A quick look at the new Treo 650 smartphone finds some significant improvements over its popular predecessor.
At the CTIA trade show in San Francisco, PalmOne formally introduced
the Treo 650 smartphone, successor to the popular 600 model that has
found its way into the hands of over half a million users. While I
can't claim to have extensive experience with every smartphone on
the market, I have worked with most of them. The Treo, I've found,
provides the best combination of voice and data functionality.
It's true that smartphones are highly personal devices, so what is
most valuable to me won't necessarily be critical to others. For
example, the iPAQ 6315 arguably provides superior PDA functionality,
the RIM Blackberry offers better e-mail services and the Sidekick II
has more "cool" appeal. But for an everyday phone device with PDA,
Web and e-mail functionality, the Treo is my pick.
Details about the new device have been leaking for several months, so
there weren't any huge surprises. That's disappointing to the extent
that PalmOne's decision to include embedded Bluetooth but no Wi-Fi
support is a significant limitation. If you are a real road warrior
who takes advantage of Wi-Fi hotspot services, you'll probably prefer
the iPAQ. But most times when I am in range of a Wi-Fi signal, I am
toting my laptop anyway.
For those of you who were hoping that the device's SDIO interface slot
would allow for a Wi-Fi add-on, it doesn't look like that's the case.
In a recent review, we were shocked to learn that PalmOne's own SDIO
Wi-Fi adapter was incompatible with the Treo 600 (reportedly because of
power limitations and driver issues). We've not yet been able to verify
that the situation is the same with the 650, though the absence of any
mention of Wi-Fi in the press release or on PalmOne's Treo 650 product
pages would appear to confirm that suspicion.
But enough of the bad news. There's plenty of good to report, including
a faster processor, a much better display, a removable battery, an
improved keyboard and the aforementioned Bluetooth support. The Treo
650 uses a 312-MHz Intel XScale CPU, which doubles the clock speed of the
600, so performance should be improved significantly. The display also
is much improved. Although it isn't any bigger--display real estate
has to be traded off for portability--it sports 320-by-320 resolution
compared to the 600's 160-by-160. That should make navigating Web
pages that aren't optimized for mobile devices a slightly less painful
The removable battery offers about the same life as the old one (five
to six hours of talk time and 12 to 14 days of standby time, depending on
radio interface), but the modularity allows you to carry an extra
battery on the road, which could save you in certain situations. The
keyboard is now backlit, and PalmOne has added dedicated keys for
basic phone functions--a small detail that will significantly improve
usability. The integrated Bluetooth support should enable wireless
synchronization capabilities, cable-free headsets and external
keyboards while also facilitating the use of the 650 as a wireless WAN
modem when you want to connect your notebook on the road. The integrated snapshot
camera, which is decidedly ho-hum, now sports a 2x digital zoom
and the promise of better images in low-light conditions.
On the software side, the 650 includes an upgraded version of PalmOS,
version 5.4. In addition, the packaged e-mail application is now
Palm's VersaMail, which includes support for POP and IMAP (the latter a
welcome addition for me) as well as improved support for Exchange
connectivity. Many of the leading third-party e-mail vendors wasted no
time in announcing that their offerings now are supported on the 650.
That should make RIM a little nervous. For those looking for some
entertainment value, the system also includes an integrated MP3
Repeating a market trend with the Treo 600, Sprint will be the first
cellular carrier to offer the 650, probably within the next several
weeks. The device supports the CDMA 1x standard, but it does not
support the newer, high-speed EV-DO technology offered by Verizon.
The news is a little better for GSM users. Although you'll need to
wait a little longer to get one, probably first through Cingular,
the 650 not only supports GPRS but also the faster EDGE data standard.
That should result in a notable performance improvement. But given Cingular's current
pricing strategy for this service, sticking with Sprint, which
offers unlimited data for $15 per month, may be a better decision.
Dave Molta is Network Computing's senior technology editor. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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