New Palm offers Wi-Fi connectivity, power

Palm Inc.'s new Tungsten C handheld computer might not be an ideal device for every user, but it adds to a line of handhelds that offers buyers an array of choices.

Palm introduced the Tungsten line with the compact Tungsten T, which features a slider design and Bluetooth capability. Next came the multifunction Tungsten W, combining Personal Information Manager functions, wireless Internet via Global System Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service and voice telephony. And now the latest product out of the chute, the Tungsten C, offers 802.11b wireless connectivity known as Wi-Fi, a blazing 400 MHz Intel Corp. PXA255 XScale processor and a whopping 64M of memory.

This model is perfect for government users who operate in campus-like environments such as hospitals or military bases where they need to access data from different sources within a building or complex. And with the increasing prevalence of Wi-Fi hot spots in hotels, airports and cafes, it's also an excellent choice for business travelers who need Internet access while on the road.

The Tungsten C looks a lot like the Tungsten W with its built-in keyboard, five-way navigation button and crystal-clear 320 x 320 color display. The only noticeable difference is the lack of an antenna hump.

The Tungsten C's usual dual-expansion capability features an expansion card slot that can be used to add up to 512M of memory to store and run applications. It can also accept SDIO modules, which are Secure Digital (SD) cards with input/output functionality, such as cameras, LCD presenters and more.

The 400 MHz processor and 64M of memory are firsts for Palm and allow users to manage data-intensive applications and have faster mobile access to e-mail and the Internet.

The device found our 802.11b wireless network instantly and we were surfing the Web in no time. The Tungsten C can connect to both encrypted and nonencrypted networks. Web sites are delivered in full HTML and unlike the Tungsten W, the browser supports JavaScript.

Web pages are not delivered in a single-column format as they are on the Tungsten W because the Tungsten C uses a proxyless Web server — Palm's first. This means no Palm-tailored formatting takes place. According to the company, the advantages include faster downloading and viewing a Web site as it would appear on a PC.

Our tests confirmed the former. It took less than one minute to load CNN's Web site, compared with more than two minutes for the Tungsten W. But we're not sure if we consider the latter an advantage because it requires a lot of inconvenient horizontal scrolling to read anything wider than the equivalent of a few inches on a desktop monitor.

Palm bundles the Mergic Inc. virtual private network client with the Tungsten C for secure connections to private networks. The VPN allows you to securely access a private network such as your corporate local-area network through an Internet connection. You can perform many network-enabled tasks this way, such as HotSyncing, remotely controlling your PC and accessing intranet mail or Web servers.

The latest version of Palm's VersaMail e-mail application, which can connect you to multiple personal and corporate e-mail accounts, includes a breakthrough feature called Auto Get Mail. This feature notifies you of new mail at user-specified time intervals. The shortest possible interval is 15 minutes, so notification is not instantaneous as with true push technologies such as Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry, but it comes closer than any other Palm to date and significantly increases the convenience of using e-mail on the device.

The Tungsten C supports voice memo recording, but you'll need the optional Palm headset because there is no built-in microphone. And this summer, Palm expects to offer voice-over-IP capability, which lets you use the Internet for telephone calls.

Palm's latest operating system, Palm OS 5.2.1, comes loaded on the device and features built-in support for ARM Ltd.-compliant processors. This allows the device to handle large graphics and data files at faster speeds.

We especially liked a new tool in Palm's desktop software called Quick Install. You can quickly add files and applications to the HotSync queue simply by dragging the file onto the Quick Install desktop icon. If you have the Palm desktop software open, there is a Quick Install icon in that window also. Quick Install will even open compressed files and convert them, if necessary, for installation during the next HotSync.

The Tungsten C package comes bundled with a host of productivity, communication and entertainment applications on CD-ROM. Highlights include Adobe Systems Inc. Acrobat Reader for Palm OS, DataViz Inc.'s Documents To Go, and PrintBoy from Bachmann Software and Services LLC, which connects directly to any printer on an 802.11b network for mobile printing from the Palm.

Communication software includes Colligo Networks Inc. Calendar, which enables two Wi-Fi users to share calendars and book appointments without using a corporate network or Internet connection.

If you're an 802.11b wireless network user, this is the Palm for you. The fast processor and ample memory allow you to retrieve large amounts of data and graphics at conveniently quick speeds. But you'll need to decide if you're willing to sacrifice Web site viewing ease for speed and JavaScript ability.

REPORT CARD

Tungsten C

Grade: A

Palm Inc.

(800) 881-7256

www.palm.com

The estimated price is $499.

The Tungsten C delivers fast and easy 802.11b wireless network capability along with Palm's fastest processor and most memory to date. Web browsing supports JavaScript and is faster than with the Tungsten W, but the trade-off is Web pages that are not formatted for a palm-sized screen.

We tested the Tungsten on a Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq DeskPro EN PC running Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000 Professional.

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