Karen Hellekson

January 5, 2009

Palm Tungsten E functionality quest, part 2

Filed under: tools — Karen Hellekson @ 9:58 am

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

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.


  1. I just have a question that you might be able to help me with. I use my T2 for a glorified phone book. I have 2,601 contacts on the data base.
    I am having trouble moving some contacts to the T2.
    Do you know of any fixes? I am using Microsoft outlook to sync.

    Comment by Leo Klevens — January 22, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  2. @Leo, sorry, I don’t know anything about the T2, just the TE. But my own personal experience with the TE indicates that to sync properly, you have to do the following:

    1. Make sure Outlook is actually running before you initiate the hotsync.

    2. Right-click on the HotSync Manager icon in your tray and click on Custom. Ensure that Address Book (Outlook) is set to Desktop Overwrites Handheld (click on Change to get to the menu to do that). If you don’t do this, then you may end up with duplicates.

    3. Before you hotsync, double-check your contacts in Outlook itself. I delete all contacts with an empty name field, because it means I don’t actually know them, and they’re basically unsearchable anyway.

    I’ve also been known to wipe my handheld and reinstall everything, just because I got so annoyed when my data would duplicate during a hotsync, especially in Contacts and Calendar. I’m more careful now about checking what overwrites what (Desktop or Handheld) before I initiate a hotsync, and that has helped a lot. (I prefer not to “Synchronize the files” for this reason.)

    Good luck!

    Comment by khellekson — January 22, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

  3. concerning putting vid files on the palm chips, assume you have a regular SD card reader that you can attach to your computer, you don’t have to use the sync to get your files onto the chip. just copy the palm ready files directly to the chips main directory. For ebooks, if you use easypdb, you can copy the palm ready files directly to the chip. You have to put the files in a subdirectory on the chip \Palm\launcher. You should have no problem reading the books through ebook this way and you don’t have to sync the TE. As for palm ready pdf files, you can go through the AdobeReader for Palm OS and sync the files over or after they are converted to palm ready files, you can go to your palm program files and again do a direct copy from your computer to the chips directory \palm\launcer. Since I used the default for the palm that would be directory \Program Files\Palm\sync name\PDFView. Don’t remove the files from the Adobe sync list until you have transferred them to the chip or the program will remove the files. I suggest you copy the files to your personal storage directory as a way to keep them in ready for later use.

    Comment by K Salguero — January 31, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  4. A note on the video bit rate for Any video Converter program, use 256 instead of 512. Much better video and you can get at least two 2 hour movies on one 1Gb chip.

    Comment by K Salguero — February 4, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

  5. Hi,

    I came across your web site through, you guessed, Google, looking for somebody having experiences with playing videos on a TE. Thanks for all the tips and links. Very nice work. Few things I would like to add:

    – I believe, and this has been confirmed through various trials, that the frame rate is an important parameter to configure. The processor ship on the TE is weak by today’s standards. The less frames per second to display, the easier for it. I came downn to 15 for a cartoon without visual artifacts visible. Obviously the lower the frame rate the lower the bits per second. The relationship is not a simple division as the codec compression work becomes harder (successive images are on average more different with a lower frame rate).
    – As for the SD, the TE supports very well 2 GB SD cards as long as they are not SDHC. The SD world is very confusing for us because almost all the technical standards are backward compatible. This is not the case for the SD cards. As long as you take care of that you should be fine. Wikipedia has a quite nice page on the topic (I let you Google it).

    Comment by HdF — January 6, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

  6. Nice post… Looks like solid-state memory is really starting to become more popular. Hopefully we’ll start seeing decreasing solid state harddisk prices soon. 5 dollar 32 gigabyte Micro SDs for your DS flash card… imagine that!(Posted using SPPost for R4i Nintendo DS.)

    Comment by bandsxbands — March 3, 2010 @ 7:19 am

  7. Hi,
    I’ll try to install on a older TE a linux derivate Opie, only to playing around with it.
    Seems that You know this device well :) , so my question: do You know if a “backup” with PalmOS contains the system software (Palm OS 5.2.1), too? Or is there another way to save the Palm OS for later recovery?
    Maybe (I’m not sure) linux-install overwrittes the original PalmOS and then there is no way back…

    For my Palm Pre there are original SDK available, but for TE …??

    Thx, Antonio

    Comment by Antonio — January 4, 2013 @ 7:53 am

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