More power in your palm

Palm tools offer better usability, more features

What will you do when your BlackBerry stops working? That prospect so worries the federal government that the Justice Department filed briefs with the court deciding a patent infringement case urging that Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry devices, not be required to cease operations until the government has an alternative. Well, here's one alternative.

Palm has long made highly capable, if somewhat pricey, personal digital assistants, culminating in the Tungsten T5 and Treo 650. Both products, compared with BlackBerry, provided capabilities the BlackBerry couldn't. The downside was that the Treo 650 works with only one major wireless provider, while the Tungsten series couldn't work as a wireless device without expensive add-ons. Now Palm has released the TX handheld device, which resolves that problem and costs less.

The TX is a Tungsten T5 without the sleek metal case and with half the memory. But it includes built-in Wi-Fi and costs $299, about $50 less than the T5. In addition, the Wi-Fi module supports Wi-Fi Protected Access encryption, so it's reasonably secure. It can work with Internet and corporate e-mail systems without special additions. Palm also includes a Web browser that works with standard Web pages and can connect to the Internet or corporate network via a phone equipped with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Palm includes a Bluetooth phone dialer, so you can find a number in the address book and dial it on your phone.

We initially doubted the device's usefulness for tasks such as sending e-mail and Web browsing, but Palm's 320 x 480 color screen -- half a standard VGA screen -- is adequate. Depending on the Web page, you might need to scroll horizontally to see everything. E-mail messages were easy to read, and if you're adept at the Graffiti 2 handwriting system, writing is as simple and a lot faster than typing with your thumbs.

Getting the Palm TX running on Wi-Fi was fast and easy. For some reason, the Wi-Fi card initially had an incorrect IP address, but restarting the Palm fixed that. The only glitch I ran into is that T-Mobile doesn't provide Internet access as a standard feature, so I had to pay an extra cost to add it.

Overall, the Palm TX was impressive enough to be an alternative to BlackBerry devices, and it includes some capabilities that they don't, such as a massive amount of third-party software for everything from office applications to vertical markets. It may not be as stylish as your BlackBerry, but it's probably more useful.

Palm also released a new entry-level device called the Z22. This device is designed for one-handed operation, and at $99, it is cheap enough for use in field operations in which it could be lost or damaged. It runs Palm software, has a nice but lower resolution color screen, and can support the same security and encryption software that other Palm devices do. Depending on your application, this could be a device worth keeping.

Rash is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist who has been covering technology since the late 1970s. He can be reached at wayne@rash.org.

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