Garmin iQue M3 Review

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Garmin M3 GPS-enabled PocketPC, a followup to the older M5, sacrifices certain of its predecessor's features in exchange for a much more palatable price tag. We find out whether the trade off was worth it.

Design and Construction

In an aesthetic sense, the M3 is bland. It's utilitarian enough that it should fit in alright in a variety of vehicles without either looking garish or looking too drab, which is certainly what Garmin was going for.
In a functionality sense, the M3 is still bland. It's designed for one thing, to do it well, and to do it without many frills. No unneccessary buttons or features, no fancy addons--all you need is five buttons, the standard jacks and ports, and a screen.

Although the icon on the bottom right button resembles a standard power icon, it's actually a stylized Q, denoting the button for the QueMap application. While this app automatically launches when you turn on the GPS, the button is available in case, you get lost on the Today screen, I suppose. The real power button is in the top center.
Sitting on the back of the device is the panel antenna that serves the GPS reciever. As soon as you unlatch this, by sliding down the switch seen on the upper right, it automatically activates the GPS and launches the navigator application. Close the flip, and it turns the GPS off, easy as could be asked. That's just about the most flashy hardware feature that you're likely to find on the M3.

Processor

Despite being only 312 MHz, the M3's processor is quite suitable for GPS applications. In navigational use, slowdowns only occur when doing searches or changing the map zoom. Finding a particular address or listing points-of-interest can be somewhat lengthy, as much as six or seven seconds depending on how much it's searching. Depending on the level of zoom, it can also sometimes take several seconds for the system to render the map again. But at the zoom levels that you'd normally use when driving, the redraws take only a few fractions.

The relatively low processor speed does mean that the M3 is somewhat less suited to high-end activities such as video, action games, and other uses that require a lot of bit-sorting.

Operating System

The M3 runs on Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, slightly modified to accomodate Garmin's needs. The top system bar now includes a GPS satellite icon to indicate whether the reciever is on or off, and whether or not it has a lock. Tapping this brings up a small status panel, showing available memory, battery power, backlight, and running programs. This, along with Garmin's navigation software and GPS utility installed in the device ROM, there's not much remarkable about the M3's OS.

Garmin will not be offering an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5.0 for the M3. The hardware isn't designed for it, and it would provide relatively little benefit to this sort of device.

Display

Despite the resolution being considerably lower than the other two devices I've been using lately (my VGA Axim and a HVGA Palm TX) the M3's screen is sharp and clear. When it's installed in a vehicle, the M3 tends to be a little farther away from you than if you were holding it in your hand, which helps reduce the visibility of jagged edges. It's extremely bright, which makes it easily visible even when you're driving in the daytime.

Memory

Of the Garmin's 64 MB of main RAM, 47 MB is available to the user. This is further split between program memory and storage memory, leaving roughly 23 MB available for each. Plenty for navigation and a few programs, though you'll have to have a memory card anyway to store more and a handful of maps.

The 32 MB of flash memory is almost entirely occupied by the operating system, leaving only 2.1 MB of free flash for the user. With so little to spare, I have to wonder why Garmin even bothered with providing it to the user

Size & Weight

Despite it's relatively large length and thickness, the M3 feels surprisingly light. It's not actually that light, since it's just shy of 6 ounces, but the profile and the construction make it feel less massive than a more dense machine.

Expansion

A single SDIO slot mounted on the top of the device provides room for additional memory and/or wireless connectivity options such as WiFi and Bluetooth.

Docking

For desktop use, the M3 doesn't include a cradle, opting instead for a simple AC adapter and USB sync cable. Instead, it invests in an automotive cradle. Unlike most car mounts, based on a gooseneck design, the M3's mount has a series of rotating interlocked pieces which allow you to angle and tilt the display however it's most convenient for you. I opted to place it on the forward area of the driver's side window.

I was actually impressed by the M3's car mount. Most suction-cup mounts I've seen have a tendancy to give way after being attached for a while, but this one didn't flinch. Even with it attached to a window in the car's driver-side door, enduring the jolts of being opened and closed, it steadfastly held on as long as I left it there.

Communication

Unlike its more expensive sibling, the M5, the M3 has no built-in wireless capabilities. If you want to add connectivity of any kind, you'll need to use the SDIO slot. With only 49 MB of internal memory available, the best candidate for this is Sandisk's 256 MB WiFi combo card, which provides both storage and communication in a single package.

Audio

Being designed for in-car navigation, the M3 comes with a wonderfully loud internal speaker for shouting directions over the noise of engines, people, or what have you. While all that volume is probably neccessary for city driving, I usually turned it down a bit. When you're just driving silently along, or sitting quietly in a parking lot, it can be quite startling to hear a mechanical voice say "LOST SATELLITE LOCK!" In any event, I don't imagine that you'll lack for being able to hear the M3 when it gives you and order.

Battery

For much of the M3's use, it would presumably reside in its car cradle, being fed a continuous stream of power from the vehicle. In this sense, for its primary purpose its battery life is almost irrelevant. However, many people may use it for hiking, cycling, , or other "unplugged" activities. Although Garmin advertises 5 to 7 hours of use away from a power supply, real-world experience shows that the battery life will be somewhat less.

For GPS use, the reciever was left on, backlight at 100%, and the device used for navigation and POI searches.

For PDA testing, the backlight was set to roughly 25%, and ordinary low-impact activities performed, such as PIM, light games, and book reading.

GPS

For those who aren't familiar with the Global Positioning System, a quick outline. The main body of the Global Positioning System, also called NAVSTAR, is a network of around 24 satellites, built and maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense. These satellites sit in a complex series of orbits which guarantee that at least four satellites will be in line-of-sight from any location on Earth, at any time of the day or night. These satellites are equipped with a radio and an atomic clock, and continually broadcast their own location as well as the time of their transmission. Using this extremely precise information, a radio receiver on the ground can use several satellites to triangulate the receiver's location almost anywhere in the world. With a lock on four satellite signals, a receiver can calculate its location in three dimensions: latitude, longitude, and altitude. A 12 channel receiver such as the M3 can hold a lock on up to 12 different satellites at once, providing extra precision and insurance against the loss signal from certain satellites. Originally designed for military use, the NAVSTAR system is now broadly used by civilian interests all around the world.

The M3 also features support for enhancements to the standard GPS network. The Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS, was designed to reduce GPS margin of error by up to 80%, using additional satellites that sit over the continental United States to broadcast corrections for the rest of the NAVSTAR system. The net result is that the margin of error for a GPS reciever that uses WAAS is about 3 meters, compared to 15 meters for a receiver without it. Most higher-end GPS receivers feature WAAS, including many Bluetooth models. Because of the stationary nature of the WAAS satellites, these corrections only work within the continental United States, southern Alaska, and parts of Canada. A similar system called EGNOS, which the M3 also supports, is in place for Europe.

So what does all this translate into in real terms? Well, quite a lot. The end result is that a GPS enabled device such as the M3 can locate your exact position on the planet to less than 9.8 feet, 99.95% of the time. For a device primarily meant for car navigation, such as the M3, 9.8 feet is an almost meaningless margin of error. This allows it to display your location, and the roads around you, in accurate and smooth-scrolling representation, perfectly following you as you make a turn or continue past the side street.

Of course, while the M3 is primarily road-navigation oriented, it's not exclusively so. Garmin's included maps and application only support roadways, but third-party add-on programs can provide maps for hiking, boating, and even air travel.

In field testing, my main point of comparison against the M3 was my Bluetooth GPS receiver, a Dell-branded DConnex BT-308 which also features 12-channel reception and WAAS correction.

Most of the time I experienced no noticible difference in tracking. There were a few notable exceptions though. Three times--twice in a parking lot, and once in my driveway at home--the M3 lost its satellite fix for no reason that I could discern: it simply dropped. Going under a bridge caused the M3 to momentarily stutter in its tracking, catching up several seconds later. In none of the former instances did my Bluetooth GPS indicate a change in lock status, or fail to track my movement. Pulling into a garage with a metal roof promptly caused both receivers to drop their locks, but this is hardly unexpected.

Of course, having the location data is only half the battle. The rest is displaying it, mapping it, and using it to provide navigational aid.

The QueNav application that's built into the M3 has strengths and weaknesses. It's a good application for navigating. Even if you don't have a route programmed, it will tell you exactly where you are, what roads are coming up, nearby locations, etcetera. It's not great if you want to look at a map. You can't pan the map display, you can't zoom into a different area, and you can't perform functions such as tracing the distance between two points. You can search for addresses, but not tap on them. Overall, while the software works as advertised, it's not something that I would use to replace another mapping program such as TomTom or Mapopolis, or even a conventional paper map.

As with almost any mapset, there are a few noticible errors. Certain establishments are missing from the points-of-interest database. For instance, under the category of Chinese food, it lists the New China restaurant on North Main Street near the bank, but not the Ho Ho China Buffet farther up N. Main in the old Ames plaza. It didn't bother me too much--I don't really like Chinese food. After turning onto Curtis Road, the M3 spent several minutes insisting that I was on Cherry Street before it caught on to reality.

Altogether, the M3 is about as good of a "pure" navigational system as you can get out of the box, though it has room to be improved. A more map-styled viewing mode would be apprecciated, as would a simplified points-of-interest search. But if your primary concern is a flexible, high-end GPS navigation device, the M3 is a contender.

Conclusion

The M3 serves well in the arena for which it was designed. Outside its niche, it's lacking for the more advanced features found in other devices. In the end, it comes down to an exercise in what features matter the most, and what you're willing to give up to goet them.

Pros:

* Integrated GPS
* Good accessories
* Reasonable price

Cons:

* Marginal handheld features

Bottom Line

The M3 makes for a solid and reasonably reliable GPS navigation system, though it's less suited for more than basic handheld computing functions.

PalmOne Treo 650 Review

Monday, December 19, 2005

I don't care what anyone says about the Treo 650's memory issues, lack of WiFi support, limited Bluetooth functionality, poor sound quality, dialing delays or the fact that it's only available on Sprint PCS. It's the still the best Smartphone on the market. Mobile business professionals who want an integrated device should look no further, especially if your organization uses Microsoft Exchange for email and calendaring.

It's no secret that palmOne created an evolutionary device with the Treo 650, rather than a revolutionary one. They've been criticized at length for taking this course of action, but what business and government wants is stability and progressive enhancements. Organizations are still just now adopting the Treo 600, so a massive shift would probably have hurt palmOne more than it would have helped, and we all know palmOne doesn't need any more bad press. Overall I really like the Treo 650, but this review won't be glowing. palmOne has done very well in many areas, but there's plenty of room for improvement with the next model.

Due to the length of this review we have included below a table of contents so you can jump to a particular section you are most interested in.

The 650 features both dedicated phone answer and hang up buttons, the latter doubling as the power button and force to sleep button. There are also dedicated home, menu, calendar and email buttons. Noticeably absent from a wireless device is a button to launch the web browser, but there's only so much space available. Surrounded by these buttons is the slightly smaller D-pad with action button in the center. All of the buttons feel solid and the D-pad is extremely functional; I think it's even better now that it's smaller. People with smaller thumbs will probably be able to navigate the device with one hand a little bit easier now.

Underneath these keys is the revised keyboard. The Treo 600 keyboard was either good or terrible, largely depending on whether or not you ever used a Treo 300. I still contend the Treo 300 offered the best integrated keyboard, except perhaps the BlackBerry devices it was licensed from. The 600 was much more cramped and palmOne tried to do something about that. The keys are slightly larger and fanned up on the corners, something that is becoming very popular with notebook PCs. The little extra size in the keys makes a noticeable difference over the Treo 600. Women or people with long fingernails will still probably be frustrated with the tiny keys, but in most cases this new alignment will be appreciated. The keyboard is very responsive, providing a nice tactile click when depressed.

The keyboard features 35 keys. Most keys have multiple functions that can easily be accessed by a blue function button on the left, the Alt button, or shift keys in both lower corners. The space bar is large, though the enter key could be a touch bigger and should have a different treatment than the very similar backspace key above it.

The Treo 650 memory is a love hate sort of thing. palmOne made a smart move by adding non-volatile memory. That means when the Treo loses power, the memory will not be wiped out. But at the same time, they only made 23.7 MB available to the user, which stores some files less efficiently than the Treo 600, resulting in less net storage space. palmOne has resolved the situation by providing users who request it with a free 128MB memory card. They think the memory can be used more efficiently with a software patch, but at this time, no patch is available.

It's really a shame that this is even an issue. After determining that business users would rather have more memory than WiFi in the Tungsten T5; there is no reasonable explanation for why the Treo 650 got such a raw deal in the memory department. While it's true that many users will find the memory ample for all their contacts, email and a few games, it's really not enough for moderate to power users. I maxed out the RAM with 6 applications in addition to what comes pre-installed. Of course programs can be installed to the Secure Digital card slot, but taking cards in and out is a pain and they're hard to keep track of.

For light users, the memory isn't going to be a problem at all, but anyone who was busting at the seems with a Treo 600, is going to be in a worse position now. The memory issue is the most significant Treo 650 blunder in my view and sadly one that can't really be improved on, short of a removable memory card. While it's not a deal killer, it's a mistake that simply should not have been made. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to be removed from the planning team for future devices.

The Treo 650 is currently only available in a CDMA (800/1900 MHz) model on the Sprint PCS network. At some point in 2005 palmOne is expected to release a GSM/GRPS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) model. Both models will operate the same way, they'll simply connect to the voice and data networks a little differently. In addition to the mobile phone/data connection, the Treo 650 also offers Bluetooth and Infrared. Sadly WiFi is not included and is currently not able to be added via the Secure Digital slot. There is a hack in process that will allow this and palmOne will surely officially support WiFi via the SD slot at some point, but it took them many months to figure it out for the Tungsten T3, so I wouldn't hold my breath.

Mobile Phone/Data

The Treo 650 sparkles as a phone, but really shines as a data device, thanks to Sprint's speedy data network. Downloading 20-30 entire emails through VersaMail is fast and reliable, at least 100 times faster than doing the same on a Tungsten T5 with a Bluetooth connection to a mobile phone with T-Mobile. This fact is the single most important issue with the Treo 650 I believe, and the one that should be the lynchpin that will seal many prospective buyers.

The phone in the 650 is pretty good, but a few software bugs prevent it from being great. For one, any time you dial out of the call log or phone book, there is a delay of up to five seconds before the call is attempted. Making a call by entering the number manually doesn't have this problem, so I can only assume it's a software communication bug that can probably be fixed with, yes another patch.

Another fun issue is that you can't hang up on a single call if you have two that are active. For instance, if you re talking to Person A, and Person B calls you. If you answer Person B's call, there is no way to hang up on just one of the calls. The hang up software button is replaced with one that only lets users kill all calls. I'm sure this too can be repaired, but it's another on the list of annoying issues that shouldn't happen.

As far as dialing, numbers can be directly entered, selected from an email (which is a small but very nice feature), selected from the call log or picked off the contact list. Selecting a number from the phone book is a major pain. Even if you have 50 people with two phone numbers each, it takes three clicks with the d-pad to get to the second person on the list. There is paging using the stylus, or you can type in the first few characters of either the first or last name and the list will filter down. I prefer the way many traditional mobile phones present the information, letting the user first select the person then the phone number to call. This is a usability issue that concerns me as I think it takes longer than in should to access a phone number, especially one handed.

The call log stores call data for seemingly every call I've ever made. New contact records can be created right out of the log, an "add contact" button will appear next to numbers that are not in your contact list already. It won't let you append a new number to an existing contact though, a nice feature in the future perhaps. The call log also defaults to cancel, so to browse numbers another key press has to take place first. Again, dialing out of the call log is laggy, but will likely be fixed at some point.

From the phone program, users can also quickly launch applications. There are four quick buttons to get to contacts, call log, voicemail and web. Paging down opens up several more choices; including 48 slots for speed dial entries or shortcuts to applications, documents, etc.

Aside from the annoyances, which I think can be relatively easily repaired, and the lack of voice dialing, the phone is pretty solid. The data is the real winner here though. I'll be interested to see how the data networks of other carriers stack up, but on Sprint PCS, the Treo 650 has been a pleasure. I'll actually be much more sad to give it up than I thought I would be.

Bluetooth

The Bluetooth 1.1 integration in the Treo 650 is a huge improvement over the Treo 600. Sprint has muffled the usefulness a little bit though by disabling the dial-up networking feature. This essentially means that notebook owners with Bluetooth can't use the Treo 650 as a modem. Clearly Sprint is trying to for notebook users into buying an air card with its own data plan. An understandable goal, but it only upsets people and a hack was released to work around this problem within a week of the Treo 650 being released.

The Treo 650's Bluetooth does support headsets though, which is great. Using the wizard, I easily paired with my Sony Ericsson HBH 65. The connection between the headset and the Treo 650 is much faster than between the headset and my Sony Ericsson K700i. The quality of the connection is much worse though. I had bad static at even short distances. Other Treo 650 owners that I've talked with also have similar issues with Jabra's Bluetooth headset. I can only hope that the radio strength can be resolved with a software patch in the future.

Aside from the headset connection, the Bluetooth can be used to sync the Treo 650 with a Bluetooth enabled PC. There's a handy little wizard to set up the pairing with instructions on allowing Bluetooth sync on the PC. Users that are not familiar with Bluetooth might be a little confused with setting up the serial connection, there's little support for this. The sync process is slow going, as one might expect, but it's substantially faster than syncing over IR and of course there are no wires needed.

The integrated Bluetooth is a smart addition to the Treo line, something that greatly increases the usability of the device. If the quality of the radio can be improved with software, all the better, but it's not so bad that the Bluetooth hurts the Treo 650. If it's a hardware issue, it definitely needs to be addressed next time around.
The Treo 650 is a good phone and a great data device. I suspect, thanks to the Exchange license, that palmOne will be able to convert a lot of potential BlackBerry buyers. I'm disappointed with the testing of the Treo 650 and some of the bone headed decisions and inconsistencies from the Tungsten T5, which are targeted at a similar audience. Overall though, palmOne does enough right and most of their issues can likely be fixed with a patch, or resolved with self-help third party hacks.

Perhaps the best thing going for the Treo 650 is the competition, which is generally pretty poor and misguided. The Treo easily towers above the competition, including devices that cost much more. There's no doubt palmOne built on the success of the Treo 600, without taking many risks along the way. Hopefully the next iteration will continue the evolution in a little less time.

Pros
Exchange integration
Clear and bright display
Fast Sprint data rates
Good application integration
Very good keyboard

Cons
Poor QA testing by palmOne
No WiFi support
Limited built-in memory

Bottom Line
Even with the numerous shortcomings, I really like the Treo 650. It's the best Smartphone on the market and the ultimate business tool.

Torq P100 Review

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The Torq P100 is another entry into the Windows Mobile Smartphone market, which could use some more quality products. The Torq P100 is an updated version of the ETEN M500, designed for the North American market. You're not going to see this at any mainstream stores or mobile phone carriers even. At the moment it's available through Sound Solutions, the US distributor for Torq. But just because it's hard to find, that doesn't mean it's not worth the search. My boss at work has an older T-Mobile PPC Phone and spent most of my review period drooling over this one.



In the Box

* Device Cradle
* Manual & Quick Guide CDs
* Leather Case
* Headset
* AC Adapter
* Battery Pack
* Stylus


Specs

* Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Pocket PC Phone Edition Operating System
* SDIO card slot
* Digital Camera 1.3 mega pixel, SXGA 1280x960
* GSM quad-band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz,GPRS Class B / Multi-slot 10
* Bluetooth Communications
* Interface/Data IrDA
* USB Sync
* Power jack
* 2.5mm headset jack
* Microphone
* Speaker phone
* Battery Li-Ion, 1440 mAH, rechargeable, replaceable
* Display 2.8", 240 x 320, 65,536 colors TFT LCD w/ Touch Panel
* Memory 128 MB Flash RAM, 64 MB SDRAM
* Processor Samsung 2440A 400 MHz, 32-bit RISC processor

Conclusion

This is a well designed Smartphone in a small package. If you don't need a unit with integrated keyboard, it's going to be hard to beat the P100 in terms of size, execution and quality. It is missing WiFi, which is a downer, but that still doesn't hurt it enough to not recommend it. If you need a small Smartphone that's well done right now, there's no reason to avoid the P100. When they add WiFi, Windows Mobile 5 and a better camera, it will be a fantastic product.

Pros

* Well designed
* Bluetooth
* Large Memory

Cons

* No Wifi
* Old OS
* Poor flash
* Not widely distributed

PDA Review Blog Site Map


HP iPAQ 6515 Review
Palm Treo 650 Review
Garmin iQue M3 Review
PalmOne Treo 650 Review
Torq P100 Review
Palm Tungsten T5 Review

PalmOne's new Tungsten T5 has had a somewhat rough start. Greeted with disbelief by Palm loyalists, and run aground on a rocky release, the newest member of PalmOne's high-end handheld family struggles to find its place.

Design and Construction


The T5 is based off the design of the Tungsten|E. The abhorrent plastic casing of the TE is gone, replaced by a case which--while still plastic--is of infinitely higher quality than its predecessor. The new casing is a darker, harder plastic, steely gray in color, with a lot more strength and appeal thant the T|E ever had. I'm very glad that PalmOne used a good casing--if they had used the same one as on the TE, I would have had to invent a new word for flabbergasting insanity. By and large, the design is almost exactly the same, safe for a few crucial points. The T5 is a bit thicker than the TE was, and in place of the TE's mini-USB docking plug is PalmOne's new connector--more on that later. The case has a kind of para-mettalic quality to it, enough that you could think it's really metal if you weren't paying attention. I would prefer a real metal case, if that's the look you're going for, but this is a good substitute. A railing that runs along the left side of the T5 allows you to attach a side-flip plastic cover that protects the screen and buttons when closed. The design is identical to the T5, though the cover is a darker grey, more matched to the case. Over on the right side is the stylus silo, left open in true Palm V/500 style. The T5's stylus is really lovely. It's got a silvery metal barrel of excellent size and weight, with a solidly attached black plastic writing tip and black plastic quill. The quill unscrews to reveal a reset pin. It slides perfectly into the silo, clicks just right, and is never loose while also never being too hard to remove. Topside are all the usual suspects: power button, in the same place it was on the TE; headphone jack, IR port (invisible, but there), and SD card slot, all likewise.

The T5's power button is an abomination. Besides being a bad button in its own right, wobbly with little tactile response, the case rises up all around it making it more difficult to press. It was bad enough to have such a poorly placed, mushy, and unreliable power button on the $200 Tungsten E. It is a whole different matter to feature the same power button on the $400 T5. It's inexcusable.

The headphone jack and IR port are the standard fare, found on every PalmOne handheld available. Same story with the SD expansion card slot--it is remarkable only for how unremarkable it is.

Something that you won't find on top of the T5, or anywhere else on it for that matter, is a power LED. This is another area of the design where PalmOne backslid from previous models. All that's needed is a little two-color LED light that glows amber to indicate that the battery is charging, and green to indicate a full charge. Without it, there's no way to tell if the T5 is fully charged without turning it on. And if your battery is already dead, then there's no way of determining if the T5 is getting external power at all, until it charges up enough that you can turn it on to check--IF it's charging. Catch 22. Come on PalmOne, would it really kill you to put in a power LED?

Processor


While the T5's 416 MHz processor runs at a clock speed very close to its predecessor, the 400 MHz T3, the T5's processor is a newer generation PXA270. Compared to the T3's PXA255, the 270 offers improved power-saving features, and increased efficiency of CPU cycles. This means that it gets more done, and is consequently faster, than a comparably clocked older processor. The 270s also feature Wireless MultiMedia Extensions, or WMMX, an instruction set designed to improve performance for multimedia applications. Intel claims that the 416 MHz PXA270 is equivalent to a 624 MHz processor without WMMX. I suspect that this is a little bit of generous fine print marketing on Intel's part, but the new processors are faster than the old ones.

Operating System

The T5 is one of the first Palm OS based handhelds to officially use the version of the Palm OS referred to as 'Garnet,' version 5.4. This offers a few tweaks over the existing Palm OS 5.2 used on most units, but not so much that it makes a significant difference to the end user.

Just let me get this off my chest: 'Palm OS Garnet 5.4.0.3.23?' In its own way, this is every bit as bad as 'Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for the Pocket PC.'

Even speaking generously, the T5 has some bug problems. Bugs in the Bluetooth implementation prevented some people, including myself, from establishing Bluetooth links between the T5 and a desktop or laptop computer. There was a very serious Calender bug that resulted in the Calender application becoming permanently unusable without a hard-reset if you enabled the Month View. Deleting a file or contact from within a third-party application can result in a lockup. There are more, but I'd rather not go on all day. Fortunately, PalmOne acted quickly to stomp on some of the worst of these, including the Calender bug, releasing a major patch just two weeks after the T5's debut. Still, the T5 is far from bug-free, and I'd like to know why PalmOne didn't fix these problems before the launch. If the T5 was so rushed that P1 couldn't even finish the beta testing, it may point toward future problems. Also, many first-run T5's are going to be sold without the ROM update, which will raise some hell.

And speaking of bugs, this isn't quite one of those, but it's certainly noteworthy. Despite a very specific mention of it in the T5's help dialog, and a 'silent mode' for alarms, the T5 has no capability for vibrating alarms. File this as well under insufficient testing before launch.

There's been a great deal of complaint among seasoned users over the fact that the T5 doesn't use the new and improved version of the Palm OS, called Palm OS 6, or Palm OS 'Cobalt.' And, amongst some newer users, there's bound to be some confusion as to what the hubbub is. Allow me to offer the condensed version.

Way back in 2002, the Palm OS had serious image problems, since Palm OS based machines with 33 MHz processors were competing against PocketPCs with 200 MHz processors. Since Palm OS was limited by the kind of processors it was tied to, the people responsible for creating and maintaining it built a new version, Palm OS 5, that ran on faster processors. Originally, this was meant as a sort of temporary solution, allowing the Palm OS to do many of the things that PocketPCs did. Third-party developers found ways to make things work, while the Palm OS developers started on what they said would be a huge leap in Palm evolution, a complete rebuild known as Palm OS 6.

Well, as it turns out, completely rewriting an operating system to try and appease a variety of complaintants while still maintaining complete backwards-compatibility isn't as easy as it sounds. Tides rose and fell, Palm split into two companies, and the the newly independant PalmSource eventually comitted to a release date--before the end of the year, 2003. Well, PalmSource had now committed not one but two of the classic mistakes: first it had touted a new product long before it would be ready, and now to compensate for the first mistake the company comitted to a release date based on marketing rather than engineering. PalmSource had to deliver before the end of the year, and they did, but what resulted was, in the eyes of licensees, not ready for prime-time. All the manufacturers quietly ignored OS 6, while PalmSource spent the year continuing to touch it up for a real release some time around the first quarter of 2005. Meanwhile, the Palm OS fans who had been hearing the sung praises of OS 6 for nearly two years got more and more irate at the delays, and weren't afraid to let anybody know about it.

What's the upshot of all this for the average user? Really, not much. Cobalt based handhelds are still several months away at least, and at first the new OS is unlikely to offer any substantial improvements, since applications that take advantage of its new features will be scarce. For anyone except high-end power-users, Cobalt doesn't enter into a buying decision.

Display

The T5 uses a 320 x 480 pixel transmissive/reflective hybrid LCD display. In simpler terms, the screen both transmits light from an internal backlight, for use in low to moderate lighting, as well as reflecting ambient light of sufficient intensity--direct sunlight, for example. This technology makes the screen more or less viewable in all lighting conditions.

Like most other recent PalmOne devices, there's almost no control over the backlight. You can't turn it off, and there's not really a vast difference in the actual brightness of the screen whether you set the adjustment slider to the maximum or the minimum. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it makes no sense to hobble the backlight controls. To insist that no one could possibly want to turn off the backlight is like putting training wheels on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, because PalmOne knows more about how their customers will need to use their device than the customers themselves do.

The screen's overall quality is good, roughly on par with other recent Palm OS models sporting 320 x 480 screens such as the Tapwave Zodiac and the PalmOne Tungsten T3. Color definition and accuracy are excellent, and brightness is good.

Memory

There's been a lot of confusion over how the T5 handles its memory. Part of this is created by the unique memory configuration, part of it by PalmOne's moderately befuddled marketing. In the same breath, PalmOne refers to the T5 as having 256 MB of memory, then as having 215 MB of memory. Which is right? Well, both and neither.

The T5 has a grand total of 256 MB of internal memory. About 31 MB of this is taken by the operating system, for the OS itself. None of this area is accessible to the user. Of the remaining 225 MB of memory, 63.8 MB is considered 'internal' memory, like RAM would be on a more conventional device. This can be used for storing programs, databases, and anything else that a PalmOS handheld would normally allow to be stored in RAM. Out of the box, about 9 MB of this space is occupied by PalmOne's preinstalled applications, but these can be deleted, making all of this area available to the user. The final 161 MB is treated exactly like an internal memory card--it can hold not just applications, but also normal files such as MP3 music, JPEG photos, and anything else. All this is also available to the user, though like the application memory some of it is occupied by PalmOne's demonstration files.

All 256 MB is pure flash memory. For the sake of completeness, there is 12 MB of static RAM used for heap memory and running applications, but it is totally hidden from the user. The meaning of the flash memory usage is three-fold: one, that even if the T5's battery were run down to zero and left that way indefinitely, no data on the device would be lost. Two, that because of the slightly slower speed of flash memory the T5 will be a little less snappy than it would be if it had pure RAM. And third is the issue of flash memory durability, which we'll get to in a minute.

It's this last chunk of 161 MB that does a very interesting trick. The T5 comes equipped for what PalmOne calls Drive Mode. Start up a particular application on the T5, plug the sync cable into the T5 and a host computer, and the T5 appears as a removable drive on the desktop. This works with any OS that natively supports USB Mass Storage, meaning any recent version of Windows, Mac, or Linux. The new 'drive' is treated just as any USB flash memory drive would be, allowing you to copy files to and from it. If you have an SD memory card inserted in the T5, it also gets loaded as a seperate drive, making the T5 a portable card reader to boot.

There are a few noteworthy shortcomings of this feature. One is that while the T5 is in drive mode, you cannot run any other application or do anything else with it without exiting drive mode. Another is that because of the T5's non-standard sync connector, you have to carry a sync cable with you if you want to use drive mode on the go. This of course wouldn't be a problem if you knew ahead of time that you'd be using the USB drive feature, or if you already have cables/cradles wherever you intend to use it. But for more unplanned use, it does force a decision to either sacrifice some convenience by carrying the cable with you, or to sacrifice the use of drive mode. I forsee a booming market in retractable sync/charge cables for the T5.

Frankly, I personally am not too impressed by the drive mode. I already have memory card readers, and while the drive function would come in quite handy for filling the T5's internal memory I don't see it being worth more than a T3 and a 256 MB SD card. It just isn't the sort of thing that I'd use, and if it were, I'd probably buy a cheap dedicated USB flash drive that I didn't have to carry a cable for and could toss about or even loan to someone without worry about it getting lost/broken/stolen. Others may feel differently, but that's my view.

Something that must be addressed here is flash memory degradation. Unlike RAM, flash cannot be infinitely rewritten without ill effect. After a certain number of rewrites, flash memory will begin to degrade, and as sectors are marked 'bad' the overall available space will decrease, possibly destroying some files along with it. This isn't a serious concern for flash memory cards, as they are rarely rewritten, but for use as system memory it could become an issue. It is, however, impossible to predict when this would happen. We don't know how rough the OS is on its memory. Like most flash memory, the chips in the T5 are rated for up to 100,000 rewrites per sector. Depending on how well the T5 manages its memory, this could mean two years or twenty. The only thing that is certain is that sooner or later, the flash memory in the T5 will die, and will take the machine with it. Chances are, however, that this won't be until the machine is already being used as a doorstop due to the inexorable march of technology.

One other side-effect of the use of flash memory is that it prevents battery creep. Other devices, even when 'off,' draw a little power from the battery to keep their RAM refreshed. Leave them off for awhile and you'll notice that the battery measurably decreases. This phenomenon has become less and less noticible with newer models, as better battery technology, less power-hungry RAM, and improved efficiency have minimized the issue, but the T5 is the first one to eliminate it entirely.

Size & Weight

While not ultra-tiny, the T5 is in a very reasonable place for size and weight. If anything interferes with pocketability, I think it's more the slightly flaring bottom corners rather than the actual size. Still, it's a very compact and portable machine.

Expansion

The T5 includes PalmOne's standard expansion capabilities, a single SD card slot with support for SDIO.

It's been a topic of much discussion whether or not the T5 can use the PalmOne SDIO WiFi card. The answer is, not yet. PalmOne claims to be working on new drivers to let the card function on the T5, and says that they'll be available by the end of the year. Given past history, I shudder whenever I hear the words Palm, WiFi, and drivers in close proximity. If you don't know already, either Google sandisk palm wifi or else take my advice that you really don't want to know. Hopefully PalmOne will prove themselves a bit more reliable. Still, this strikes me as the sort of thing that should have been done before the T5 was released, not on the fly afterwards while competing for holiday sales against less expensive PocketPCs that have WiFi built in.

Docking

As has already been mentioned, PalmOne's new styled connector eliminates all previous Universal Connector peripherals. PalmOne's stated reason for the change in connector is to provide extra pins for multimedia output peripherals in the future. Assuming that's the case, I have something to suggest that you start doing, PalmOne. It's called future-proofing. Ask your engineers about it, because given the number of peripherals you abandoned, and the complete lack of warning when you did it, your new connector had better be set for a couple of years at least.

There have been reports that, despite claiming it as a feature, the T5 does not trickle-charge its battery when only connected to USB, not to the AC adapter. I can verifiably state that the T5 we were given for review and a second one that was bought online, definitely do trickle-charge over USB.

Communication

The T5's Bluetooth radio is precisely the standard fare for PalmOne devices. It uses the Bluetooth 1.1 standard, and has Class 2 range, approximately 32 feet through clear air.

I ran into a few problems with my T5's Bluetooth. When trying to transmit a file from my desktop, equipped with a Belkin USB Bluetooth adapter, the desktop would try to send for several seconds before telling me that the T5 was not responding, at which point the T5 would briefly flash a message that someone was trying to send it a file before letting it disappear. Hopefully, PalmOne will iron out problems like this with ROM updates.

Additional wireless comments from Brian:

The connection wizard to connect to a mobile phone, presumably to use it as a wireless modem, works extremely well. PalmOne's ability to make this configuration a few step wizard puts Windows Mobile to shame. In just a few clicks I was able to connect to my Sony Ericsson phone and T-Mobile GPRS service. The only knock is the list of supported phones is a little limited, missing all of the grey market devices (those imported into the US, but not officially supported by a carrier).

PalmOne includes the latest version of Blazer (4.0) for the web browser. The browser is average, but so far all PDA browsers are average. It does support landscape and fullscreen, so browsing is actually not too bad, it's just a bit slow over Bluetooth and GPRS.

They've also included a dialer program that serves almost no purpose at all. I suppose if you couldn't push the buttons on your phone, but could somehow manage to use a stylus, the dialer application would be great. However, there's no connection to the address book, which would have made this application at least a little bit useful. They do offer the ability to set up a 10 name speed dial list, but who really wants to do that?

The last application of wireless note is the email program VersaMail v2.7.1. I contend that VM is the best email program that ships for free with any PDA. I've used prior versions and continue to find the options and management of mail to be great. I love reading email, deleting it, and having the option of removing it from the server so I don't have to see the same SPAM twice. Users of POP accounts should be able to accomplish everything they want out of the box with VM. VM even supports popular email accounts like Yahoo with pre-defined profiles making setup much easier. While there is support for both POP and IMAP, there is not support for Exchange...yet. PalmOne recently licensed the hooks for Exchange server and is incorporating them into the Treo 650 offering. They may make this available to other devices in the future.

Audio

The T5 comes with most of the standard audio hardware, namely a monaural internal speaker and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Reliable, if unremarkable. Due to its rear-placement, the T5's speaker is a little muffled when placed against a solid surface, but it's still quite audible.

Notably absent from the T5, despite being featured on the T3 and the Zire 72, is a microphone for voice recording. I really can't see why they dropped this--it's not like a microphone costs that much, and it's a downgrade from the T3. Call me crazy, but I always thought that an upgrade was supposed to have more features than its predecessor, not less.

Battery

The T3, the last T-series model by PalmOne, was plagued by complaints of short battery life, and other recent PalmOne models haven't broken the bank for battery capacity. In an attempt combat this, PalmOne has increased the battery capacity of the T5, which along with the improved power-saving of the PXA270 family of processors goes a long way toward restoring acceptable battery life.

For all tests, the processor was kept moderately active either by SuperUtility's battery tracking and system status displays, or by looping MP3s at low volume.

Backlight on Maximum, Bluetooth off: 4 hours, 22 minutes

Backlight on Maximum, Bluetooth on: 4 hours, 4 minutes

Backlight on Minimum, Bluetooth on: 5 hours, 4 minutes

The T5's battery life is certainly better than most accounts of the T3's, and surpasses the Zire 72 as well. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a battery purist--I think more battery life is always better, and maxing out at five and a half hours with the screen at minimum and Bluetooth off leaves no question that PalmOne still hasn't matched the battery life of the classic Zire 71. But still, it's a significant improvement from the mediocre life of previous units.

Conclusion

In a vaccum, the T5 is not bad. It's got a great design--power button excluded--decent battery life, and a lot of internal memory. It also has some sci-fi sized bugs, but those can be dealt with.

It's in comparison to other machines at a similar price point that the T5 suffers. All PocketPCs at the T5's price, and in fact many below it, feature WiFi wireless networking, as well as other desirable features like removable batteries. Directly comparing the $400 T5 to the $400 Dell Axim X50, the T5 lacks WiFi, dual expansion, a cradle, and a removable battery. If you add the price of a WiFi card and cradle for the T5, it ends up pitted against the Axim X50v, which has several edges on the T5 in expansion, display, speed, and wireless.

Frankly, I think that the T5 is a nice machine, but it's overpriced for what it delivers, and it shows signs of being rushed to market. With a little maturation, some ROM updates to exterminate the bug infestation, and some time for the price to drop, I think it can yet become a solid performer. But either way, PalmOne needs to get on the ball. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are competing with HP and Dell. Or, perhaps more accurately, HP and Dell are competing with each other, and PalmOne is taking the crossfire. At this rate, PalmOne is either going to be forced out of the high-end market alltogether and end up making Zires and cell phones, or they have to fire back with something big. And I don't think the T5 is it.

Pros:

* Ample flash memory
* Appealing design
* USB drive function

Cons:

* No WiFi
* Horrible power button
* Some software bugs
* Expensive for the hardware

Bottom Line:

Stylish, but not as much bang for the buck.