Sneak Preview: Palm Treo 700w

Palm's first foray into the smartphone "dark side" delivers the power and functionality of a Windows Mobile device with much of the simplicity and ease of use you normally find

January 11, 2006

5 Min Read
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The Treo 700w represents less of a port of Windows Mobile 5 to the Palm than it does a Treofication of Windows Mobile 5.

Current users of the Palm OS Treo 600 and 650 may be interested to note some of the 700w's improvements, including "Photo Speed-Dialing," whereby you can click through pictures of contacts and dial their number by clicking on the face or pressing the dial button--and also the superior 1.3-megapixel camera.

The stated goal of the Palm development team was to let the user perform as much of his or her daily functions as possible without having to use the stylus. Did they succeed? Well, that depends on what applications you use most. Certainly, for most common applications (mail, calendar, contacts), you can get around pretty well using the 5-way, the keyboard, the four dedicated buttons and the two smart buttons.The four dedicated buttons are Green Phone (Connect), Windows Start, OK and Red Phone (Disconnect). There is also a volume rocker on the side panel and a user-designated smart button. (My recommendation, by the way, is to assign this to launch the application that controls the built-in camera, because the only other way to launch it is through a series of menus.) The interaction of the OK, Connect and 5-way select buttons can be quite confusing. For example, hitting Connect doesn't take you to a call log like most phones, it takes you to the Today Window, with a spot to dial names or numbers at the top, followed by buttons for voicemail and 411, then a mini-calendar and e-mail status, then a spot to do a Google search.

If you then start to type in a phone number, it tries to use it as a search for a contact name. You have to shift into numbers mode first if you want to dial directly by number. Or you can hit Connect again, which will finally get you to a call log, and if you select "Dial Pad," you can dial a number.

You also have to resist the urge to hit Disconnect in place of close. For example, after you are finished with a call to a new number, you'll be offered a chance to save the contact info. If you instinctively press Disconnect again, you power down the PDA. And in most cases, confirmation screens need to be acknowledged with OK, not with 5-way select. The usual way to close a window is to hit OK, but sometimes you need to use a smart button instead if you want to cancel rather than accept an action. I'm sure that given more than the three days that I've played with it, I'd get used to the conventions and not stumble as much.

The only major glitch I encountered was that Pocket Outlook was unable to deal correctly with my IMAP4 mail server. The folks at Palm are going to work with me next week to try to solve whatever the issue is.

Performance was impressive. I installed the TCPMP video player and ran some 640x480 Divx encoded movies on it; the playback was very smooth on the Treo's so-so 240x240 screen. (Note that this is a step down from the Treo 650's screen, which is 320x320.)Power consumption was acceptable. I left the unit on for an entire day, making frequent phone calls, surfing the Internet and reading mail, and barely got to 50 percent drain. Clearly, this phone was designed for frequent use during the day.

The version I tested was set up for Verizon's EVDO service. I tested it during CES in Las Vegas, where the EVDO signal is strong. I was able to surf and read mail at high speeds pretty much wherever I went. It's unclear if you could use the built-in Bluetooth capability to connect a laptop to Verizon's Broadband Access through the Treo. The phone allows you to configure a Bluetooth serial port, and I was able to get somewhat through the connection procedure from a Bluetooth-equipped system, but I couldn't get logged in. Further tinkering would probably have gotten it to work.

You can also use the Bluetooth to transfer contacts and calendar entries from another device or to ActiveSync. Other than that, the only thing it looks like you can do with the Bluetooth is use a hands-free device.

Other than the glitch with IMAP, reading mail with Pocket Outlook was no problem at all. There seems to be a minor problem with the version of MSN Messenger included. About half the screen is unused in chat mode with only a small area available to view the conversation.

Browsing with Internet Explorer is the same unpleasant experience it always is, but when I installed Opera, the EVDO connection made it a breeze to surf.In summary, the Treo 700w represents a very nice smartphone with a few warts yet to be worked out. It's the first phone that makes me seriously consider abandoning a separate phone and PDA for a unified unit. For existing Windows Mobile users, a period of adjustment may be required to understand how some of the new user interface features work. For existing Treo users, this is going to be a totally new experience with a totally new operating system. And if you live somewhere where EVDO is available, the Verizon service is going to bring staying in touch to a whole new level.


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