Tools Of The Trade: Palm TX personal digital assistant

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The Independent Online

The market for personal digital assistants almost doubled in the second quarter of 2005 as prices have fallen, according to the research company Gartner. The growing popularity of "wireless" PDAs and handhelds incorporating WiFi (wireless network) and bluetooth connections has also contributed.

As the company that, in effect, built the PDA market in the 1990s, Palm knows a thing or two about designing a good handheld computer. It makes smart phones, in the shape of its Treo line, but it has also kept faith with the idea of a lower cost handheld device, without a built-in phone, which can work beside a desktop computer or mobile phone.

The Palm TX - which the manufacturer is aiming at business users - is sleek and immediately pleasing to use. The device has a large screen, a smart black casing and hardly any buttons or switches on the device itself. There is a simple selection of navigation keys and hot buttons for the web, calendar and email. But in true Palm fashion, other functions, as well as inputting data, are done through the touch-sensitive screen and a stylus.

Palm uses its own operating system and desktop software for email, calendar and other organiser functions. Thousands of companies are developing independent software for Palm devices, however, and the way the Palm TX works will be intuitive to both PC and Mac users. It also includes software from DataViz that can read and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. Further Microsoft compatibility comes in the form of synchronisation, with desktop email in Outlook as well as to Exchange email servers, through ActiveSync.

Given the number of wireless hotspots around the UK, this makes managing email on a device such as the Palm TX a viable proposition. Its 128MB of built-in memory, as well as its large screen and handwriting recognition, makes it a far better tool for email on the move than a small mobile phone.

And because the Palm supports both bluetooth and WiFi, it is possible to download bulky emails in the office over the wireless LAN and use the mobile phone connection over bluetooth out on the road.

The Palm is also lightweight enough to slip easily into a jacket pocket, and the combination of the Palm operating system, power management and engineering means that the battery life is excellent, especially compared to some Microsoft Pocket PC devices and 3G smart phones.

Some businesses will, of course, have applications that only run on Windows devices, but otherwise the Palm is at least as good, and in many ways better, than a Windows Mobile handheld. One issue that could frustrate European users, though, is that the Palm does not recognise some of the latest mobile phone models over bluetooth. It is worth checking Palm's support pages before buying, if you have just bought a 3G handset, but support for GPRS-based Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson phones is generally good.

RATING: 4 out of 5

PROS: good design, battery life, connectivity

CONS: some incompatibility with 3G phones

PRICE: around £230 inc VAT