Updated: 11/1/05; 2:54:01 PM.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Returning to the Palm fold

I first read about the new Palm TX a few weeks ago, and what I heard intrigued me. I've always missed my poor old PalmPilot Professional; I replaced it with one of the first generation of Pocket PC, but (as I've griped elsewhere) it kind of sucked. Then I got an iPod, and that solved my audio book problem, and then I got a better phone that had a task list and could sync my contacts, and that sort of solved my PDA problem.

But I've always kind of missed my PalmPilot.

So why the TX? What sucked me back in? Connectivity. I'd originally ditched the Palm because I was really really curious about the built-in web browser on the Pocket PC. With a Pocket PC and the appropriate CF accessories, you could use the thing as a mobile terminal. I picked up two: an ethernet cable, and a serial cable that could talk to my phone. The phone one was especially goofy -- you had to kind of hold the phone and PDA together back to back. But it worked -- I could (through elaborate hand-waving) take a picture with my camera and transfer it to the PDA and then e-mail it. I think I did this exactly once, when I bought my current glasses frames.

The TX, on the other hand, has WiFi and Bluetooth built right in, so right there the cause of gratuitous gear is advanced without the support structure of goofy cables. And, unfortunately, I've yet to meet a phone that actually has a decent input structure (and the RAZR just fails to support todo lists at all). So the PDA urges had been rising anyway. But WiFi? And Bluetooth for when I'm on the road? Combined with my schmancy Cingular unlimited GPRS bandwidth (which, in fairness, is delivered by the spoonful)? It IS NOT TO BE RESISTED.

So I didn't resist.

My TX arrived yesterday. Here's what I think so far:

  • The size, as always, remains nice. Palm has always had the right idea about the tension between small & large.
  • In the six years since I last looked at Palms, they've picked up a lot of the nice ideas that used to be only available in 3rd party stuff: the ability to switch from portrait to landscape; a software graffiti area that you can turn off for more screen space; a nice "your upcoming week" view in the datebook; etc etc.
  • The screen is nice and legible. It looks washed out in the online pictures, but in real life, it's pretty pleasant.
  • The stylus is nice. The little included flip cover is pretty nice although I was initially too stupid to figure out how it goes in.
  • I like the little navigation joypad. A lot.
  • Figuring out how to turn on Bluetooth synching and how to make it work with iSync was a pain in the butt. I think I just expected this stuff to be on, so it didn't occur to me I had to go hunting for knobs to flick. In fairness, there were some instructions about BT serial ports, but they read like PC instructions, and I made the dumb assumption that they didn't apply to me.
  • It's cool that just hotsynching normally causes the iSync conduits to kick in. It's too bad that doing this doesn't cause my phone's iSync to kick in too.
  • BT hotsynch is nice. Cables must die.
  • I'd forgotten just how much I missed the whole Palm experience.
  • The Palm is the first device I've used that was smart enough to say "hey, you're using Cingular? Let me set up all these GPRS settings for you correctly instead of making you google for it."
  • The device is pretty good about trying to turn on WiFi first, and if that fails, giving you the option to use Bluetooth networking instead. But if you end up going into the BT preferences as part of this chain, your existing app that was trying to open up the network goes away. That makes me sad. Still, it has pretty good memory about which of WiFi or BT you used last.

Anyway, blah blah blah. I like it. It's a Palm. Palm makes good stuff. It has all the wireless I need built in. The price point was awesome. Doubly awesome, since Ben works for Palm, he hooked up me up with a nice discount.

Ben also tempted me (most foully!) with the 50% discounts on accessories when you buy a PDA, and talked me into the Palm GPS Navigator. This was not hard, as I have wanted a GPS device for years, but have never been able to justify it to myself.

I'm a little grumpy at the GPS right now, because the software install was incredibly painful. The TX appears to use USB1, not USB2, so transferring over the map files by Hotsync took hours. Then, after I completed this and launched the app, it couldn't find any of the maps! To add to the fun, the manual describes how you need to activate the app, but I couldn't get activation to happen -- it turns out it has to find maps first before it activates. But I'd decided that it wasn't showing maps because it wasn't activated, and was very confused.

Eventually I nuked the card, hooked it up to a card reader, and installed the maps that way. It seemed to be important that I launch the app at least once before installing any maps -- I'm not sure if that's superstition on my part or what. But try #2 using the card reader worked.

The navigation app itself is pretty par for the course. It's got some cute 3D realtime map representation features, and has all of the requisite horrible horrible UI from every GPS app I've ever used. Someday, someone will write a GPS navigator app that is easy to use, and they will Rule The World. But this one (TomTom Navigator) is at least a little better than Hertz Everlost, and it performs the requisite tasks of showing me where I am and where I'm going quite admirably. Look for a deeper review when I've actually used it to get somewhere. For now, my main comment is that it's much faster at recalculating routes than the Hertz solution (which typically finishes recalculating the route right after I pass the turn it was about to suggest).

The map sets are kind of weird. There are detailed maps for different regions (American South Central, American West) but you can only have one map loaded at a time -- having all the maps on your card doesn't mean you have seamless US coverage. There's also a Major Cities and Highways map set, which actually appears to be pretty comprehensive for anything that's near a highway, and since it includes Austin, Cupertino, and Pittsburgh, it looks like the one I'm most likely to keep loaded.  11:42:55 AM  (comments []  

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Last update: 11/1/05; 2:54:01 PM.