In a previous post, I discussed my obsessive quest to turn a retro device, the Palm Tungsten E (TE), into something that works for today’s discerning user. During my research, I found that most of the archived Web documents I was stumbling across were from, say, 2003, 2005, or 2007—rarely anything more recent. The Tungsten E2 is far more often discussed, and you can still buy it for $199, whereas the TE is not available for purchase through Palm’s Web site. Many TE applications are no longer available or supported.
You can get your very own TE used on eBay for about $45 to $60. Currently they seem to mainly be used by nurses to access medical info. Some of the eBay ads note that they have Internet capabilities, but I’d be careful about such claims. This 2003 CNET review provides lots of info about the TE. Wi-fi and Bluetooth are not included; the unit instead has IrDA (i.e., infrared) wireless connectivity.
I suspect that the biggest stumbling block to functionality for this handheld unit is the lack of battery staying power. Estimates range no higher than 3.5 hours if video is played continuously. Luckily, a battery travel charger is available for purchase for $13. It runs on four AAA batteries, and it charges the unit’s battery.
Another useful toy for those long-distance car or airplane rides is the VersaCharger PRO with Airplane Option, for about $35. I like the idea of plugging something into the airplane’s armrest or the car’s power socket and having power during the trip. However, during a recent trip, no airplane during the total four legs of my trip had an armrest socket. I’d therefore recommend the battery charger over an airplane plug-in. The VersaCharger comes with something to stick into your car’s power outlet, and certainly the charger bit works fine, so it’s not a total bust, but I regret this purchase. I wish I’d waited until I had researched airplane armest power sources better. I’m not going to return the unit because it works as advertised.
I also found that for the Palm OS platform, there isn’t really a killer app store like Apple’s, although Palm has cleaned up its Web site and organized all its data usefully, and there are several sites, like Handango, that specialize in software and apps. But come on—$11 to $20 a pop for some of these little programs that haven’t been updated for the last 4 years? No thanks. For something that old I want a price reduction to $2. Or better yet: if it’s not being supported anymore, make it available for free. I get that the Palm OS is used by people with fancy smartphones paid for by their companies, but the prices I saw for ancient software are way out of line.
Memory chips and the TE
The chips I had on hand were not large enough to accept an .mp4 file for a typical 45-minute TV show, so I rushed out and bought a 1 GB chip at Walmart so I could test the PE’s general ability to port and read .mp4 files. I also wanted to test battery life. Cost: a mere $10, my first financial outlay on this project. My TE happily read the chip. I pushed an .mp4 file through via Palm Quick Install’s HotSync, but I had to edit the filename to remove all spaces, or it wouldn’t sync. And it takes a long time to transfer over. A really, really long time. I prefer to push data to the chip via the Palm File Browser. It seems quicker, and it will also accept filenames with spaces.
As I mentioned in my last post, Internet buzz notes that expansion cards of more than 1 GB may or may not be readable by various Tungstens. You just have to try them and see. PalmSupport discusses the memory chip issue here. I tried various memory makers’ pulldown menus to find memory for the Palm OS and the Tungsten unit, but the E was rarely listed. Kingston and SanDisk, both names I recognized, list no hits for the E at their Web site.
Memory Suppliers lists a Transcend 8 GB 150X SDHC chip as being compatible, and it’s on sale for $30, no shipping fee. Order placed! EDIT to add: When the chip came and I tested it, I found to my dismay that neither the TE nor a Canon digital camera that takes the same kind of chips would read it. Correspondence with the responsive folks at Memory Suppliers reveals that the TE maxes out at 2 GB chips, so I’m exchanging the chip. My advice: buy two 1 GB chips for $20 and just swap them out. That size chip still holds a lot of video.
Wi-fi and the TE
As you know, I’m looking to refurbish my TE so I won’t blow $400 on an iPod touch, particularly not one specially painted red for an extra $125. (That would be Wrong.) I did walk by the iPod display in Walmart while shopping for chips, because I couldn’t help myself, but of course they were sold out.
One thing the iPod touch does is permit Web browsing by wi-fi. Can’t the TE do wi-fi? Turns out it can! You need to buy a wi-fi card to stick in the expansion slot. I found a post here that details how to all this. However, such is the power consumption that wi-fi will last maybe 20 minutes before it totally drains your battery. Further, this use is unapproved and will void your warranty.
Basically, to get wi-fi on the TE, you must buy a Palm version of the SanDisk SDIO card and install Zire 72 drivers to your TE. However, I couldn’t find records of such a card dated after about 2004. So good luck finding one. I’m sure SanDisk wasn’t/isn’t the only maker. I’m not going to install such a chip, so I’m not going to research this further.
Once you’re online, you’ll need a browser like Opera Mini. I couldn’t find a version of any browsing software that specifically mentioned the TE, probably because the TE isn’t meant to go online, just push data and e-mail. But given that the Zire 72 drivers are the ones to install, I suppose Opera for Zire 72 (.prc file) would be the version I’d try first.
Where I’m going with the TE now
My initial spate of TE activity has slowed now that I’ve met my basic goals: to keep me entertained during a longish flight or during a workout, and to keep my contacts handy during travel. I’m particularly happy with the e-book application. It’s very readable even though the screen is so small.
My previous attempt to convert .avi files to .mp4 video watchable on the TE was a bust. The video was jumpy, and the battery was half down when I got to the opening credits. I thus downloaded a new .avi-to-.mp4 program that has optimized output for 320 x 320p screens: Format Factory, recommended as an easy-to-use, one-click-style choice by Lifehacker in their Hive Five: Five Best Media Converters post. This conversion program is easy to use and works very well. Files converted with this program were smaller and better quality (the video was not jumpy). I was able to watch a 45-minute TV show on a single battery charge.
Finally, I found a good diet- and exercise-tracking application, Diet and Exercise Assistant ($24.95). Although I checked out freeware applications, I found this program so much better as to be worth the money. It’s intuitive and easy to use, and it does a great job of linking diet and exercise.
In summary, I’ve spent the following to make my TE functional:
- $10 for a 1 GB memory chip that actually works.
- $30 for an 8 GB memory chip that did not work, returned for a 2 GB memory chip promised to work.
- $35 for a VersaCharger PRO with Airplane Option, so I could watch videos on an airplane by plugging the TE into the armrest. Not that airplanes have those, turns out.
- $24.95 for Diet & Exercise Assistant.
- TOTAL: $90.95.