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  1.    #1  
    The Palm Tungsten W Is Good
    For E-Mail, but Not for Phoning

    The great dilemma faced by makers of communicators, those hand-held devices that seek to merge the phone, the personal digital assistant and the e-mail receiver, is which of those three functions to emphasize. If they make it too phone-oriented, it risks being weak at e-mail. If they make it too PDA-oriented, it risks being weak as a phone.

    Last week, I looked at a new $649 communicator from Sony Ericsson, the P800, that turned out to be a good phone, but lousy at e-mail. This week, I'll review another new device, Palm's $549 wireless Tungsten W, that couldn't be more different. It's barely competent as a phone, but much better at e-mail.

    In fact, the Tungsten W isn't as much a competitor with the P800 as it is a challenger to the Handspring Treo 300, which also uses the Palm operating system and has, so far, struck the best balance between the phone and e-mail functions.

    Like the Treo, the Tungsten W looks primarily like a PDA, and Palm is positioning it as a data device, not a phone. That's fortunate, because the Tungsten W, which goes on sale Friday, lacks a speaker, a microphone and a phone keypad. You can't hold it up to your ear to make a call. It works only with a headset, which is a hassle.

    In June, Palm will offer a workaround: a $40 flip cover that opens horizontally like a book, and has a speaker and microphone built in. I tested a prototype and it does work. But it's awkward to use, the audio is poor and I found that an exposed loop of wire that connects the cover to the communicator can get caught on your pocket or on objects in a briefcase.

    Palm Tungsten W

    I can't recommend the Tungsten W for people who want a convenient, decent cellphone. But how does it work as a pure data device? Pretty well, I found, but not the best in its class.

    The W has a brilliant, high-resolution color screen that's much better than the low-res color display on the Treo 300. Like the Treo, it has a keyboard, an essential for composing e-mail. And the W's keyboard is roomier than the Treo's. It also has impressive battery life -- up to 10 hours of phone-talk time, triple that of the Treo 300. That would matter more if the phone wasn't so useless.

    But the bigger battery, bigger screen and bigger keyboard are all made possible at a steep cost: The Tungsten W is large for a PDA -- a little too large, in my view, for convenient carrying in a pocket or a small purse. It's also about 10% heavier than a Treo 300, and a bit longer and wider. But it's slightly thinner, only because the Treo has a proper flip-phone clamshell that makes it work well as a cellphone you can actually hold up to your ear.

    The built-in e-mail program on the W, called VersaMail, is better than the built-in e-mail software on the Treo, but it's inferior to the optional Treo Mail program offered by Handspring. When you look at a list of messages in VersaMail, the sender, subject and date are so squished together you can barely make them out. Treo Mail makes all this clear with a two-line display. And, unlike Treo Mail, VersaMail can't automatically retrieve e-mail on a schedule. You have to manually invoke it.

    VersaMail does have one advantage: It lets you view some attachments. You can read Microsoft Word files without formatting, and photos, if you install a special photo program. But overall, it's no match for Treo Mail.

    Handspring's Treo Mail must be downloaded and installed, and it costs $50 a year to use. Palm is offering something similar, a program and paid service called MessageXpress from Visto, a company that also operates Treo Mail. I tried to test MessageXpress, but I could never get it to work.

    The W also comes with a Web browser called WebPro. It worked pretty well, displaying some Web pages better than the Treo's Blazer browser and others not as well. But it crashed the whole device twice in my tests.

    The Tungsten W works on the AT&T Wireless cellphone network, the type called GSM/GPRS that is usable in Europe. The Treo 300 works on Sprint's network, the type called CDMA/1X that is mainly useful in the U.S. and Korea. (Another color Treo model, the 270, works on the GSM/GPRS network of T-Mobile and can also be used in Europe.) But the Sprint data network is faster than AT&T's.

    Finally, the Tunsgten W is much costlier than the Treo 300, which can be purchased on for $299, roughly half the price of the W with the special telephone flip cover. And Sprint charges only $10 a month for unlimited data usage on the Treo 300, while AT&T Wireless charges by the megabyte, with rates ranging from $29 to $99 a month, over and above the cost of voice service.

    The Tungsten W is pretty good, but also pretty big and pretty expensive, and it makes a lousy phone. For those reasons, it fails to oust the Handspring Treo 300 from its perch as the best communicator on the market, with the best balance of phone, PDA and e-mail functionality.
  2. #2  
    I bought my Treo 300 a month ago from Bestbuy for $299 for the precise reasons cited in that article. The Treo rocks. I love my DickTracy phone!

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