Tools of the Trade: The PalmOne Tungsten E2 handheld

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The Independent Online

Palm handheld computers may have established the category, but recently they have faced growing competition from smart phones and devices based on Microsoft's PocketPC standard. Nonetheless, the Palm OS platform continues to have its devotees, and with good reason: these devices are generally smaller, lighter and have better battery life than their rivals.

Palm handheld computers may have established the category, but recently they have faced growing competition from smart phones and devices based on Microsoft's PocketPC standard. Nonetheless, the Palm OS platform continues to have its devotees, and with good reason: these devices are generally smaller, lighter and have better battery life than their rivals.

The latest business-oriented handheld from Palm-One is the Tungsten E2. This is the direct descendent of the original Palm, but it has been brought up to date in terms of styling and functions.

The design of the E2 will be familiar to anyone who has used a Palm device before. The polished metal case makes it smart and sturdy, and the colour screen is bright and easy to use.

The E2's features will be just as familiar. Part of the Palm platform's strength is its personal information manager (PIM), with diary, contacts manager and task lists. This is quick and easy to use on the handheld, and Palm-based devices still have one of the best mechanisms for meshing with a desktop computer.

Other features include an application for recording expenses, a media player - the E2 has a headphone socket, so could double as a portable music player - and software to set up Bluetooth connections. As standard, though, PalmOne does not install either an email program or a web browser. These can be added from the CD Rom, as long as you have access to a PC.

This illustrates part of the problem with the E2: it is designed as a companion to a desktop or notebook computer. Unlike devices such as HP's iPaq 6340 or PalmOne's own Treo, it does not have a built-in GPRS or phone connection. Nor does it have in-built WiFi for use with wireless LANs. To be fair, this is reflected in its price.

Difficulties arise, though, when hooking up to the internet via a mobile phone. With 3G phones growing in popularity, the idea of connecting a handheld computer with a larger screen for email or web browsing is attractive. But the E2 has a restricted list of drivers for Bluetooth-compatible phones out of the box; the application for updating these is only included with the PC, not the Macintosh, software CD.

Anyone buying an E2 to use with a mobile should check first that it supports their handset, or that drivers are available on the Palm website. They will also need access to a PC and an internet connection to download these, so it is not something to leave to the last minute before heading out on a business trip.

Aside from that - and relatively sluggish performance, especially with handwriting recognition - the E2 is an attractive, well-made and useful device. At a price of £169 including VAT, it also represents good value, although anyone who wants to store a lot of data or run extra applications should budget to expand the machine's 32Mb of memory.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pros: easy to use, compact, attractive.

Cons: limited support for Bluetooth mobile phones.

Price: £169 (including VAT).

Contact: www.palmone.com

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