I was very excited when I received my new pa1m0ne T3 in the mail several months ago. At that time I was all a twitter regarding Bluetooth and was thrilled that the T3 represented the final piece of the puzzle. I had the BT phone (SonyErricsson T608), a BT headset (Jabra FreeSpeak 200) and now a BT handheld. Unfortunately, what I expected to be the cornerstone of my new BT personal area network, turned out to be it’s biggest weakness.
I’ve been a Palm OS user since 1997 and my PDA is an integral part of my personal and business life. I use it for just about everything I do. Address Book, Date Book, project planning, keeping track of all my many passwords and logins, recipes, photos, videos, managing my money, e-mail and even playing games. To say that I’m a rabid user is an understatement. If I forget my Palm at home before heading to a client site it’s as if my right hand is missing.
Prior to upgrading to the pa1m0ne Tungsten T3, I was using the pa1m0ne Tungsten C which I liked quite a lot. It wasn’t perfect, but the built-in Wi-Fi rocked. By using the Enterprise Edition of SnapperMail, I could manage all 15 of my e-mail accounts easily and quickly. The battery life was excellent, especially considering the power consumption of the wireless adapter. The screen was sharp and bright and I really liked using the device.
Yet, like I said it wasn’t perfect. The integrated keyboard was handy, but I missed using Graffiti for some things. In an ideal world, I would have both, but pa1m0ne hasn’t released an uber device that features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Graffiti and a built-in keyboard yet. Technically I can do on-screen graffiti, but I miss the dedicated graffiti area and I’ve found trying to fill in a form directly a little cumbersome. I also didn’t like the fact that the headset jack was mono. Supposedly this was for some kind of VoIP application that never became a reality. Instead of headphones, you use a mono mobile phone headset which is less than ideal for listening to MP3 or video files. I can do both of course with the device, but I don’t because of the poor audio quality.
When the T3 came out, it seemed like a good upgrade. I would get graffiti back (and thanks to Mike Rohde’s help a way to get Graffiti 1 reinstalled on the device) and complete my Bluetooth PAN (personal area network). For years I dreamed of being able to look up a number on my Palm and then have it dial my phone. A WiFi card was in the works at the time too, so in the end the only thing I would lose would be the integrated keyboard. I use the AlphaSmart Dana for heavy typing (like this entry) and I could always get a Stowaway Keyboard, if I had to. All-in-all it seemed like a win-win situation.
Making The Switch
After getting the T3, I did what I always do when I upgrade. I installed the latest version of all the software that I use and then I move the data over via a restore from a backup made with BackupMan. This time was a little different than my previous upgrades in that pa1m0ne made a bunch of changes to the built-in applications. Although PalmSource, the people behind Palm OS, have instituted changes to the built-in applications in their next version of the OS, which they call Cobalt and everyone else calls Palm OS 6, pa1m0ne jumped the gun and made their own changes to Palm OS 5 (aka Garnet). Thinking that my calendar and contact information wouldn’t natively work with the new apps, I decided to worry with importing that data later. For now I would focus on getting my 3rd party apps up and running and get acclimated to the new device.
Overall, I liked the T3 very much. I liked the sliding graffiti area and I liked the virtual portion of the screen that it occupied. There was a new mini-toolbar at the bottom of the screen that was very handy even though this was another OS 6 tool that jumped the gun. Yet the main reason for the switch was to play with the bluetooth features and I lost no time getting that up and running. I paired my T3 with my T608 and attempted to dial a phone number in my address book and wouldn’t you know it, it worked! With just a few bumps of the 5-way navigational tool, I was able to dial any number my in Address Book on my phone. The T3 would send the information via Bluetooth to my phone and a few seconds the number would be ringing in my wireless headset. I have to admit that it was just a cool as I had hoped!
The Bluetooth worked splendidly, but I learned quickly that there was one limitation to Bluetooth – it was slow. Using SnapperMail to check my many e-mail accounts was suddenly cumbersome. I had forgotten that Bluetooth feels about as fast as Infa Red, which is rather slow. Switching from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth on the Sprint Vision network didn’t seem quite so spry. I was able to trim down to receiving just headers and it was passable, but I missed the gluttonous bandwidth that I had on the Tungsten C. With the changes to the way in which I managed my e-mail, I was prepared to stick with the T3. I mean it wasn’t pa1m0ne’s fault that Bluetooth is slow, however I ran into other problems.
The Downward Spiral
As I mentioned earlier, instead of waiting for Palm OS 6 (Cobalt) to be released, pa1m0ne opted to make changes to Palm OS 5 (Garnet) instead. These weren’t arbitrary changes either, they added features that had been previewed in OS 6. For example, OS 6 has a new architecture for the built-in applications. There will be additional fields in the Address Book so that I can keep up with a work and home address for each contact that I’m really looking for and was willing to wait for when the new OS was released, but pa1m0ne decided to go ahead and make those changes with the T3. New features without the wait, how could this be a bad thing you ask? Well, I may not be the most patient person in the world, but I’m not willing to sacrifice reliability with the core applications to gain those new features and that’s just what happened.
Knowing that my old Address Book wouldn’t jive with the new “Contacts” application, I wasn’t sure how to upgrade devices. I opted to first try beaming my addresses from the T|C to the T|3. This seemed to work OK. I was able to beam by category and keep everything organized as I had on my previous PDA. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I noticed that things were messed up. I don’t know if it was the beaming, or the HotSyncs, but my data was off. The Last Name field was showing the First Name and vice versa and it seemed that some records were missing.
Clearing out the data, I tried restoring my data from a backup, but ran into the same issues. Like before, I didn’t notice it at first, but the records were scrambled and some went missing. On top of that, I even found records that I had entered manually being lost. Looking up a client that I KNEW I had entered, more than once in fact, and finding that the client was nowhere to be found began to shake my faith in Palm OS. What the heck was going on here? I would expect this from a Pocket PC device, but I’ve always been able to rely on my trusty Palm. Yet with the experience I was having with the T3 I found that I couldn’t rely on my data at all.
Insult To Injury
With data loss a paramount issue, the T3 added insult to injury when it came to battery life. The battery life on the T3 is HORRIBLE. This is yet another hallmark of Palm OS that has been trashed – good battery life – and I was finding that I was lucky if I could get two days out of a charge. I was used to battery life that lasted weeks, not days. I searched the Brighthand Forums and found other users were having the same experience I was, so this wasn’t an isolated event that was limited to my device. The only option other users were suggesting as solutions were to disable features, ratchet down the brightness on the screen and to lock the device in case it turned on while in your pocket. I was willing to go to these lengths if these steps yielded better results, but I found they didn’t do much. Taking these measures did extend the battery life, just not very much.
This poor battery life was beginning to cause serious problems in my usage habits. I would leave my Palm on my desk on Friday only to pick it up on Monday and find that it was completely dead. There were no alarms, no backups, nothing running over the weekend that would cause the device to power on, yet the battery drained just the same. Granted, I know that even though the screen isn’t powered, the device is still drawing power, but I’ve never had a Palm device that drained so fast doing nothing. I’ve had a PPC device that did, but not Palm.
So on Monday morning, I pickup my T3 only to find it completely dead. I place it in the cradle hoping that the battery had retained enough juice to keep my data secure. I stare at the device as the green light shows that the device is charging. After 30 seconds, I press the power button and hold my breath waiting to see what will be displayed. “Come on Launcher X, Come on Launcher X”, I mutter to myself. If I see the Launcher X tabbed interface then I know that my data is still there. If my data is wiped out, then I will be presented with the “Welcome Screen” that greets new users when they first get the device. “Come on Launcher X…” Still holding my breath, the device powers up, the screen illuminates and I see “Welcome!” DOH! :O
Even though all my data was lost, I knew that I had a backup thanks to BackupMan, yet after I restored the data, I would get a reset error thereby rendering the backed up information near useless. The only thing I could figure out was that due to the fact that there were numerous patches for the T3, the restore didn’t apply the patches an thus caused the error. As a result, I would have to re-apply the patches, then re-install the 3rd party apps and THEN restore the data from a backup. Suffice to say that it was a major PITA and after the 3rd time of having to do a rebuild, I was getting sick of the process.
The Last Straw
On the last re-build, I forgot to apply the patches. I was in the middle of a project and I needed to get my data back ASAP, so I simply did a selective restore of my apps and data so that I could get back to work. After a few days I forgot that I hadn’t applied the patches to the device. Then one day I went to retrieve something off of my 256MB card and the T3 offered me a pop-up message that the card was not formatted and did I want to format it?
W H A T?!?
I pulled out the card and inserted it into my computer. Maybe my Palm couldn’t read the card for some reason, but that the data was still intact. I pulled up Explorer and browsed to the card and Windows PX asked me the same question. The answer was clear – my 256MB card had been wiped out.
That’s when I remembered that one of the patches was to fix and SD card error. It seems that if you used an SD card larger than 128MB, the T3 would wipe out and in some cases completely damaged the card. Because my device had lost all of it’s data, it had reverted back to it’s original state and didn’t have the fix installed any longer. Since I didn’t apply the patch on my up-teenth rebuild, the T3 once again had the SD card error and I had been bitten by it.
This sent me over the edge. I had all sorts of data stored on that card. Data that couldn’t be restored. I was screwed. That was the final straw and I decided then and there to switch back to my previous device.
*%@# This, I’m Going Back To The T|C
If I was willing to conform my usage habits – charge the device every night, keep a car charger handy in case I had to do an emergency charge during the day, and disable features to eek out more battery life – then I could keep the device from keeling over due to lack of power. Also, if I switched from using the Palm Desktop to using Outlook and switched to KeySuite, thereby abandoning the built-in apps then I didn’t have to worry about data corruption. In the end I realized that as long as I will willing to treat my T3 like a PPC, then I could have an OK user experience. It was the typically great Palm OS experience that I was used to, but not experiencing with the T3. I could make all these changes and continue to use the device but I was not willing to compromise. It just wasn’t worth it, because I knew that there was a Palm OS device that didn’t ask me to jump through all these hoops – the Tungsten C.
I was never fully able to make the switch to the T3, so I was in a state of limbo. Some of my data was still on the TC and some was now on the T3. How the heck was I going to get back to where I started? I wasn’t wild about the latest version of the Palm Desktop, so the first thing I did was set about finding an older version. With the additional fields fiasco, I didn’t know if the issue was due to the additional fields in the Palm Desktop, or on the device itself. Not taking any chances, I found an older version in my office and decided to use that instead. Using my laptop as the staging ground for my TC comeback, I un-installed the Palm Desktop software, deleted a few registry entries and made sure that c:program filespalmone was removed from the hard drive. Now that I had a clean slate in which to start from, I installed the older version of the Palm Desktop, set the HotSync options to “Handheld Overwrites Desktop” and performed a HotSync with the TC. Now all my TC data was back on a computer and it was time to get my T3 data merged.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about doing this, but after helping a client with a problem syncing with their Mac computer, the solution presented itself. I could export my data from the Palm Desktop on my main workstation and then merge it with the fresh install on my laptop. So that’s exactly what I did. With all my data merged on the desktop, I performed a backup on the TC with BackupMan and then did a HotSync. Everything went smooth and I was finally back home on my TC. Whew! 😛
A Sign Of Bigger Problems
What most concerns me about my experience with the T3 is that this doesn’t appear to be a one-time lame duck product, but a sign of much bigger problems. pa1m0ne is the largest Palm OS licensee and as such are making changes based on product deadlines and marketing initiatives. They are making changes to the OS that make their products stand out from other Palm OS products, which is their prerogative to do, but their choices are hurting the Palm OS community in the process.
This is clearly an example of the tail wagging the dog. pa1m0ne makes a huge change to the operating system and PalmSource is left to pick up the pieces and integrate it back into the core OS. If pa1m0ne were making the decisions based on what was good for the OS then that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Unfortunately, it would appear that the changes are more about the bottom line and marketing decisions and this devil-may-care attitude is eroding the reasons that made Palm OS so great to begin with. Having a focus of getting a product out before Christmas is more important than ensuring that the device performs well is a recipe for disaster. Palm OS has had a rich legacy of all software working across all devices regardless of the licensee, but with the T3 I see a future where that isn’t necessarily the case.
The T5 and the Treo 650 appear to be going down this same path that started with the T3 and I’m worried that my experience is but the beginning. Users are already citing serious problems with these new devices and the damage that being caused to customer confidence leave me to wonder if Palm OS can recover. Instead of working together to strengthen the platform an move it foreword, everyone seems to be cannibalizing on the past success of Palm OS casting it’s future to the winds. I could go on-and-on, but I’ve already gone on more than I intended. There’s a lot that can be said about the state of the Palm OS Economy, but that’s for another entry.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think. If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this entry and want to share your two cents, please post a reply below.