It's a phone, it's a Web browser, it's a Palm!

OK, so it doesn't pick up the dry cleaning. But Palm Inc.'s latest handheld, the Tungsten W, seems to do practically everything else — or at least everything you'd need from a portable electronic device.

Like the Handspring Treo, the Tungsten W combines personal informationmanager functions, wireless Internet and voice telephony into one device. But there are some key differences, such as design. The Treo is designed like a flip phone, with a cover that opens to activate the phone function.

The Tungsten W, on the other hand, is designed like a personl digital assistant with a hands-free earpiece that plugs into a jack on the unit. In June, users who prefer to hold the device up to their ears like a regular phone will be able to purchase an optional Audio Flipcover with a built-in speaker and microphone for $39.95.

Voice telephony is a first for Palm, and it includes Short Message Service (SMS) capability for sending short text messages to other mobile phone users.

The built-in thumb keyboard, which we love, is another first. With a thumb keyboard, e-mailing on the road becomes practical.

On the wireless data side, Palm's new VersaMail 2.0 application allows behind-the-firewall access to corporate e-mail as well as access to personal Post Office Protocol Version 3 and Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) accounts from such providers as Yahoo Inc. and EarthLink Inc. The Tungsten W also supports instant messaging using the ICQ Inc. chat client.

Also notable is Palm's Web Pro application, which allows full HTML browsing — not just Web clipping. But users can still use Web clipping when needed by visiting sites that support it.

The Tungsten W offers many expansion capabilities with its integrated Secure Digital (SD) Card slot and the Palm Universal Connector that lets users add hardware such as keyboards and travel chargers.

It's a Phone

The Tungsten W's most exciting feature is the phone functionality. Dubious at first, we were total converts when we finished the review. In fact, this reviewer preferred the Palm to her own mobile phone for making calls. The Tungsten W uses a tri-band GSM/GPRS radio for wireless voice and data. Palm has partnered with AT&T Wireless for the U.S. launch, so that was the service on our review unit.

We were impressed with the quality of the connections and the sound. We made calls while stationary and while driving, and we did not experience static or dropped calls. The voice quality was loud and clear on both ends.

We were also impressed with its overall usability. For example, when you plug the headset into the jack, the dial screen automatically appears. The headset's microphone has a button that answers calls with a quick press and hangs up with a long press. This feature is not only convenient, but also safer when driving because you do not have to take your eyes off the road to look at the device.

Dialing a nonprogrammed number is easy and convenient with the large onscreen keypad - you don't even need the stylus because the buttons are large enough for a fingertip.

The usual functions are all available, such as speed dialing and contact information lookup. We especially liked the profiles feature. Six different ring profiles (such as home, work, outdoors and car) are available. Each profile allows you to set the ring volume and choose a ring tone. You can also set the Palm to vibrate or divert calls directly to voice mail or to another phone number of your choice. Our wireless account also supported call waiting and conference calling with up to six parties. The latter feature was easy to use and worked without a hitch.

Another useful feature is the ability to create notes while on a call. Each note gets time-stamped and attached to the person's address book entry. The icing on the cake is that you can work with any nonwireless application while talking.

The Tungsten W's impressive battery life makes the phone functions even more usable because you don't have to worry about limiting calls. According to Palm, the battery lasts for 10 hours of talk time and 200 hours of standby time. Our battery lasted five to six days when mostly on standby with occasional phone calls and wireless e-mail and Web browsing.

It's a Web Browser

The Tungsten W's extremely clear 320 x 320 resolution color screen is perfect for the unit's full HTML Web browsing capability. All graphics and colors show up just as they would on a PC.

To compensate for the Palm's screen size, Web pages are delivered in a single column format, but it doesn't look crowded. We also thought the load time was reasonable. The entire CNN home page, graphics and all, took a little longer than two minutes to load.

Less graphics-intensive sites took approximately a minute to a minute and a half to fully load - but you can start clicking links even before a page is completely loaded. Thanks to the high resolution screen, graphics look excellent.

If you don't want to wait that long, you can use Web clipping. Yahoo's handheld optimized Web site took about 15 seconds to load.

It's an E-mail Device

Palm's VersaMail 2.0 e-mail application allows you to access corporate and personal e-mail accounts. For corporate email, you need to use a third-party virtual private network client and have IMAP access to a Microsoft Corp. Exchange or IBM Corp. Lotus Domino server.

We tested VersaMail using a Yahoo account. The Tungsten W helpfully includes preset information for setting up accounts with several popular e-mail services.

According to Palm, you can use VersaMail with any e-mail account, but be aware that some services may not allow it, as was the case with one e-mail account we tried to use (Pressroom, owned by Frontline Communications Corp.).

You can access up to eight accounts using any type of network connection, including a GSM dial-up, high speed GPRS, 802.11 wireless access point, infrared, Bluetooth access point or Bluetooth connected to a capable cell phone. For Bluetooth, you must separately purchase a Palm Bluetooth card and Bluetooth Internet access point or phone.

When retrieving mail, you have the choice of downloading only the subjects or the full body of each message. Palm's literature states that VersaMail supports sending and receiving attachments of up to 2M per message. However, upon further inquiry, a representative told us you can't actually send more than about 1.5M of raw data because Palm's base-64 encoding inflates the files.

Average-sized attachments (we used files about 35K in size) take only a few seconds to download and view. Large documents (approaching 2M) take about 10 minutes to download and another five to 10 minutes to convert to plain text for viewing.

It turns out the Tungsten W does not support receiving JPEG documents without a VersaMail update available as a free download on Palm's Web site. The update is also supposed to improve the handling of files that exceed 50K. You can open JPEG files using a bundled third-party viewer, ArcSoft Inc.'s PhotoBase. We tested the update using a 35K JPEG attachment, and the download and conversion took just a few seconds.

VersaMail supports sending any file attachment type, but some files (mainly files other than Palm applications and PIM information) can only be sent with a Secure Digital MultiMedia Card.

Oh, It's Also a PIM

With all the other snazzy features, it's easy to forget that the Tungsten W is, at its core, a personal information manager.

It comes with all the standard PIM functions such as Microsoft Outlook synchronization with contacts and calendars, plus a few extras such as a world clock. We especially like the new five-way navigation button and keyboard for stylus-free operation. This model includes two new program shortcut buttons: one for e-mail and the other for wireless Web browsing. There are two other shortcuts to the calendar and contact list.

The Tungsten W runs Palm OS 4.1.1 and contains a 33 MHz Motorola Inc. DragonBall VZ processor with 16M of RAM and 8M of ROM.

The Bottom Line

We love the Tungsten W. We have never seen a PDA so functional, versatile and easy to use. The Tungsten W delivers on its promise to be an all-in-one device for the true road warrior.

REPORT CARD

Grade: A+

Palm Inc.
(800) 881-7256
www.palm.com

The estimated retail price for the Tungsten W is $549. AT&T Wireless service is sold separately.

This is the first personal digital assistant we've seen that is multifunctional in a practical way. You really can get rid of your cell phone. You can also fully browse Web sites and send e-mail messages using your corporate and personal accounts. The exceptionally long battery life is a breakthrough for PDAs.

We synchronized our Tungsten W with a Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq Deskpro EX running Microsoft Corp. Windows 98 and Outlook 2000.

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