I have a Palm Tungsten E (known among Palmanistas as the TE) that I no longer use much. Yesterday and today, inspired by a bad back left over from hauling a slew of electronic equipment hither and yon while traveling, I sat down and attempted to get this old workhorse to do everything to keep me entertained for a whole day of transit. I like to read, listen to music, and watch videos—and the videos are important to me because my portable DVD player is heavy. I have a hard drive full of .avi files that I want to be able to watch while on the road; currently I burn them to CD or DVD.
Most Palmanistas know all the stuff I detail below. Here, I document my 2-day attempt to get my little-used TE to do all the things I should have been doing this whole time. I researched turning the device into an .mp3 player, e-reader, .pdf reader, and .mp4 video player. All of this was done in a desperate attempt to prove that I do not need to rush out and blow $400 on the highest-capacity iPod touch available. TEs are obsolete, but I have no problem installing old software optimized for an older device.
I found the way tortuous and perilous. I was able to meet all my goals: I was able to add everything on my wish list, although the quest for playing video nearly sent me over the bend. I worked on this project solidly for 2 days, only to be foiled, at the very end, by a technical detail.
My goal was to update my TE—for free, of course!—to make it do as many things as possible, to keep me amused while in transit. My desktop runs Windows XP Pro. My TE is on its second battery. Changing the battery requires soldering (!), so I sent it off somewhere a couple years ago to have it replaced by a pro. This voided the warranty, but I have a brand spankin’ new battery that presumably will last a good, long time. I’m uncertain of the battery life, but online research indicates the TE will be good for 2 hours of continuous use—more if I get a battery-powered extender.
The amount of money I’ve lost spending 2 solid days on this would have been worth springing for the iPod touch. However, it became a Mission for me to make my Palm play video!
Before I began
It took me about 6 hours to charge the unit up. I hadn’t used it in at least a year, so the device was totally drained. I synced the TE immediately, and it reinstalled a bunch of software that had disappeared during its hard reset.
I downloaded and installed the following updates and patches: the Palm Outlook Conduit Updater, itself an update of an update; the Palm Tungsten E SDIO Update; and Palm Desktop 4.1.4. Palm has a master Tungsten E update list here.
EDIT TO ADD: A commenter wondered where to download Palm OS v5. Palm provides a list of Palm OS versions with links to upgrades. My TE has Palm OS v.5.2.1, and no upgrade is available for my unit. I have not been able to figure out how to obtain the OS, so if you need it but don’t have a disk, I’d suggest visiting Palm’s site and asking their support guys.
After a few unsuccessful syncs, I realized I had to change my preferences for hotsyncing. I right-clicked on the HotSync Manager icon in my tray. One choice in the pop-up menu is Custom. I selected that, and from there, I was able to alter the actions performed with each hotsync. For instance, I had to change the following to “Enable”: Install; Install Service Templates; and Install to Card.
Deleting unused programs
I had a few programs I wanted to delete altogether from the TE, notably VersaMail and certain programs having to do with dialing a mobile phone. I don’t have a plan that permits me to check e-mail on my TE, so it’s all useless functionality. It took a while for me to figure out how to delete unwanted programs. It’s a three-step process: the files must be deleted from the TE, the desktop, and the backup sync file.
1. Delete from TE
To delete the program from the TE, I clicked my little-house Home icon and made sure that I was viewing all applications. I clicked the date tab in the upper left, which revealed a two-choice menu. I chose App, then Delete. A list of programs came up, and I selected various files for deletion. If I didn’t know immediately what the program or file did, I left it alone.
2. Delete from desktop
Some of the matching programs needed to be deleted from my desktop through Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs. Not all programs need to be deleted this way, so if you’re mirroring my tips here, don’t worry if you don’t see it.
3. Delete from backup
The Palm simply reinstalled the programs I deleted until I learned how to delete the backup files. I found out where the application information resides via Palm’s helpful tutorial here. To be safe, I first archived all the files in a .zip file, then deleted all the files inside the Backup folder in My Computer > C > Program Files > Palm > (username) > Backup. The files here are .pdb and .prc files. I also entirely deleted the Temp000 folder inside Backup.
Contact and calendar
First up was syncing contact and calendar info. I keep everything in Gmail and Gmail Calendar. I cleaned out my old copy of Microsoft Outlook 2003 on my desktop. Next, I went into Google Contacts and exported all my contacts as a .csv file, then imported it into Outlook. That worked great: all my contacts showed up in Outlook properly, although in previous iterations of Contacts, I’ve had to delete contacts with empty name fields, from contacts imported into my list automatically by Google. Luckily, Google doesn’t do that any more, and I had no problems this time. Still, it’s a good idea to prune your contact list before you sync with the TE.
Importantly, during the hotsync, Outlook must be running. Otherwise it can’t find the information to update.
[[Note: When I mirrored this action on my laptop, Outlook would not let me import a .csv file. I had to install a component from the Office installation disk.]]
Next, I downloaded Google Calendar Sync, which, as you might suppose, and you’d be correct, syncs Google Calendar with Outlook. This is a particularly useful tool because Google doesn’t sync natively with many devices, including the iPhone and iPod touch. The workaround is to transfer everything to Outlook, which is supported, and then sync.
I set my Google Calendar Sync defaults to only go one way: I will maintain only Gmail Calendar, not its desktop Outlook mirror, and thus the TE will always be updated to match the version in Outlook. I ran a hotsync with the Palm and everything transferred over correctly.
As a default, the TE comes with RealPlayer for Palm. I’ve used it before, and it’s buggy in that it crashes randomly, but on the whole, it works fine and allows multitasking: I can play a game on the TE while listening to music. Other programs, like TCPMP, don’t permit this.
To sync music to the TE with RealPlayer, I would have to download RealPlayer onto my desktop and then export playlists to the device. I’m not willing to install RealPlayer on my desktop. Like most music-management programs, it’s bloated and frustratingly slow. I’ll stick with iTunes for my huge, memory-hogging, slow, resource-draining music management system, thanks. One is enough.
For e-books, I had no trouble finding a good e-reader: I simply installed the reader that came on the TE’s CD, which is Palm Reader. It reads files in .pdb format. I downloaded a bunch of free Creative Commons and public-domain .pdb books from various sources. A quick Google search will provide you with all you need. I downloaded some new SF, some old SF, some Gothics, and a few collections of ghost stories.
I also found Easy PDB, a program that converts .txt files to .pdb. This program is so minimalistic as to be initially confusing, and with the free version you can only convert one file at a time, but it worked as advertised. (Tip: Only put a single hard return between paragraphs; the .pdb version throws in extra white space between paragraphs so you don’t have to.) I used this program to convert some .doc scans of a mystery novelist I like whose books are out of print: I saved the .doc files as .txt, then converted to .pdb. Worked great!
Many people swear by Plucker, which lets you convert .html files to a Palm-readable format. This would be the perfect way to obtain content for those who love their fanfic.
The .pdf reader was also simple: I went right to the source for all things .pdf, Adobe. Adobe Reader for Palm OS 7.0 is the program to have. The program installed without a hitch. If, like me, you don’t use Adobe Reader to read your .pdfs, that’s fine. You don’t need the desktop version of the full software for the Palm OS version to work.
I was able to install a .pdf copy of one novel onto the TE and read it, but all other .pdfs I attempted were in an unsupported format. I couldn’t tell which files would work and which files wouldn’t work; they all had the same .pdf extension, despite their clearly different encoding schemes, and Document Properties were no help at all. When I called up an improperly formatted .pdf file, Adobe attempted to impose the correct formatting, but in all but one case, it gave up in despair after a few minutes. Many documents are available as .pdf, so I was disappointed that this would not work.
Adobe Reader for Palm must be started on the desktop and the files pulled over to the menu it presents, then the Palm sync begun. It can’t be pulled into Palm Desktop or Palm Quick Install, then synced.
Even though I have only one .pdf text to read, I left the program on the computer. I’ll play with finding and converting .pdfs later, but so many texts are available in .pdb format that I’m not going to sweat it. After all, this is my travel toy.
EDIT TO ADD: A commenter noted that it’s possible to save .pdfs as .txt, which could then be easily saved to .pdb format. So true! I downloaded PDFZilla and converted to .txt a .pdf that Adobe Reader for Palm had declined to reformat for me, then converted the .txt file to .pdb. Although it’s readable, all paragraph returns were lost: every page is presented as one dense block of text. I then downloaded Adobe Acrobat Reader v9 and gave their .pdf-to-.txt tool a spin. It was even worse: it put a hard return at the end of every single line, which would render the .pdb file unreadable. I’ve uninstalled Adobe Acrobat Reader (bloatware!) and will use PDFZilla for all my simple .pdf-to-.txt conversion needs. And for those of you interested in the program I use to read .pdfs: I like Foxit Reader 3.0 for Windows.
Basically, there are two types of video files in this world: .mp4 and .avi. The latter are played on large devices like portable DVD players or computers. The former are played on devices with smaller screens, like phones or iPods. My TE has a screen size of 320 x 320p. Research quickly revealed that although some Palm players play .avi natively, it’s not a good use of space. It’s far better to convert the .avi file to a smaller-footprint .mp4 file. These files will reside on an expansion card.
The TE CD had an old version of Kinoma on it. This program optimizes encoding and playback of various file formats, including .avi and .mp4. It’s currently available as Kinoma Player 4 EX for Palm OS for $25.
I began by installing the free version on the CD, which I figured was optimized for the TE’s platform. The player installed no problem and showed up after a hotsync. However, I experienced a problem when I tried to encode a recent short Wallace and Gromit .avi file through Old Kinoma. The .avi file’s encoding was clearly too advanced for the poor obsolete player to encode. I knew it: codec problem!
I therefore deleted Old Kinoma and installed Up-to-Date Kinoma v4. I was confident that this would take care of the codec problem. And it might have, only once I transferred Up-to-Date Kinoma v4 to the TE, it asked me for my e-mail address so it could activate the program. (It’s a paid program, but I was trying the demo.) However, I have no way to squirt that e-mail address info over the magic Internet to inform Kinoma that yes, I’d like to do this. I tried anyway: I used my stylus to pick out my e-mail address and tried to send, but no dice. Just going through the motions did not satisfy it. I therefore deleted Up-to-Date Kinoma v4, because I had no way to activate it.
Google had reavealed to me that most Palm users like TCPMP, or The Core Pocket Media Player 0.72 RC1, available as freeware for Palm OS, although it is no longer being supported. Wikipedia’s TCPMP entry reports that it will be renamed BetaPlayer and will continue, but as I write this, BetaPlayer is still a placeholder Web page.
But what the heck! I installed TCPMP and all of its included components, because installing them all was less work than sorting through the ones I’d actually need. I ran a hotsync, and the program icon appeared.
However, TCPMP, unlike Kinoma, does not have an embedded file converter. Thus, I had a video player, but no videos to play.
Like a doofus, I didn’t think of downloading a sample short .mp4 file to test, to make sure that TCPMP even worked. Instead, I immediately began looking at conversion and encoding programs.
I want to be able to turn .avi into smaller .mp4 files optimized for an aspect ratio of 320p on the longest side. (I am not interested in ripping DVDs.) Even cursory Web surfing revealed that encoding files is a huge hassle for people like me, who want reliable one-click freeware and who are too impatient to learn all that confusing technical stuff. The Web is rife with people posting to forums, pleading for help because their audio and video don’t synchronize, or because the screen is black but sound plays, or because the codec is unavailable.
Trial 1: Pocket DVD Wizard
I found an Afterdawn forum that gave advice, so I tried out the method advocated by a poster. I installed Pilot Install, which is a program that lets you push info to your Palm without a full-on hotsync. I had already installed TCPMP and its up-to-date codecs. And I tried out a demo version of Pocket DVD Wizard.
I accidentally converted an .avi file to .avi, but with a different aspect ratio: I converted it as if turned on its side. This would work great if I had an extended screen, but I don’t. My screen is square. Doh! Still, if I needed to turn it on its side to get a nice landscape aspect ratio and then reencode to .mp4, I guess this would be one way to do it. The .avi-to-.avi conversion also made for a slightly smaller file, but not so much smaller that such conversion is actually worth the time.
While attempting to push a smaller .avi file to my TE with Pilot Install, I got the Blue Screen of Death. I tried it once again later (after saving all data) and again, it crashed my computer. I have uninstalled this program.
Trial 1 failed two criteria: the conversion program wasn’t freeware; and, well, Blue Screen of Death.
Trial 2: Any Video Converter (AVC) Free
I therefore turned to Lifehacker to tell me which program to use to convert .avi to .mp4. An October 31, 2007, post entitled Top 10 Free Video Rippers, Encoders, and Converters told me all I needed to know: Any Video Converter Free is what I want. It was the work of but a moment to obtain it.
I downloaded and installed this program onto my desktop, and I converted an .avi file to .mp4. I was unsure what file type to convert to: two .mp4 options were available. I decided on Customized MP4 Movie (*.mp4), which for most TV-show files will result in a final aspect ratio of 320 x 240p. For some reason, I converted the Doctor Who 2008 Christmas special, which reduced the .avi file size of 756,251 to an .mp4 file size of 397,800 KB. The file played fine in VLC Media Player when I tested it. However, I was unable to transfer it to my TE because the only expansion card I could find lying around was 16 MB. (I later stole my husband’s 128 MB card from his camera. But—yes—still too small.)
Trial 3: Additional downloads for TCPMP 0.72 RC1
I downloaded two test files: a very short test .mp4 file, which I managed to play with sound, and a trailer for 300, which refused several times to play audio or video or both, despite several attempts at encoding.
Audio was deliberately disabled (error message: “MPEG4AAC Audio decoder not included! It was removed from the official install package because of intellectual property considerations”). I was able to find and install a two plug-ins that a useful forum indicated were necessary. (More downloads for codecs are available here.) It took me about 6 hours to figure out what was going on and download the correct files. Both of these plug-ins were easy to install: they came as .zip files, which I uncompressed, and then dragged the resulting .prc file to the handheld in Palm Quick Install.
However, even after installing the program fixes, the straight-up, as-downloaded, high-quality 300 file was bad, with jumpy audio and video. I therefore used AVC to reencode the 300 .mp4 to .mp4 again. I looked at the other sample file’s features for help; I used VLC Media Player’s Tools > Media Information to look for clues.
I figured I needed to reduce the data footprint. I altered the file from its native 368 x 208p aspect ratio to 320 x 240p and lowered the bitrate. Again, jumpy. Take 3: encoding using mpeg 4 for the video codec. This did the trick! It’s perfectly watchable, and the sound is…loud.
To summarize, these are the settings that work to encode an .mp4 file for a Tungsten E in AVC:
- Install Palm OS AAC Decoder
- Install ffmpeg plug-in
- Install Active Sync 4.5 (Windows)
- Profile: Customized MP4 Movie (*.mp4)
- Video Options: Codec > mpeg4; Video Size > 320×240; Video Bitrate > 512; Video Framerate > 25
- Audio Options: Audio Bitrate > 128; Sample Rate > 44100; Audio Channel > 2; Disable Audio > No; A/V Sync > Basic
Wiping the memory card
While playing with all this (hours, let me tell you), I discovered that I could not wipe my expansion card. Supposedly you can do this within the Palm interface, but I found that this was not the case. I learned that I needed a program called FileProg to grant me access to the TE’s files. This program was ridiculously hard to find, although it is shareware and may be freely distributed.
It’s still easier to wipe the card through my husband’s camera (which is even easier than remembering how to wipe the card through the TE’s interface, which is possible). But once installed on the TE, this program usefully permits me to analyze file structure, both within the TE itself and within whatever card happens to be in the expansion slot. A must-have, especially if you’re doing a lot with expansion cards.
However, all my hard video work may have been in vain: all this effort for video only works if I have large-capacity memory cards. Certainly such cards are available—I had an 8 GB one in mind when I started this project—the lowest memory available for the iPod touch.
However, these large-capacity cards apparently do not work with the TE. Too bad, because an 8 GB card costs $37 at Walmart. I’d have to get a bunch of biggish expansion cards, probably maxing out at 512 MB just to be safe. Still, they’re not that expensive: a 1 GB card costs $10; a 512 MB card is $4. I’d have to get the low-end kind—none of this 50x action! It would clearly overwhelm my trusty little TE. I could easily budget $100 for a handful of little chips, assuming I find the perfect size to fit one or two converted TV shows, and still be ahead of the game.
Maintaining data on the road
I don’t want to be able to sync my TE with my laptop while on the road. One Contacts list to rule them all; one computer to rule them all! And that computer is not my cheap laptop.
Still, I want to be able to manage some data. After installing the CD onto my laptop, I told the software when it asked that the laptop was a secondary comupter, and weirdly, it magically connected with my desktop. It was eerie, watching my desktop mirror my laptop as it forced a desktop hotsync. (I’m not sure how I did it, actually; I have the laptop cabled into a wireless modem.) I aborted the hotsync and uninstalled the Palm software.
However, I do want to be able to put some .mp4 files on my laptop to swap out to new chips as needed. To do this, to my laptop, I downloaded Palm File Browser 1.3, a freeware application that will let me read my Palm as an external data device. This ought to let me delete .mp4 files off the expansion cards and copy over a new .mp4 file. (The paid program that hit most frequently in Google was the $12 Card Reader.) I haven’t tried this yet. In the .zip is a .prc file you drag to the device, and an .exe file that installs the program on the desktop.
Next up: expansion cards!
Tomorrow, therefore, I’ll go to Walmart and buy some chips to test. I can afford a $10 1-GB-card mistake. However, if I walk out with an iPod touch, it won’t be for lack of trying to do the right thing: reduce, reuse, recycle!