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Palm T|X disappointments

with 3 comments

I am a Palm user. Have been since I bought my first one (a Palm Vx) in 1999, a great piece of hardware that allowed me to replace half a kilo of dead tree in my bag by a tiny computer that can even play decent chess. When I first got it I could not get my hands off it. Played for hours configuring everything there is to configure. Then came the hassles of making it sync with Linux but fortunately there were enough of us to share code and information around so in the end it was not too hard.

I have the greatest admiration for the basic Palm apps. They offer everything you may want from a Personal Information Manager. They are well designed, easy to learn and use. They are obviously what made the Palm a great product.

My Palm Vx used to fit the bill quite nicely so I kept it for seven years in my bag wherever I went. I was tempted to buy a new one but wanted to wait until they had an affordable WiFi model. This turned out to be true in 2006 and I bought a brand new Palm T|X in October 2006. I only got disappointed from there on.

First things first: the bundled software only runs under Windows so I booted up a usually unused Windows partition on my PC for the task with great expectations as to the Palm PC part after 7 years of waiting for an upgrade. First disappointment: the Palm organizer is still as ugly as ever and quite unusable for me. I did all the updates and loaded up the provided software, at that was my last use of Palm under Windows. Funny enough, the cable sync did not work. It took me a couple of hours with great help from the Web to find out what to configure and how to make it work once, and the experience was so painful I was disgusted to ever try another cable sync with my T|X. Seems like the Palm engineers have been focused so much on the wireless capabilities of the T|X that they just lowered the quality checks on the cable part. While I do think they have a point (why use cables when you have WiFi and bluetooth?), there are many situations when I just cannot use wireless connections and the fact that cable sync is out of order just removes one possible use for my Palm. Too bad.

Switch to Linux. Cable does not work any better. HOWTOs on the topic are quite hard to come by on the Web, suggesting very few people actually got to make it work under Linux. Most conversations on the topic end up with “why don’t you just use the wireless?”. Oh well… Wireless it will be, then.

Except that wireless is hardly any better overall. The WiFi part has apparently received a lot of attention and connecting to a free hotspot is really a couple of clicks away. Fun begins when you want to connect to an encrypted network. Fortunately I had all the time to practice and experiment with my own home network but it took a lot of patience and trial and error to understand how to make it work. Another big disappointment, but one I can live with.
Bluetooth support is primitive. The only part I am interested in is getting my Palm connected to my cell phone to use it as a modem to access the Internet when I am on the move. I have access to two subscriptions: a regular 2G line with GPRS (data) capabilities and a high-speed 3G line. I was nicely surprised to discover that my Palm knew about dialling rules and settings for my GSM provider and got the connection in no time. The real issue was to connect to my other line, the high-speed 3G. Palm does not come with default settings for this line, and I could not find anything related on the Net. Seems like nobody is updating the phone rules anymore so in one year from now when all providers have changed their settings, the phone connection will probably get belly-up. I am still enjoying the 2G one as long as it lasts, but it seems really stupid that nobody is taking care of that and that it is not reachable for a normal user to do it themselves.

Talking about wireless: I was sitting the other day in front of a normal (Ubuntu) laptop and wanted to exchange files with it. I had no cables but the laptop also had WiFi and Bluetooth support so I tried to figure out how to link it to my Palm. After spending two hours playing with all settings and trying all possible configurations, I finally gave up. I do not know how to transform spontaneously a WiFi laptop into a free hotspot, and the bluetooth part only reported being connected without any option as to how to transfer files between both computers. So yes, the T|X supports wireless but do not get out of the path the engineers have drawn for you. Other than connecting to a (compatible) hotspot, wireless on the T|X is pretty useless.

Which brings us to the browsing experience on the T|X. In short: very poor. The provided browser is extremely buggy and does not survive more than a dozen pages, which makes for very short browsing sessions. When it crashes it usually takes down the OS with it and you are left with cold resets. You try once and then you forget about browsing the Web on this.

I downloaded Opera Mini as a replacement and the user experience is definitely better. Even if I still get crashes and out-of-memory errors, I can browse a much larger number of pages before being forced to reset. Lots of web sites are just barely readable but I cannot blame the poor browsers about this. It is just the way the current Web is: designed for 16/9 computer screens with lots of CPU power and a thousand plug-ins. Another disappointment is the Palm web site itself: it is just impossible to browse this site on a Palm device. Pages are just not designed for that kind of device, which really makes you wonder if the guys who did the design are actually Palm users themselves. I wish they had simply tested their own site on their own browsers before opening it to the outside world. Even downloading upgrades is a real challenge: graphical menus keep popping up with lots of garbage and links within the same page, which are good ways of crashing the default browser in a matter of seconds.

So well, disappointed on another point again. Did I mention that both my phones run Opera Mini in a much more stable way? Pages are not easier to read on these tiny screens but I definitely do not need my Palm to browse the Web.

Next point: the supposedly large screen is not that large, nor a very good resolution. It is nice enough and will display movies as you expect but if you ever wanted to purchase a T|X to watch movies go look for Portable Multimedia Players, they have everything better (except agenda of course!).

Which brings us to the crucial part: file support. When I got my first Palm I was surprised to discover that the OS does not have the notion of files. Everything is a record in a database file (PDB = Palm DataBase), which is probably nice and convenient when all the data you have to handle are appointments and contacts, but it makes it an impossible equation to solve when you need to add support for external user files like JPEG images, movies, PDF files, e-mails and attachments. Palm delivers a software solution on Windows to transform your Office documents into something that can be digested on a Palm device, but even if you do work daily on Windows the software is a real pain to use. I just do not want to pre-process my files before being able to see them on my Palm.

There is one possible way out: the SD card. Since SD cards are DOS-formatted, it is easy to get your files on them. You just need a PC card reader because Palm has totally forgotten to write the adequate software to handle data transfer between a PC and an SD card in a Palm. It works for tiny PDB files but that’s about it. Transferring an MP3 file from device to card takes ages, to the point that you even wonder if it works at all. So Ok, let’s just use a PC card reader and be done with it. You transfer your nicest collection of JPG files to the card, insert it into the Palm and then what? Well… nothing. The default image viewer has trouble finding pictures on the card so just forget it. Again, it is possible to make it work but after painful trial-and-error you just do not want to spend time on. You want to get a free piece of software called TCPMP that handles all multimedia files on the SD card just fine. Without this piece of software I guess the multimedia capabilities on my T|X would be totally useless. Saved by free sofware (again)!

A last point I was eagerly waiting for: being able to read PDF files on my Palm. The default PDF reader provided with the Palm is just a joke. I am not kidding: try using it on the default file provided along with it and you will immediately understand. There is no way you will ever read anything with this software.

Enters free software again: PalmPDF is a nice application ported over from xpdf and it kind of works enough to let you read PDF files on a Palm device. The user experience is quite horrible though, so you would probably not read electronic books on a T|X, but it is nice to know it is at least possible. There is unfortunately no support for Windows CHM files, and I do have a lot of these full of very pertinent information. I found a way to convert CHM files into something that can be converted into something that might be read on my Palm but forget it. Life is too short: either it can be read directly off the SD card or I just won’t read it there.

So what do we have left? I paid a lot of money for a new device and barely got any better than the one I had bought 7 years earlier. It works, it does a nice job as a phonebook and calendar, but I can hardly use it for anything else. Total disappointment. I do hope the next version (Linux-based) gets the newer Palm generation closer to Pocket PCs otherwise Palm is likely to just collapse. Even better would be if the T|X could be upgraded to run the next Linux-based Palm OS. Maybe I could get it to do something useful after all?

Written by nicolas314

Tuesday 7 August 2007 at 12:39 am

Posted in palm

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. How do you get the SD card to work with the Palm T/X. I can put pics onto the card but when you put the card into the T/X I can not find the pics. Also any more ideas to make the Palm even better? Thx.


    Wednesday 19 December 2007 at 1:06 am

  2. All JPEG files are stored on the SD card under /DCIM/Pics/ and the default image viewer application finds them there with some help, tweak the preferences to find your pictures. Otherwise use TCPMP, it is just great for all kinds of media.


    Friday 21 December 2007 at 1:02 am

  3. It’s easy you just go to movies & photos then you stick your memory card and it gonna be down loaded,

    I agree the T/X palm is a totally dissapoinment!!
    My T5 is even better than this one.

    I’m kind of glad ’cause I bought both of them used for an affordable price. but to spend $300.00 on that is not worthy it is much better to have another cpu. thanks for your comment is really acurate .

    Jonathan Morales

    Monday 9 February 2009 at 7:30 am

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