Tungsten C from a m515 Owner’s Perspective

Palm Tungsten C My workhorse PDA, the Palm m515 (which I highly recommend), has been replaced. At the same time I got my computer repaired, I decided to upgrade to a Palm Tungsten C. On the whole, the experience has been positive, but not as stellar as my time with the m515.

Out of the Box

The Tungsten C comes in a cube-shaped box, along with a standard HotSync cradle, some getting started paperwork, and a pair of CDs with programs. As with all recent palmOne handhelds, the manual is on the CD. This was disappointing, because my IIIxe came with a printed manual, and it was invaluable in getting started and learning the handheld.

The layout and quality of the Tungsten C’s buttons is well done. The handheld sacrifices the silkscreened Graffiti area for a thumb keyboard, a decision I’m not happy with (more on this later); however, at least the button design is efficient. As a programmer, I miss having the <> and {} keys handy, but the keyboard can be easily remapped, and I’ve come to the decision that the layout is about as good as it can be given the limited size. The 5-way navigator is also present, and it’s a very useful addition. I appreciate that the power button is in the lower-right corner, because I can flick it with my little finger when I need to hold the handheld but want to turn it off to save power. However, I’ve noticed that I sometimes hit it by accident when I put it on the cradle – something that might annoy other people.

The m515 is widely hailed as being one of the greatest handhelds ever built, and the form factor of the Tungsten C doesn’t come close. It’s quite a bit heavier, and much thicker as well. It’s still pocketable, though, so it didn’t bother me that much. The case is plastic, but the stylus is an unpainted metal – a plus because the paint on my old stylus chipped off in my hand, even from day 1. Like previous models, you can unscrew the top of the stylus to use a handy reset pin. The SD slot is moved to the middle, but there’s no groove like the m515 has, so it’s a bit challenging to swap cards.

Power Up

When you turn the Tungsten C on for the first time, what you immediately notice is how bright the screen is. The difference is so marked that my m515 looks defective. The display is crisp, due to a doubling of the resolution in a similarly-sized screen. When I first looked at the new high-res font with the Palm OS Simulator, I wasn’t impressed. However, it does look significantly better on the handheld.

After doing the standard digitizer calibration/set time routine, you’re whisked to the application launcher. Rather than packing more icons on the screen, the designers decided to keep the 12-icon look that’s persisted as long as I can remember. Instead, the icons have been given a facelift. The built-in apps have icons with a three-dimensional look, including shadows in many cases. Documents to Go, which is installed in ROM, breaks this rule, with a flat (but acceptable) icon. The pixels in old icons get doubled so the sizes match.

The classic apps are still here, in much the same form. I appreciated the change in color to the “note” and “repeat” widgets, but I wish there was some black to help them stand out. The most noticeable improvements to these apps was in Address, which is updated to handle the communications capabilities of many Palm OS handhelds. One neat feature is the one-handed lookup mode. If you push the right button, a set of five boxes appears on the screen. Using only the navigator, it’s possible to quickly look up any contact by last name. As you spell out the name, unnecessary letters are left out, speeding up the process even more.


My biggest gripe with the handheld, by far, is its input methods. I am very disappointed with this entire aspect of the handheld, and in my opinion, this would be the greatest flaw.

Palm has been the target of a Xerox lawsuit that claims that Graffiti violates Xerox patents. In response, PalmSource, the company responsible for Palm OS, decided to license CIC‘s Jot, rename it Graffiti 2, and put it into new Palm Powered handhelds.

The Tungsten C doesn’t advertise handwriting recognition – the silkscreen has been replaced with a thumb keyboard. While you can write glyphs using the full screen, this is turned off by default and must be enabled in Preferences. Worse, when it’s on, the handheld doesn’t recognize taps right away. As a result, a frustrated user (like me) will add a lot of extra periods to a memo while trying to tap “Done.”

Changes to the recognition engine have severely hampered my ability to write. Many characters, such as “i” and “t”, require two strokes. If you switch to the old Graffiti style and realize your mistake, you need to erase the “l” that appears and start over, because the secondary stroke is accepted only for a brief period of time. Also, I’ve found that my “e’s,” which were consisting recognized in Graffiti, work only about 15% of the time in Graffiti 2. I’ve been forced to switch to writing the lowercase “e,” which works better when it’s not mistaken for an “o.”

I know many people appreciate the thumb keyboard. When I’m writing long documents, I tend to use it also. However, when you are writing a quick note on the run, Graffiti is superior – your hands stay in the same configuration, your handheld is better supported, and you tend to get faster input speeds. To reiterate, PalmSource blew it.

If you decide that you dislike Graffiti as much as everyone else, you can try this tip, but realize that doing this could be illegal. Something to keep in mind. You could also buy a Palm Wireless Keyboard, as I’m doing. However, I find myself thinking paranoid thoughts about the Tungsten C’s input weakness being part of some master plan. (Sigh.)


The Tungsten C’s main selling point is its built-in Wi-Fi support. I found that it worked fairly well, but not perfectly.

Palm decided to go the antenna-less route for the Tungsten C, and it doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem. With my single hotspot on one end of the house, I can almost get to the other side – not stellar range, but equal to my laptop computer.

Setting up wireless is as simple as tapping the Wi-Fi Setup application. The handheld will find any public hotspots in range automatically. It’s easy to add other hotspots too, which was necessary for my Linksys router, which is set to disable SSID broadcasts. It was easy to switch between dynamic and static IP addresses.

Once you set up a network, the handheld will automatically connect to it in the future. The antenna is shut off frequently when the handheld is set to conserve power, but the delay is minimal – most of the time. Road warriors might find this delay unacceptable, however, because the Tungsten C tries to connect to the last hotspot, but doesn’t provide an option for skipping a hotspot you know is out of range. This adds up to fairly lengthy delays when you switch networks.

While Wi-Fi works well, I found the built-in network apps didn’t work as well as I’d like. I found VersaMail confusing. There is a distinction between “synced” accounts, and wireless account, but the line is very hard to understand. Also, if you delete a message without deleting it off the server, it gets downloaded again. Because I use IMAP to keep my mail on the server, this was unacceptable.

The Web browser works surprisingly well, but it too has problems. The layout capabilities are truly stunning. It doesn’t handle different fonts, but the sizes are represented well. You can use the navigator to scroll large pages, and most web technologies are supported – including SSL, JavaScript, and CSS. Surprisingly, even frames render.

However, some parts of the interface are clunky. Pop-up windows aren’t supported at all. (It may sound wonderful, but it gets inconvenient fast. Some parts of Movable Type, for example, are inaccessible.) I was unable to resize frames, nor tell the browser to open a framed page full-screen. The stop button doesn’t always work, requiring you to return to the launcher and restart the browser.

The most frightening aspect of the browser, however, is the crashes. I haven’t figured out the problem exactly, but it seems to be related to downloading unsupported files. Sometimes, its databases get corrupted, requiring a reset. Unfortunately, once this happens, the browser ceases to work completely. The only option I’ve found so far is to use FileZ to delete the browser’s databases (everything with a creator ID of NF3P, plus “Queries” and “Web History”). You can’t even hard reset, because the first HotSync will restore the corrupted database. However, don’t let this dissuade you. For a Palm browser, it works very well – much better than I would have expected.

For business users, VPN is an essential feature. It lets people tunnel encrypted data back to a home network, letting a person use all the services of a network from a remote location. I was unable to test this because I couldn’t get my PC set up, but the interface looks very good ;).

Despite the browser and VersaMail problems, it’s nice to have Wi-Fi access. I use PalmVNC regularly to work with my PC from other rooms – it’s fast enough to IM. I’ve got TuSSH and ptelnet to connect to UNIX boxes, and if I ever need a custom network app, SmallBASIC is always around.


I’m going to briefly touch on multimedia, since the Tungsten C handles it fairly well. A basic version of Kinoma, which came included, worked fairly well, though I had trouble hearing at times. I tried both AeroPlayer and Pocket Tunes as well. While the audio hardware doesn’t work too well, the sheer processing power is incredible. I actually streamed a broadband Shoutcast station at the same time I used PalmVNC…I was very impressed.


Whether or not you buy the Tungsten C depends on a number of important questions. If you’re not tech savvy, the answer is pretty easy, in my view: if you can find a new m515 somewhere, buy it. Otherwise, a Zire 71 might suit you better. If you can handle some troubleshooting, and will use Wi-Fi frequently, the Tungsten C might be a good choice. Unlike previous models, however, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it to all audiences.

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