Palm Tungsten T (m550) Review

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Julie’s comments are in BLACK, Judie’s are in italicized BLUE

How long has it been since Palm has had
something fresh, something different, something cool? Sure, they’ve released
their required new PDA models every year as almost every other manufacturer
has done, but when was the last time that they actually came out with something that
kicked your gadget lust up a notch? Was it the Palm IIIc? The Palm V? Yes, it’s
really been THAT long if you ask me.

Right! It was over 3 years ago when the first metal
bodied Palm V unit was introduced. This was the sleekest, sexiest, most advanced
Palm at the time – and it raised the bar in terms of producing pocketable PDAs.
I can still remember thinking that if Palm would only release a color V, then I
would have my ultimate PDA. Then when the Palm IIIc came out, over two years
ago, I managed to overlook the hulking body and concentrated instead on the
bright, beautiful screen. That was
the first Palm PDA with color – and for me it signaled the end of my personal
monochrome PDA era.

The same happened for me. After buying the Palm IIIc, I never wanted to go
back to mono. All of Palm’s PDAs since those two models have mainly been incremental
upgrades. Nothing major, nothing too exciting… Happily, we can now add a new
date to the PDA history book for Palm. November, 2002: Palm has finally released
something exciting again!

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The Tungsten | T (yeah, I know… who in the world comes up with these stupid
model names?), otherwise known as the m550, is Palm’s new baby.

For those of you that have had chemistry, you know
that Tungsten is one of the heavier elements: number 74 on the Periodic Chart
with the symbol “W.” This PDA can’t really be described as “
A hard, brittle,
corrosion-resistant, gray [although the “gray” does fit] to white
metallic element extracted from wolframite, scheelite, and other minerals,
having the highest melting point and lowest vapor pressure of any metal,”
which is the actual definition of Tungsten. So, I did a little bit more digging,
and found that in Swedish, “tung” means “heavy” (from the Old Norse "thungr")
and "sten,” means “stone” (from the Old Norse "steinn.”). So
is Palm trying to tell us that this new PDA is a “heavy stone”? Hmmmm…

Hey, I learned something today!

I have no clue as to what the extra “T” means,
though…but I digress.

This time around,
there is a new OS version, a unique new body style, and several other important
new features that just might propel this Palm OS PDA to the top of everyone’s “suh-weet!” gadget list. At least that is what Palm is hoping for… But, what do
we think? Grab a coke, get comfy, and read on…

Hardware Specifications:

Processor: Texas Instruments 144Mhz OMAP 1510 (ARM)
Operating System: Palm OS software v5.0
Memory: 4MB Flash/16MB RAM
Display: Reflective TFT color LCD 65,000+ colors, 320×320 Pixel
Interface: HotSync USB cradle, Infrared
Communications: Integrated Bluetooth radio and antenna
Expansion: SD / MMC card slot, Universal connector
Audio: 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
Power: AC Adapter 120VAC, 60Hz
Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
Dimensions and Weight: 4.0 x 3.0 x 0.6 in. (closed), 4.8 x 3.0 x 0.6 in. (open)
/ 5.5 oz.

When I first saw the rumored pictures of the Tungsten T, I thought the slide
down design was a wacky idea and I wasn’t really impressed at all. I wasn’t
even interested in buying one. But as usual, my curiosity got the best of me,
and I ordered one the very day they were announced. My thoughts were that I would give it a try,
write the review,
and if I hated it, send it right back to Palm.

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I was not only unimpressed, I was also vaguely
insulted. In an e-mail to a group of people that Julie and I correspond with, I
actually came out and said: “
am still trying to figure out why we are supposed to get excited about a screen
that Sony has had for some time, and the illusion of a soft graffiti screen…I
mean, isn’t that what they are basically doing by “hiding” the graffiti area? I
guess that I have been spoiled with the screen of the NR70…and even all of the
Pocket PCs with their soft graffiti areas and higher resolution screens, but
still! For $499 I want something more than a sliding graffiti area and
Bluetooth! Now…if they would have hidden a sliding key-board, ala Zaurus…that
could have been very cool!”

Truth be told, I wasn’t
even going to order a Tungsten – Julie was going to have to do this review by
herself, because I was holding out for the new CLIÉ NX70V! What piqued my
interest? I am almost embarrassed to say it, but there was a Palm flyer that
came in the mail – probably the same day I wrote that flaming e-mail, and on the front
was an actual sized picture of the TT. I thought it was cute, small, and
suddenly I had to hold one. Since it was a Friday when I decided this, and since
I can (obviously) be very compulsive, after making a few calls and realizing no
internet company would have it to me before the following Monday, I started
calling local office supplies – finally finding a TT at the local Office Depot.

You were soooo lucky! It took me a half a dozen phone calls, a diary rant, a carton of
Rolaids and a full week till I got mine from Palm! What a pain! But then when
the box finally arrived, and I first saw the T, I was like “oooooooh, purdy…”
It didn’t take much, I was in love. I’ll admit that I tend to judge a book by its cover… at least at first.

I definitely had the same first impression.
I must say that whoever came up with the packing design idea for the Tungsten
deserves a gold star!

When closed, the T looks like a PDA that has had its growth stunted. It is
short, squatty and has a surprising heft to it that I personally like.

Me too! I’ve always liked little things that had
heft to them, and this “heavy stone” definitely fits that bill.

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[Top to bottom: Tungsten T, Palm m505, Sony CLIE NR70V]

With rounded sides and a curved top and bottom, it feels comfortable to
hold and use. It’s a very solid PDA that passed my squeeze and creak tests
without problem. Shaking it did yield a few rattles though from the small voice
recorder button on the side. Nothing worth complaining about, that’s for sure.

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When the bottom section is opened fully, the T is still a solid device. I’ve read that some people are
having problems with the top collapsing down on its own when holding the unit by
the bottom or even when it is in the cradle. Luckily, I’ve not had this problem at all with mine. There’s a definite
click when the bottom is fully extended and also when it is closed. A nice touch is the fact
that the T will power on when you extend the bottom. It doesn’t power off once
you close it though.

Actually, there is a setting under Preferences/Power
where you can make it do that, or you can even disable the “Power-On when
opened” feature.

I’ve found that I like to use the T closed almost all the time (at least when I
don’t need to use Graffiti). It fits great in my hand… perfect for games and
e-book reading.

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Definitely. I think this is really the way it was
intended to be used. Although I do plenty of Graffiti entry throughout the day,
I do even more reading, game playing, and in-program soft-screen button data
entry – so the closed position is perfect most of the time.

The Tungsten T has a bluish grey metal outer shell which is smooth and cool
to the touch. The design is simple. It doesn’t have any gaudy colors, chrome buttons etc. I really like the look of it. In my opinion it looks like something Apple would have designed.

The TT is definitely a PDA that you will not be
embarrassed to whip out in even the most conservative business meetings. In
fact, the flashiest ting about it, is its bright color screen.

The front of the T has a status LED, speaker grill, display and buttons. The
status LED glows green while in the cradle charging, and blinks green when an
alarm goes off.

This is one area where I can see room for
improvement. I mean, how much more trouble would it be, or how much extra cost
would it entail, for Palm to have made a light that changed colors. Maybe red or
orange for charging, and green for fully charged. That’s the type of convenient
touch that can really impress me.

I totally agree with you there! Even if they just went with a blinking while charging, steady when fully charged deal, I would be happy. By the way, there are hacks that will accomplish this task for OS 4. One such hack is called Batlight. Hopefully an OS 5 version will be available soon, but I still think it should have been a built in feature.

I will have to check that out! :0)

The speaker on this PDA is LOUD. I think it’s safe to say that it is the loudest Palm OS device to date. You can
definitely use this one as an alarm clock. It is disappointing to note that the
T doesn’t ‘seem’ to support polyphonic alarms like the CLIÉ.

I was quite disappointed when I tried to get the James
Bond alarm that I use on my NR70V to work on the TT. What resulted was some of
the most garbled crud I have ever encountered.

It is supposed to support MP3 playback… but guess what? There isn’t an MP3
player included with the device! How lame is that? Supposedly, one is coming
soon from Real Media. But who wants to wait? Not me!

Not me, either! Since I have not yet been able to
listen to an MP3 through the TT, I have to wonder how it will handle music – or
if MP3s will only be a feature you can use through headphones…LAME!

The display on the T is fantastic. This is Palm’s first device with a hi-res 320 x 320 pixel display. Compared to the NR70V, the display is just as crisp and clear. But, the background on the T is white while the NR has more of a bluish cast to it. A fact that I had never really noticed until now.

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[Left to right: Tungsten T, Sony CLIE NR70V both at full bright, no flash]

It does take a little while to get used to going back
to the shorter screen, once you have been spoiled by the longer, even higher
resolution CLIÉ’s. I am still working on that…

I have read that people are reporting dust in their screens. So far mine does not have this affliction… and I hope it stays that way!

I haven’t had any dust either – knock on wood!

Unlike the CLIÉ, the T does not have a preference to turn off high res for specific applications. I can say that I’ve had no problems with the way any of my older programs display. I’m very happy with the quality of the display!

I ran into a major problem when I tried to play
Centipede, one of my favorite games. I can play it on my CLIÉ because there is
the option of disabling the hi-res for any given program. Unfortunately, Palm
didn’t include that option on the TT. Perhaps this isn’t a serious oversight for
some, but it does bother me. I sure would have loved playing the game on the TT
– the layout of its button and the nav-pad would have made for a great

Below the display are the 4 application buttons, and the 5-way navigator button. The application buttons are small hard domed buttons that have great tactile feedback. They do stick up slightly from the face of the PDA. The navigator button is another first for Palm. The pad is a concave metal button that can be pressed in four directions: up, down, left or right. In the center is a separate domed button that functions a select. This configuration
is great for games and actually allows you to pretty well use the T for lookup functions one-handed.

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This nav-pad is the selling point for me in regards to
the TT. I didn’t think it would matter that much to me one way or the other –
boy, was I wrong! Palm really did good in following Pocket PC’s example by
including it. Just as the Palm IIIc’s addition of color was a defining moment in
my PDA purchasing, the TT’s nav-pad has had the same effect on me.

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Pressing the select button while the PDA is powered off, will power it on and launch the
World Clock application before powering back off in 5 seconds. If you hold the select button in for a few seconds,
the application launcher will be invoked. From there, you can press the select once again to highlight an icon. Using the D-pad, you can then scroll to the desired application and select once more to execute it.
It would be great if pressing the D-pad to the left would continue to back you
out of an app, but it doesn’t.

I sure hope someone comes up with a software hack that
allows for this!

The left side of the T has a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, voice recorder button
and microphone. Volume level and sound quality thru headphones is very good. As
for the voice recorder, that’s yet another Palm first. The record quality isn’t
too shabby either. I’m really not one to use a voice recorder, but it’s nice to
know that I have the option. The Voice Memo application is very simple, it
mainly allows you to record, play and beam notes. It does let you automatically
copy recordings to an SD card as WAV files if you have one installed, and it shows you how
much time you have left to record, which is nice.

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I recorded a voice memo while holding the Palm at the
end of my fully extended right arm and speaking in my normal tone. Amazingly
enough – the recording was acceptable. Of course, I would normally hold the PDA
closer to my mouth when recording, and at this range, the  result is very

The voice memo application has a feature that allows you to set a one time alarm
using a recording. The recording has to be in RAM, and not on an SD card. If you
try to use one on an SD card, it will ask if you want to move it to RAM. It
would be nice if you could use recordings and other WAV files as a regular

The top of the PDA has the Power switch (which doubles as the backlight toggle), IR port, SD slot and stylus silo.
IR strength appears to be pretty good. I was able to beam addresses to and from
a Sony CLIE NR70V up to 5 ft. The SD slot is an SDIO slot which means you can
use SD accessories other than just memory cards. The stylus included with the T
is a really nice one. It is metal with a spring loaded top. I’m guessing that it
is held in the silo with a magnet. It reminds me of my old Apple Message pad
with the pop out stylus. It does not include a reset pin, but the tip is long
enough to activate the switch on the back of the PDA.

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Right. I think this is another area where Palm picked
up a clue from Pocket PC. It is simply too much of a pain to unscrew your stylus
to expose the reset pin; now you no longer have to.

The Universal connector is located on the bottom of the T. The same cradle as used by the other m500 series devices is included with the Tungsten. I was happy to find that inserting and removing the T from the cradle only required one hand.

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I got suckered by the “universal” connecter when I
bought a Belkin sync/charge cable, though. Even though it connected perfectly to
my Palm m505, it did not clamp on to my TT (m550) at all. If I totally held it
in place, then I was rewarded with a green light – signifying a charge – but the
minute I quit holding it, the light would disappear. I thought accessories with
the universal connector were supposed to universally fit each other!

The back of the PDA has the reset switch. It can only be activated when the bottom is extended.

While this isn’t too big of a deal right now (since I
don’t yet have a case for my TT), it may become more inconvenient once I do have

Instead of a cheesy slip case, the T comes with a clear plastic screen cover. It
easily snaps on over the front and can also snap on the back.

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If you are interested in the thinnest most portable
carrying solution, this snap-on cover may actually make you very happy.

When the screen cover is on the
front, there is a cutout for the nav pad. This allows you to press the select
button to see the time, or to navigate thru apps with one hand. Most of the
built in apps have some support for the nav pad, but the address book is the
best. A new quick look up feature has been added that allows you to quickly find
a contact and to dial the number (if you use Bluetooth or IR).

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The way it works, is that you would press the select button in and hold it. This
would power on the T and put you in the apps launcher. Then you would press the
select button again to highlight an icon. You can then scroll to the address
book icon and press the select button to launch it. Pressing the nav pad to the
right, will bring up the quick lookup panel. The panel has 5 squares. Depending
on the letter that your first contact’s last name starts with, that letter will
be in the first box. You can then use the nav pad to scroll thru the letters. If
you wanted to look up someone with the last name of Hughes, you would scroll
down till the first letter was an H. Then you would press the right button to go
to the next square. It will automatically fill in with the 2nd letter of the
first contact that starts with H. You can use the nav pad to scroll that letter
to U and then press the right nav pad to go to the next box and so on. Once
you’ve filled all the boxes possible, you can press the select button which will
put you on the highlighted entry. You can press select again to go into that
entry. Once you’re in the actual contact info, pressing right will popup the
call window that allows you to easily dial one of their listed numbers via

Yeah…it’s too bad I don’t yet have any other BlueTooth capable devices, much less a phone!

As Palm’s first ARM-based device, the Tungsten’s system performance is
fantastic! Things seem so much faster with OS 5 compared to the Sony CLIE NR70V
running OS 4. Applications pop up quicker, the screen refreshes quicker. It just
feels all around quite a bit snappier.

I use Quicksheet spreadsheets quite a bit for my day
job, and one of the things that would annoy me with previous Palm OS versions
was that the larger the sheet, the longer it took to open it,  enter data
in individual cells, and then close the sheet. As a matter of fact, it could get
painfully slow. So one of the main improvements I was looking for with
the new processor and OS was increased speed in this area. I am pleased to say
that there has been a definite improvement.

OS 4 applications actually run in an emulation mode. Due to that fact, there may be some apps that just won’t work in this new OS and new processor. People that use a lot of Hacks will have the most trouble adjusting to the new device. Palm claims that no hacks should work, but Tealpoint Software is claiming them wrong with their TealMaster hack manager.

Right now I’m running a mixture of OS 5 applications and OS 4 applications. Some of the OS4 apps that I’m running without problems are: Vexed, TV Browser, Abysma, Diet Assistant, Dates!, and TealMovie. So far, no crashes.

I do have one major grumble. The T is billed as a 16mb device. But in fact, there is only 14mb available to you for data and installation of your own applicatoins. This kinda sucks if you ask me.

The differences with OS 5 a not glaringly obvious. I have really only noticed a
few things so far. As mentioned earlier, a quick look up feature has been added
to the Address book. The Preferences application has also been redesigned along
with the sound prefs.

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Unfortunately, one of the biggest gripes about Palm OS continues to live in this
new version. The 4k Memo size limit. I guess we have to wait for OS 6 for that
to change…

But you can buy programs that allow for larger note
taking, so it is possible to work around that limitation.

Yeah, but come on, this should have been dealt with eons ago….

Battery life seems on par with the other color Palm’s that I’ve used. I’ve read
books for a couple hours, played games, synced with a non-charging cable
multiple times during the day and have never gone below half full battery
levels. I’m curious to see how well the battery will perform once an MP3 player
is available…

By now, all of you know how much I enjoy reading
e-books. I have been known to actually decide which PDA I will carry based on
how it performs while I am reading: how it feels in my hand, how easy it is to
turn and book-mark pages, how easy the screen is on my eyes, and how well the
battery lasts. Let me just say that I have become completely spoiled not only by
the nav-pad on the TT, but also by the fact that the screen is easily readable
on half-brightness – which allows for hours of happy reading. This has come in
particularly handy with all the traveling and doctor’s-waiting-room-sitting I
have been doing lately!

Another first for Palm is the integrated Bluetooth 1.1 radio. The Tungsten T
supports the Dial-up Networking profile for connecting to the Internet through a
GSM/GPRS mobile phone. It also includes support for hotsyncing via Bluetooth and
printing through certain models of Bluetooth enabled Hewlett-Packard printers.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do much testing with the radio. The only
Bluetooth device that I have is a Sony Ericsson T68i mobile phone. I was able to
create a partnership between the phone and the T, but because the GSM coverage
in my area is so poor, I was unable to actually test surfing or dialing using
the pair.
Judie and I will be meeting up next week at Comdex, and will test the chat
capabilities of our two units at that time and report back on our findings.

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I can’t wait to play Scrabble with Julie via BlueTooth…I also want to try Blue Chat!

That was the hardware side of the equation, now let’s take a look at the
included software bundle.


Palm Desktop 4.1

Chapura Pocket Mirror 3.1 – Syncs your Palm with Microsoft Outlook.

Dialer – Telephone keypad interface for use with Bluetooth, IR or serial

SMS – Send and receive short text messages with your Palm and a GSM phone.

Acrobat Reader – PDF file viewer for your desktop.

BlueBoard – Allows you share ideas with up to three
other Bluetooth users simultaneously in a whiteboard like environment.

BlueChat – Text based instant messaging.

Copytalk – Get and send email by talking on your mobile phone.

DataViz Documents To Go v5 – View, edit and create
Word, Excel or PowerPoint-compatible files right on your handheld. Excellent
package that automatically syncs any changes made on the desktop or handheld.
Full registered version of the software is included.

Handmark Software:
MagicDogs – Play war or hearts on your
handheld. Use Bluetooth or IR to play an opponent wirelessly.

MobileDB – Popular database application.
Monopoly (trial version) – Classic board game.
Scrabble (trial version) – Classic board game.

Palm Reader – Popular e-book reader.

Palm Web Browser Pro – Web browser.

Phone Link Updater – Downloads the latest Bluetooth drivers and carrier

PhotoBase – Image viewer.

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powerOne Personal calculator – Advanced calculator.

VersaMail 2.0 – E-mail client with IMAP features.

As you can see, the Tungsten T comes with a pretty nice software bundle.

Overall, I’m very happy with the Tungsten T. In fact,
I’m so happy with it, that I’m using it now as my main PDA! As soon as an MP3
player is released, I’ll be even happier. They always say that good things come
in small packages… I’m glad that there is finally something from Palm to be
excited about.

To me, the Tungsten | T is a statement by Palm. A
statement that they are finally listening to the consumer. I don’t know whether
Palm is getting tired of Sony stealing all of their hardware thunder, whether
they are sick of hearing people complain that they (Palm) no longer innovate, or
whether it is that they want to try to steal back some of the market share other
PDA OS manufacturer’s have stolen. Whatever it is, Palm is making a giant step
in the right direction. I can only hope that they will continue to listen, and
will not be content resting on the fact that they are the “Mighty Palm,” but
will instead do everything it takes to keep their customers happy.


Price: $499

Fast performance
Bright high resolution display
Bluetooth enabled
Voice recorder

MP3 player software not included
Only 14mb available for data and applications
No low res option
Crappy system alarm sounds
No full charge indication


Product Information

  • Fast performance
  • Bright high resolution display
  • Bluetooth enabled
  • Voice recorder
  • MP3 player software not included
  • Only 14mb available for data and applications
  • No low res option
  • Crappy system alarm sounds
  • No full charge indication

14 thoughts on “Palm Tungsten T (m550) Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Hi Galahad,

    Hmmm, I’m not writing reviews yet. My thesis takes all of my time. And time = money, so I can’t buy me new gadgets. Who is waiting for a review of the outdated Tungsten T after all?

    The subject of my thesis is the medical practitioners’ need for management information, I’m studying Medical Information Science.

    It’s not Karin, my name is Carin 😉

  3. Hell yeah check out Galahad here, I can feel this guy is trying to squeeze an inch in on her. Just check it!! He created an account just to write her!!! Hey Carin, you’ve been warned.

  4. Yeah, looking forward to the reviews. I’m also female and love to get my hands on gadgets and stuff. But, like most people, I don’t have the money to buy everything that’s out there. This would be such a cool job, to play around with new gadgets and write reviews on them. Cool!

  5. yay! Girl gadget hounds unite 🙂

    I’m just waiting for a 10 G SD card to come out so I can play lots of music from my Treo 600.


  6. Hahaha, seriously, I’d be really happy with 4 G, the 1 Gs are out there but they are still silly expensive 🙁

  7. Just purchased a used m550 and found you article very informative, but I can not fine a way to connect to the internet, if it can be done.
    I’m just a novice trying to get up to speed in the 21th century.

  8. I have a Tungsten Palm m550 when I go to download my address information it only picks up the work addresses it does not download my home addresses. Does anyone know how to help me. I am not very Techno or can you lead me to someone who could help me.????

  9. Fernando Godoy Joao (from Brazil)

    Hi folks. Thank’s for the marvelous review!

    I’m pleased to say that, after 7 years, I just win a used (but almost new) TT from a friend. I’m very happy with it. It’s still a good equipment for my needs. Thak’s again!

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