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Palm TX could bring Palm faithful back

Poor Palm. As if it’s not already living in the long shadow of Apple, a company that long-ago abandoned the handheld market yet still manages to dance in the spotlight of the mobile device market, Palm picked Oct. 12 to announce what could well be its most significant product of the year. If you remember, that was when Apple introduced its new iPod with 150 hours of video playback. Now, a few weeks later, Google hits for video iPod outnumber hits for the Palm TX by about 10 million.

So let’s turn the spotlight back onto Palm, because the Palm TX could well be the device that brings the Palm faithful – myself included – back to the fold.

At its core, the $299 TX is a fully featured, well-designed Palm handheld, running the Palm OS. You’ll find the usual array of business applications, as well as Documents To Go viewer for Office files. (DataViz is also planning a Premium edition of the software that will support Adobe PDF files.)

The TX sports a 320 x 480 color screen that is crisp and bright (and nearly twice the size of the iPod display), and easily switches between portrait and landscape mode for wide-screen viewing of files and video. If the 128M-bytes of non-volatile flash memory isn’t enough capacity (and it won’t be for portable digital media), the TX has an SD/SDIO card slot that supports SD cards up to 2G-bytes in capacity. While not intended to be used primarily as an MP3 player, the TX does include a Pocket Tunes player for management and playback of music and podcasts, and the stereo headset jack turns out more-than-acceptable audio quality.

But the TX isn’t a Palm masquerading as an iPod wanna-be. Here’s the big difference: The built-in WiFi makes the TX a sleek mobile Web device. The device scans and connects to available hot spots with a minimum of fuss, and the built-in browser handled every Web page challenge I threw it. Through either the Graffiti handwriting recognition or the virtual keyboard, text input to Web-based applications is much easier than on a mobile phone, for sure, and for many, easier than on the small BlackBerry keyboard. While the TX doesn’t have the constant connectivity of a BlackBerry or mobile phone, it also doesn’t have the same added data service costs (assuming free Wi-Fi roaming or even a lower-cost Wi-Fi service plan), making the TX a nice mobile e-mail or even mobile blogging device.
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I was wondering if I held my affection for Palm handhelds past its prime. Putting aside the Treo line, the Palm devices I’d used of late were redundant in a briefcase that had to hold a laptop and a mobile phone. The TX makes me glad I didn’t write Palm off too soon.

With the Oct. 12 announcement, which included a replacement for the Zire at the entry level to the market, Palm has streamlined and clarified its handheld offerings, and delivered a great device in the TX. This new device is the new benchmark in design, functionality and price in the handheld market.

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at chris@demo.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.

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