Gadget Review: Palm's executive stocking filler

Palm''s new Tungsten T could be the Xmas gift of choice for hip bankers thanks to its beautiful design and Bluetooth functionality.

There is nothing more honest than a product review in which the reviewer comes straight out and says whether they will themselves buy the product in question.

In the case of the new Palm Tungsten T the answer is a resounding 'yes'. This is a beautiful product; possibly a design classic.

On the handheld PDA front this may be an early sign that Palm is learning from Apple Mac that the only way to take on Microsoft is to capture the high ground on design.

With the rise of Microsoft-powered PDAs it is clear that Palm has been losing market share in the past 18 months. The Tungsten is evidence that the company is making a fightback.

The main feature being marketed about this product is the fact that it is Bluetooth enabled. That means if you have a Bluetooth mobile phone, you can dial directly from your Palm address book and thus save time.

That is all fine and well, but what really makes this product a winner for me is the beauty of the design. It is elegantly compact thanks to the manner in which you can click open its base in Star Trek style. This means it is a good third smaller than the Palm Vx and a great deal smaller than many of the clunky PDAs-cum-PCs coming out these days.

It is also simple. The Palm operating system has been upgraded and like the Mac's operating system is far more intuitive than Microsoft equivalents. The new operating system is actually even better, albeit in subtle ways.

It comes with a colour screen, and a memopad that allows you to doodle; there is also a voicerecorder that you can use to leave yourself memos while you are on the go. Meanwhile the calculator has been vastly improved. It can now take 13 digits (ie the number one trillion) versus 8 digits on the old Palm Vx.

Another big improvement is the controller button which allows you to scroll the calendar to the previous or future days thanks to a new 360 degree functionality.

Best of all, I managed to beam the thousands of names in my old Palm Vx address book to the Tungsten in under two minutes, meaning the upgrade from one to the other is seamless. Given my overworked Vx is now about to go to the tech equivalent of the knackers yard, the timing of this product could not be better.

The only issue is finding Bluetooth phones, of which there are a couple of Nokia and Sony Ericsson models. Bluetooth will, however, become more prevalent over time.

Indeed, the day cannot be far off when every business card comes with a bluetooth chip that allows data to be transferred to PDAs without even inputing the data by hand. You will just have to press 'accept' when you hold a card next to a PDA, and the data will automatically be transferred.

As to the separation of phone from PDA - a trend which seems to counter other strategies - it has to be said that this has merits. One executive I compared notes with made a valid point when he said that checking voicemails when walking between meetings was much easier using a normal phone. You can do it with one hand - whereas PDAs with phones buiilt-in require the touching of their screens to replay, delete etc the voicemails, and this is a pain when you are on the go, and a finnickety process.

The other thing is many people in Asia simply like small phones, and aren't keen on trading them for big PDAs. Palm seems to have noted this consumer trend and thus has created a small PDA to go with a small phone.

The other thing is that with Bluetooth you could have your phone in your pocket, but still be surfing the web with your Palm. There are no wires and intuitively this works no differently to having a PDA with a phone built in.

Palm may thus be giving the best of all worlds. Indeed, whether you need to attach a phone when you have Bluetooth is going to be a subject of debate for Palm and others in the PDA space.

Ironically, when I met the Palm people during their Hong Kong product launch (they'd flown over a guy they call the Palm Evangelist), I discussed this exact point.

I suggested that the click-open design of the new Palm led me to assume the next generation might come with a phone. The very act of opening and closing the Tungsten T device is very similar to the original silver Nokia phone that was launched in 1997 (the one that Hong Kongers nicknamed, the Shaver).

The Palm people seemed to think this is a good idea... so if the next generation Palm follows this formula, you read it here first. That way Palm would be hedging its bets with both a Bluetooth strategy and the phone-PDA combo strategy.

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