Palm TX

(Or is that Palm T|X? I'm not getting into it. TX will do.)

About six months ago, I set out to buy a new PDA. The strangest thing happened: despite money being essentially no object for this particular project, I came home without one. I simply couldn't buy a new PDA. Not a single product fit my criteria, and I didn't think they were particularly restrictive:
  • It was reasonably important that the PDA be PalmOS-based. All my PDAs have been Palms: a IIIx, and most recently a Zire 71. PalmOS Just Works. It is lightweight and it is fast. It doesn't try to do everything, it just tries to do a few things the Right Way. Still, this wasn't going to a be a show-stopper: I was willing to change camps if and only if it could be shown that another candidate would behave correctly with OS X. And by "correctly", I mean natively, and if not natively, then with some low-cost, third party tool.
  • I almost definitely didn't want a GSM phone in my PDA. My Motorola V3 is still under contract, and I wasn't signing up for a separate phone account just for the novelty of a phone in my PDA.
  • I didn't really want a camera, but this was a soft requirement. (I've only ever taken novelty shots with my Zire 71. I like having devices that do one thing well, and my Canon EOS 20D takes pretty good photographs.)
  • I wanted Bluetooth and wireless networking. Bluetooth was a hard requirement, as conventional Palm cradles are just too bulky to carry around, and I frequently want to sync with the PowerBook while away from home. Wireless would be great, but not a necessity.
Now, I would have thought this was not a particularly ambitious wish-list. Apparently I was wrong. The obvious first stop was the Palm range. The flagship product at the time was the Palm TX (or it may have been the Life Drive—I don't know which one was supposed to be the top of their range, but the Life Drive was (and still is) just way too bulky to be in the running). I checked the features of the TX, and it nailed most, if not all, of the criteria above. But I didn't buy it, and here's why. Check the comparison chart of Palm models, which is the same today as it was then. In particular, compare the TX to the much older Tungsten T5, which it was supposedly replacing, or at least stealing the top-of-range designation from. Yes, the TX is $A 100 cheaper, but it has less memory (128M vs 256M), and a slower CPU (312MHz vs 416MHz). Sure, it had wireless, but this just wasn't making sense. Someone else was paying for my PDA, and I wanted the best model in Palm's range, but it wasn't even clear what they thought the top of their range was, let alone what the specifications implied. In a last ditch effort to buy something, I tried to purchase a Tungsten T5 with a wireless network adapter card, which Palm was marketing as a bundle at the time. The store was out. I gave up.

Six months passed, and by the weekend just past, it was becoming critical that I spend the money on a new PDA. I re-checked Palm's range: no movement there. I settled on the TX from the unchanged comparison chart, deciding that wireless really was worth a cut in speed and memory. (Remember, PalmOS is lightweight. It's not like my old IIIx was even slow.) Between my previous expedition and last weekend, an article went up at O'Reilly's Mac Dev Center: New Palm TX Forced Me to Address Mac Sync Options by Giles Turnbull. This article basically sealed the deal for me, though it was obvious I would be forking out a further $US 39.95 for The Missing Sync from Mark/Space. The take-home message from Turnbull's article was that iSync could handle the basics (and I knew that—I've been syncing my Zire 71 since I bought the PowerBook), but that The Missing Sync fills in all the gaps.

The TX is working well so far. It's hard to be super-enthusiastic about getting a new Palm, for several reasons:
  • New models are usually just evolutionary upgrades on old models, as opposed to revolutionary. PalmOS hasn't changed in any jaw-dropping ways since my old IIIx. It's in colour now, and the calendar application can finally handle events that span midnight, but other than that level of change, it's all pretty familiar. Which is good.
  • Upgrading old third party applications can be tough. For example, I have used CryptInfo for a few years to store passwords. That's great, except you'll see that CryptInfo is no longer being developed, and it's a crusty, old PalmOS 2.0 application. I'm going to check out Keyring for Palm OS, mostly because it's free software, and there's not enough free software for the Palm. Now the bad bit: I'm going to have to transfer the data between these applications by hand.
  • If you're an old Palm user, your new Palm Just Works like your old Palm Just Worked. You wouldn't expect any less, and it's nothing to get excited about.
Having said that, here are some initial observations, mostly positive:
  • There's no cradle. I might be in a minority here, but I think that's good. Palm cradles are chunky, and a pain to travel with. There's a connector for a wall charger, and a connector for a USB cable. Even better, the TX charges from USB, so if you're travelling with a laptop, you only need to take a single cable, no wall adapter, and no cradle. I do, however, completely agree with Turnbull's observation on the USB connector:
    On the downside, the USB connector cable that came with the Palm TX is difficult to plug into the Palm--it almost feels like you've got the wrong cable. It's more a case of jamming it into place, rather than it plugging in neatly with a satisfying click.
  • The supplied flip cover is junk. The slide-on connector is flimsy, it barely covers the screen, and there's nothing to stop it from flipping back open. You couldn't throw it into a bag or briefcase, for example, with just this cover protecting it.
  • Wireless worked without a hitch. (That's not the complete truth. More on my ongoing WLAN saga later.)
  • The supplied email client (VersaMail) is quite satisfactory. I entered a few details relating to my IMAP server, and it downloaded unread messages from my Inbox over wireless.
  • Bluetooth worked without a hitch. I paired it with my PowerBook and my Motorola V3, the latter just to see if I could.
  • There's no longer a dedicated text-entry pad taking up potential screen real estate. Instead, I can now enter text as Graffiti 2 anywhere on the screen. (For old-timers for whom that sounds scary, a "classic" text-entry area can be displayed at the bottom of the screen where it used to sit on older models.)
  • Portrait-landscape switiching is now a feature native to the OS. (Older models could do this if the application implemented it.) Any application can be run in landscape mode. This makes the built-in web browser (Blazer) just about feasible for, well, web browsing.
Based on Turnbull's article, I didn't even bother trying to sync with iSync. I purchased The Missing Sync and installed it straight away. It's pretty much the Palm syncing solution that iSync wants to be (and that Palm should be providing for free). I could praise it at length, but you may as well just check out the feature list. It does all that. If I'd ever heard of it prior to last weekend, I would have bought it for my Zire 71. I've synced my TX over USB, Bluetooth and wireless. The single problem I encountered was a conduit conflict—it seems two of the original Palm conduits were left in place after The Missing Sync installed (related to the Memo Pad application), and I had to manually move them into a Disabled Conduits folder. This was disappointing, because other than that it all proceeded flawlessly.

I think it's a shame that the Palm range has kind of stagnated. Unless there's some particular reason you need the memory and processor speed, though, the TX is a good buy for OS X users. I wouldn't even consider not budgeting the extra $US 39.95 for The Missing Sync, though.


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