iPod nano vs. custom Palm T|X: the rebellious shootout

published Dec 04, 2006, last modified Dec 08, 2021

Can an enhanced Palm T|X take on the iPod? See for yourself!

I've always been a fan of Palm-based handhelds. They reign supreme as portable computers and personal life organizers. Modern models like the T|X and the LifeDrive even include wireless networking, media sharing abilities and the ability to go online through an infrared- or Bluetooth- enabled mobile phone.

Stuff on my pockets at all times
I always carry these around. I'd hate to carry yet another device!

The reason I got myself a Palm T|X was simple: I needed a Palm device, and I wanted to use it for music too. But the bundled application and the storage were a disappointment. Only 90 MB of free memory. A fairly unusable music player (Pocket Tunes). Not the way to go... especially since I have in excess of 1000 favorite music tracks.

So, get an iPod. Right?

Could I make my Palm T|X edge out an iPod nano? Could I avoid buying yet another device to carry around at all time? The answer's yes:

  • Storage is not issue either: big cheap SD cards are readily available. I got myself a 4 GB card and a reader for $99.
  • Headphones are cheap (OK, at least the cheap ones). I snagged a pair for $8.

But what about the interface?

As it currently stands, the iPod has the killer music playing user interface. The clickwheel is fantastic. Browsing for music is completely painless. Playlist management... fabulous. The user interface is even gorgeous. Pocket Tunes got nothing on the iPod.

The Palm T|X displaying mOcean
it's an iPod? No, it's mOcean! Excuse the poor picture quality.

I needed an iPod clone.

And I found one. mOcean! It's advertised as ideal for Treos, but I didn't care, as long as it worked on my Palm. And sure as hell, it did.

Of course, the process of setting it up is more involved than opening the box of an iPod. It involves double-clicking one file on the computer and connecting the Palm via USB. I say it's simple enough for me.

mOcean's got everything. It has the clickwheel (touch-sensitive, drawn on the Palm screen, and it clicks). It has the same menu organization and buttons, so iPod users are right at home. And it's personalizable. I set a nice custom background and color scheme right after installing the application.

The matrix

Here's a matrix that compares an iPod nano with a Palm T|X and accessories to match the iPod's capabilities. You decide which one wins under your scenario; my personal verdict for the winner is in red:

Feature iPod nano + iTunes Palm T|X + extra storage + Amarok
Price $249 $250 (T|X, open box)
$8 (Sony El Cheapo earphones)
$90 (SD card)
$9 (USB SD reader)
$25 (mOcean music player
Plays MP3 Yes Yes
Plays Ogg Vorbis No Yes (transcoded on sync)
Plays FLAC No Yes (transcoded on sync)
Plays Apple AAC Yes Yes (transcoded on sync)
Plays iTunes Store files with DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) Yes No
Shows JPEG photos Yes Yes
Snags photos from cameras with SD cards No Yes
Plays videos Yes (limited to supported formats) Yes, through TCPMP (MPEG 1,2,4, AVI DivX, QuickTime, Windows Media, x264)
Has playlists Yes Yes
Has collection browsing Yes Yes (and typeahead find)
Syncs music from PC to device Yes (with iTunes) Yes (with Amarok)
Syncs music on *any* PC, not just yours No Yes
Lets you extract tracks from the device No Yes
Sends/receives tracks & photos No Yes via WiFi, Bluetooth and infrared
Browses the Internet No Yes
Use e-mail No Yes via builtin mail app
Manages personal information No Contacts, appointments, memos (notes)
Can be backed up to the PC No Yes
Battery life (with music) 12+ hours 5 hours
Third-party applications and games A few More than a thousand
'Hold' function Yes No

Gotchas and advantages

As it currently stands, there are a few gotchas:

  • There's a 2-second delay between turning the Palm on, and actually being able to play music. Apparently, it's got to do with the Palm's SD card hot-plugging functionality.
  • If the device is turned off and on, attempting to browse the collection after that will incur in a 10-second delay.
  • There's no 'Hold' function. That's because Treos (the native playground of mOcean) already include a separate Hold button. I'm talking to mOcean's manufacturers to get this solved ASAP.
  • Battery life! Since there are no extended life batteries for the Palm T|X, I'm going to solve this by getting myself a docking station for my car (where I spend most of my time out).

But there are a few advantages:

  • I don't need my Palm to copy tracks onto the device or to give tracks to a friend. I just use the USB thumb SD card reader for that. The tracks are not hidden and they're not DRM-restricted.
  • If I'm browsing long list of songs, I can handwrite the first few letters of what I'm looking for, and mOcean jumps right to the first matching track.
  • I can share music, photos and videos! No one can tell me what I can or cannot do with my music (hey, Zune developers, are you listening or still scheming to screw us consumers?). If a friend wants a song he liked, I can wire it to his cellphone or laptop in seconds. If I liked a song a friend has, I can easily copy it to my device. If I take a picture using my phone, I can instantly display it on the Palm's large screen.
  • Real network connectivity: I'm using WiFile to browse FTP and Windows shares, so copying files is easier than ever.

I suppose the looks of the devices is debatable. Personally, I find the T|X sexier than the iPod. Sure, it's bigger, but in my case I have no option: I need it for what I do.

As far as storage capacity goes... 4 GB is enough for my favorite music. I don't need to carry around 80 GB. But I could, just as easily, because cheap SDIO mobile hard disks are available. If I really need more storage capacity, though, I think I'll just resort to more SD cards. They fit right into my wallet, no issues at all.

The conclusions

It played out really well. Instead of spending $200 plus international shipping for an iPod nano, I spent $140 for Palm accessories. You probably won't need to do what I did if all you wanted to do was listen to music sometimes. But if you're a serious music fan, you're into sharing, and you want the explosion of features on the T|X, you'll do what I did.

As a return for my efforts, I have an extremely functional handheld computer which allows me the richest of media experiences. The Palm T|X always attracts curious glances from friendly people. I can browse the Internet. I can share files with my friends at all times. I can listen to music anywhere. I bet this is the music industry executive's worst dreams come true.

And I've saved myself one device to carry around.