PalmOne Treo 650 smart phone
The best smart phone yet?
Review PalmOne's Treo 600 was an impressive smart phone but, for me at least, failed in two important respects: it didn't have Bluetooth, and PalmOne hadn't quite managed to abolish the stylus. Yes, Graffiti was gone, but you still needed to reach for the pointer, particularly if you were coming to the machine as a PDA user.
The Treo 650, recently released in the UK at long last though more than six months old in the US, addresses both problems. It provides a number of other tweaks too, making it more a refresh than a major new release.
PalmOne would probably prefer reviews highlight the 650's higher resolution, 320 x 320 display, and it's unquestionably an improvement over the previous model's 160 x 160 job. The new screen really does make it worthwhile keeping photos on the phone, and even makes the most of those taken on the handset's own camera, still set to 640 x 480 but with enhanced light sensitivity to make it more suitable for indoor shots.
For me, the Treo 600's screen wasn't a deal breaker. The new screen is the same size as its predecessor, and its what that mean for the handset's own dimensions that was the problem. PalmOne did what it could to keep the 600 small but the square screen means it wasn't as comfortable to hold up to your ear as a typical candy bar mobile phone. The 650 is roughly the same size as the 600, but with Bluetooth on board, it can stay in your pocket while you speak through a wireless headset.
Well, almost. The 650 is less headset friendly than my 18-month-old Nokia 6600. Pairing is a doddle - the 650 got talking to my Motorola HS850 just fine - but the phone doesn't maintain the connection, presumably to save power. Get a call and the headset isn't activated automatically as it is with the Nokia, leaving a short but pregnant pause while you press the button to link the two devices up - and your caller wonders if they've got through to you.
I also felt this sense of being not quite right with the 600's user interface. You could never quite run it exclusively from the five-way navigator control - every so often you needed to reach for the stylus. With the 650, PalmOne has extended the work it did on the Palm OS - 5.4.5 in this case - to make it entirely button-operable, but it's not all the way there yet. You still can't switch between day, week and month views in Calendar without the stylus, for example, but overall there's a much greater sense of independence from the touch-sensitive screen. You can use the 650 one-handed.
PalmOne has shrunk the navigator's control and app-select buttons slightly but not so you'd notice. The addition of call make and break buttons is a bonus and makes the 650 feel more like a phone. The shallowly curved keyboard is better, but it's not a big improvement over the previous one. Nor is the slightly more compact antenna stub. Europeans hate it, but North Americans love it - it speaks volumes about the handset's ability to pick up weak base-station signals, apparently - and that's why it's there. Me, I'm not bothered, though the new version is less intrusive.
Other improvements include a removable battery, and using Flash for main memory. Yanking out the battery, putting it back in and finding all your information's still there is a real thrill. No more backups - unless you want to cover yourself against the need to perform a hard reset of course. I didn't need to, but my evaluation unit did crash once during the weekend I spent with it.
Back to the battery, and its capacity is good. I only noticed significant charge loss when typing this review - and that's because the backlight was on. The rest of the time I had Bluetooth on permanently. With Bluetooth headset usage, rampant texting and quite a few voice calls, not to mention an hour or so writing this, my 650 went from a full charge down to under 20 per cent in just over three days - better than almost all the other smart phones I've tried.
PalmOne could have been more generous with memory, especially since it bundles RealPlayer which requires separate storage to hold its MP3s. Not that 32MB is too small for a phone, but it's not enough if you want to make the most of the 650's PDA-oriented multimedia features, all improved and more tightly integrated than they were in the 600.
The company could also have bundled an earphones adaptor. The 650 uses a 2.5mm socket, not the more common 3.5mm type. If that's necessary because of the Treo's size, fine. But it's downright mean not to bundle stereo 'phones or provide a way to use regular headphones. You do get a mono earpiece handsfree set, however.
Visual media benefit not only from the 650's higher resolution screen but also from its faster CPU, up from 144MHz to 312MHz. Again, it's not as if the 600 was a laggard, but the 650 certainly feels more sprightly.
I tested PalmOne's own 650, rather than Orange's implementation, so I only saw the basic software bundle. DataViz's Documents To Go is still there, now with the long-absent support for Mac-sync'd PowerPoint presentations.
PalmOne's VersaMail continues to improve too, here providing Microsoft Exchange Server compatibility and including set-up data for many of the world's biggest ISPs. Of more use to me is the inclusion of mail filters. The system's not a full-scale spam-sorter but it's good for getting rid of the stuff your ISP or corporate junkmail filter lets through.
A nice tweak to the 650's Messaging app is the ability to thread SMS conversations into IM-style chats. A full IM client would have been a better addition, though, but perhaps PalmOne is awaiting cheaper GPRS tariffs...
Flaws? Well there's no Wi-Fi, which leaves it second fiddle to HTC's Windows Mobile-based devices. You can argue that Wi-Fi isn't a necessity yet, but if others can add it cheaply, so should PalmOne if it doesn't want to look behind the times.
Which brings me to price. Yes, the 650's a very good smart phone, but it doesn't come cheap. You're looking at the best part of £450 for an unlocked version. At the time of writing, Orange had yet to publish a subsidised price, but I'd expect it to come to around £150 if the 600 was anything to go by.
The 650 does have the advantage that it's running the Palm OS, but its size is more than matched by the i-mate JAM and other HTC 'Magician'-based handsets. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a better compact keyboard than the 650's - the JAM is for stylus-junkies only.
The Treo 650 is a superb smart phone that delivers all the 600 should have done and more. It's not packed with new features, just improvements on the older model. Price notwithstanding, I've always preferred the 650 to just about any other smart phone, with the possible exception of the i-mate JAM. For me, the 650's keyboard gives it the edge. And while the JAM is a better PDA, the 650 is the better phone. Bar none. ®
|PalmOne Treo 650|
|Pros||Great screen; Bluetooth on board; nifty keyboard; removable battery; good battery life; Flash memory to safeguard data.|
|Cons||No Wi-Fi; ungenerous amount of memory; not the slimmest smart phone around.|
|More info||The PalmOne Treo 650 site|
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