is expected Wednesday to release an update to its most popular handheld with the introduction of the Tungsten E2.
PalmOne was loathe to change too many details on the popular model, which was its best-selling personal digital assistant (PDA) in the U.S. during the holiday shopping season of 2004, said Raj Doshi, a product marketing manager with PalmOne. The Milpitas, California, company installed a brighter display, Bluetooth wireless technology, and flash memory on the unit, but left many features of the Tungsten E intact, he said.
More than any other feature, customers wanted improved battery life in the new product, Doshi said. PalmOne almost doubled the battery life on the E2 by using a larger battery and switching to flash memory away from RAM, he said.
PalmOne is gradually rolling out flash memory throughout its Tungsten business PDAs and Treo smart phones. Flash memory is used extensively in mobile phones to store data, since it can store information without a constant supply of electricity.
This means if the battery runs out on the device during operation, users will not lose all their data, Doshi said. Flash memory also consumes less power than RAM because it doesn’t need to be refreshed as often, he said.
The use of flash memory in the Tungsten E2 was a key selling point for Doug Engfer, president and chief executive officer of Invivodata Inc., a medical research company that helps pharmaceutical researchers gather data on patients involved in clinical trials of new drugs.
Engfer’s company plans to deploy between 5,000 and 7,000 Tungsten E2s to its network of patients this year, he said. The patients and researchers will have an extra sense of security from the use of flash memory in the device, which will protect that vital data even if an elderly or infirm patient forgets to charge the device regularly, he said.
The switch to flash memory does mean that there will be slightly less storage space on the Tungsten E2 than on the Tungsten E. Several additional applications that let the E2 play MP3 files, browse the Internet, and view photos are included by default on the E2, accounting for some of the extra space taken up by the files on the device, Doshi said. Users will have access to 26MB of flash memory out of a total of 35MB on the device, as compared to the 28.3MB of RAM available to the user on the Tungsten E.
When PalmOne switched the Treo 650 to flash memory last November, it also slightly reduced the amount of memory available to the user, but that situation was exacerbated by problems with the file system used to store data. That file system, based on the FAT (file allocation table) system used by older versions of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system, stored data in large chunks that were often several times bigger than the file itself.
All data was stored in 512-byte chunks, while a simple calendar entry or contact phone number actually required much less space. This meant that 20MB of data stored on an older RAM-based handheld, for example, would require around 26MB storage capacity on a flash-memory based handheld.
PalmOne has fixed the problem and the Tungsten E2 ships with the ROM update that PalmOne made available shortly after the release of the Treo 650 to correct that issue, Doshi said. Tungsten E users who wish to ditch their Palm PDAs and switch to the new E2 should be able to move RAM-based data to the flash memory with only a very small increase in the amount of storage space required, he said.
Users can wirelessly access other PDAs or computers with the device’s Bluetooth chip, a new feature on the E2. The E2 also features an expansion card slot that works with MMC (multimedia card), SD (secure digital) and SDIO expansion cards.
Invivodata was also excited by the addition of Bluetooth technology, which will allow users to wirelessly upload data from Bluetooth-equipped medical devices such as blood sugar analyzers to their Tungsten E2 PDAs, Engfer said.
The Tungsten E2 will be available on April 13 at retail stores worldwide and online at PalmOne’s Web site for an estimated price of $249.
PalmOne has focused a great deal of attention on its high-end wireless PDAs and smart phone Treo products in recent months, as many analysts believe the unconnected PDA has a bleak future. But Wednesday’s announcement shows that PalmOne is still committed to the basic PDA that vaulted it to prominence, and will continue to make enhancements to its existing products, said David Linsalata, a research analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass.