansion card slot and stylus. The stylus is silver and elegant, but isn’t spring-loaded, like those of higher-priced models. The dock connector is on the bottom. We’re surprised that this unit doesn’t have a voice recorder. Perhaps that was one of the concessions Palm made to keep the unit so trim (it measures 4.76 x 3.08 x 0.61 inches and weighs only 5.25 ounces). We don’t miss it, but if you frequently take voice notes, you’ll want a different handheld.

Another concession is that this Palm doesn’t come with a cradle. It might be a small point, but we’d rather have the Palm standing at attention by our computer rather that lying down on the job. The TX simply comes with a USB sync cable.

Palm handhelds have always been known for ease-of-use, and the TX doesn’t disappoint. We love how easy it is to find a wireless connection with the TX’s software, for example. From the row of on-screen buttons along the bottom of the screen, select the Wi-Fi button (it looks like three signal strength bars).

When the Wi-Fi control panel comes up, simply click the Scan/Setup button to see all the wireless networks available to you. The results show the signal strength of each network as well as whether or not they’re secured (by WEP or WPA). That makes it easy for a traveler to find a strong, open connection — much easier than with a Windows Mobile device.

Software includes the Blazer Web client, which rendered pages quickly in our testing. We especially like its bookmarking controls, which give you large buttons to click for each bookmark, so that you won’t accidentally select the wrong one. The TX also comes with the Versa 3.1 mail client, which is easy to use and includes a short cut wizard that makes quick work of setting up accounts for all the popular e-mail systems.

The software bundle also includes PTunes (for listening to your MP3s), a media player for viewing pictures (even slideshows) and movies, the professional edition of DataViz Documents To Go 7 (for viewing and editing Office documents), an SMS application, a world clock, and Palm’s usual excellent bundle of calendar, contact, memo and to-do apps. It runs on the Palm OS 5.4.

We admire how the operating system makes controls easy to find. The on-screen row of buttons on the bottom of the screen gives access not only to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but it also lets you change the screen orientation between portrait and landscape, access pull-down menus and hide the on-screen text input area to get more viewing area.

PowerBattery life isn’t as good with the TX as we’d like. If you use it frequently, you’ll need to charge it every night. In standard use, we got between four and four and a half hours, but with Wi-Fi on we only got half that. Like other Palms, the TX warranty covers the hardware for one year and the OS and software for 90 days.

By including Wi-Fi in a mid-range handheld, Palm has made a great all-around performer. It’s small and light enough to carry in a shirt pocket, yet it has enough processing power and storage space to keep anyone happy.

People looking for a Palm that doubles as a music player will want the LifeDrive and people who want a phone built-in should look to Palm’s highly successful Treo line. The TX doesn’t have a built-in camera, as the Zire 72 does, and it lacks the Tungsten C’s voice recorder and QWERTY keyboard. But if you can do without those, we think the TX is an excellent choice.

Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.

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