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PalmOne Tungsten T5

The best Palm yet?

PalmOne Tungsten T5Favorites' support for documents and web links ties in with the T5's second key new app, Files. Again, this has a dedicated application button. It's PalmOne's Finder or Windows Explorer, providing a listing of folders and files stored on the device. As Favorites also shows, PalmOne is aware that users want to access their information as files, not just as entries in an application's database.

And here we come to the T5's central feature. It's not the big screen (nice though that is) nor is it the device's big, 256MB memory (ditto). It's the partitioning of that memory into a regular Palm OS random access memory storage soup - 55MB of it - and a separate, hard disk-style 160MB storage space. This is a major step forward that paves the way for true HDD-based PDAs that are ready to compete with all the world's iPods and Portable Media Centers. Incidentally, the missing 41MB from the 256MB is a third partition that acts as the T5's ROM.

Storage, no matter how much of there is, is useless if the data is wiped when the power's lost, so PalmOne has equipped the T5 with Flash memory. Even the RAM area is Flash, as is the ROM space - though protected from accidental erasure - ensuring that if you forget to keep your PDA fully charged, or, like me, you go away for four weeks and leave it behind, you won't lose your data. However, unlike a hard drive, a hard reset will wipe not only the T5's 'RAM' but that 160MB Flash drive too.

There's a penalty to using Flash: application access times seem slower than before, a fact highlighted by the T5's benchmarks. But it marks the point at which HotSyncing to back up your information no longer becomes a necessity but something to do to keep PIM databases aligned. If you don't need to that, you can chuck the HotSync cradle into the back of a cupboard.

Well, you could if PalmOne supplied one. The T5 may be PalmOne's top-of-the-line model, but it doesn't come with a cradle. Instead, you get a neat, slimline HotSync cable.

There's another issue with Flash: it's longevity. Flash chips are rated by the number of times each cell can be written to before become unreliable. The T5's Flash is probably good for 100,000 writes. For a storage bank, that could mean years of use; for more rapidly changing system memory, a lot less. The last thing PalmOne wants are class action suits from T5 owners whose devices start crashing after a few years, so hopefully they will last beyond the working life of the device, just as the irremovable batteries in PalmOne PDAs do.

Speaking of batteries, the use of Flash means that unused sectors can be powered down to conserve the battery's charge. The T5 appears to have a large battery in any case, but I found it retains power much longer than my Tungsten E does, despite having Bluetooth turned on permanently and used frequently.

PalmOne Tungsten T5Some reports have suggested the T5's will trickle-charge over a USB 2.0 connection, but it didn't appear to do so for me. Certainly, when connected, the battery icon didn't say it was charging.

The reason I didn't mention downloading content earlier as a reason to HotSync is because PalmOne has essentially done away with that too. Spotting the growing use of USB Flash disks, it has rigged the T5 to work in the same way. it's not automatic - you have to run an app called Drive Mode - but the result is the same: the T5's internal drive area, plus any SD or MMC card you've got installed, mounts on your computer. It's far better than the old HotSync approach to downloading apps - just hook up the cable, run Drive Mode and drag your JPEGs, MP3s and .PRC files across.

Again, there are flaws. Mounting the T5 on a Mac allows Mac OS X's Finder to add its metafiles to the PDA's storage, but unlike Mark/Space's Missing Sync, which has offered this PDA mounting facility for some time, when you close the connection, Drive Mode doesn't erase at the .DS_store and other such files for you. I'd thoroughly recommend Missing Sync to all Mac owners who use Palm PDAs.

Photo and video content is ably handled by PalmOne's updated Media app, now providing tools to annotate pictures. Whole albums can be beamed or sent to other devices. Which begs the question: why, in this day and age, does the Palm OS maintain a distinction between 'beaming' (sending by infra-red) and 'sending (sending by any other means)? These are distinct features in Media and other Palm OS apps, but it's high time beaming was just an other option on Send... menus.

Audio playback comes courtesy of RealPlayer 1.6, with audio boosted by the T5's better acoustics, which provide a bassier, beefier sound.

Next page: Verdict

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