I'm Paul Bissex. I build web applications using open source software, especially Django. Started my career doing graphic design for newspapers and magazines in the '90s. Then wrote tech commentary and reviews for Wired, Salon, Chicago Tribune, and others you never heard of. Then I built operations software at a photography school. Then I helped big media serve 40 million pages a day. Then I worked on a translation services API doing millions of dollars of business. Now I'm building the core platform of a global startup accelerator. Feel free to email me.
I co-wrote "Python Web Development with Django". It was the first book to cover the long-awaited Django 1.0. Published by Addison-Wesley and still in print!
At least 237138 pieces of comment spam killed since 2008, mostly via Akismet.
Last week I got a Palm TX, a new model released in October. You can check the Palm site for full specs, but for those familiar with preceding models the highlights are: 320x480 screen, non-collapsing case, built-in WiFi, and a $299 suggested retail price.
Some context: I've owned about a half-dozen Palm devices, and these comments are aimed at long-term users like me; the TX is replacing a Tungsten T, so this is also my first exposure to the 320x480 screen; I bought now rather than waiting for the elusive Cobalt because my T was at the end of its useful life.
So, while they don't quite amount to a full-blown review, here are my notes after a week of light use.
WiFi is obviously a wonderful thing in a handheld device. Range is as good as my PowerBook and configuration is minimal. For open access points it's pretty much click and go.
The screen is lovely, and having the option of going wide is excellent. Running pssh with its "large" 6x10 pixel font, I can see 80 columns by 32 rows in a terminal session. Even at its lowest brightness, it's very readable (I actually wish there was a lower brightness setting, just for the sake of power conservation.)
The ability to operate in a left-handed widescreen mode (with the Graffiti area on the left) is appreciated.
The option to have Graffiti strokes visible onscreen is very helpful. I've used third-party hacks that provided this on older devices, but Palm's implementation works better. Seeing the strokes makes it easier to see where you're going wrong (this is my first real exposure to Graffiti 2) as well as making it easier to find undocumented alternative strokes (e.g. right-fish for Y, or 6 for G).
The physical size is good. I do miss the ultra-compact shape of the Tungsten T, but the TX is simpler and lighter.
100MB of built-in memory is good. SD storage should be reserved for media files. With the T I had to relegate some non-media things (e.g. large apps) to SD just because of their size.
Supporting SD cards up to 2GB (the capacity of the entry-level iPod Nano) is nice, though I may be grousing when we have cheap 32GB cards a couple years from now if the TX won't work with them.
Battery life is better than my old T, not surprising given the rated capacity of 1250mAh (versus 950mAh for the T). I get about 4 hours of regular use, including intermittent WiFi, before getting a low-battery warning. I expect this to translate into battery life of 3-6 hours depending what I'm doing. Not the 20-hour runtime of the old 16MHz, grayscale, optional-backlight units, but damn good given everything that it does.
The Calculator is finally multifunction and useful.
The accumulated cruft of the PalmOS is disheartening. I won't repeat my general thoughts on the state of Palm, but here are some specific bummers:
Many of the stock apps don't deal gracefully with the expanded screen. It's absurd to have the Graffiti area pop up while a dialog is displayed and then slide away when the dialog is dismissed. Blazer and the Prefs app are two egregious offenders. Other dialogs, such as Find, don't "shrink" the screen but don't use it all either -- even though it obviously would be useful.
Weird little usability glitches are everywhere. For example, some apps have "Info" buttons on some screens and the little round "i" buttons on others.
The preference screen under Buttons > More still shows an outline of a Pilot circa 1996. It's possible nobody at Palm has looked at this screen in the last 9 years.
The way the 5-way pad is used for navigating interface elements (directional buttons change the focus, and the center button serves as a click) doesn't seem very well thought out -- it's more like a last resort for one-handed operation than something that should be enabled by default. It often is more awkward than the old PalmOS 5.0 behavior.
The meta-bummer here is that Palm has successfully crushed any optimism I might have had for fixes appearing in the form of a free, downloadable OS upgrade. My Tungsten T, despite its upgradable flash ROM, is still stuck with something like PalmOS 220.127.116.11.0a.
The "Favorites" app is brain-dead. You can add URLs manually but you can't import them from the web browser.
The Applications/Favorites hardware button can't be assigned to anything other than those two choices. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
The hardware buttons seem unresponsive at times, requiring a second press to get the device's attention. I would have chalked this up to operator error had I not seen it mentioned in at least one review.
No voice recording. That's too bad, but it's a sensible thing to leave out to bring down the price and weight. I rarely used voice recording features with my Tungsten T.
No vibrating alarm. This one I'm sorrier to lose, but is likewise defensible.
Graffiti 2 takes some getting used to. I hated it for the first day. Now I've learned most of the differences, and find myself making fewer mistakes. Many of the glyphs bear a greater resemblance to the characters they represent. And it's nice they left in a few of the old glyphs, undocumented, for the old-timers. For now I can forgive things like the hash sign, which takes six separate pen strokes to draw.
The case is plastic rather than metal. They both have their strong and weak points. A Newton-type rubber coating would have been nice.
I like it a lot. Palm aimed for the middle, making a $300 device (which can be had for about $250) instead of a $500 device (like my Tungsten T, which thankfully I bought used on eBay for a fraction of that). I think it was a smart move on their part and I hope sales show that other people agree.
I hope to get two solid years of use out of the TX. At that point I will spend $200 on a phone/media player/organizer/camera/GPS/taser the size of a business card, which within a week I will have accidentally thrown into the paper recycling bin.
I'm looking forward to writing one of my terminally candid eBay descriptions for my weathered, battered Tungsten T.
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