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RevMike's Journal: Treo 650 Review 3

Journal by RevMike

I got a Treo 650 about a week ago, and I figured it was time to review it. I'm a consultant dealing with about 6 or 7 clients in the Northeast US on a regular basis, plus a roughly equal number of pre-sales contacts at any given time. Reliable access to my email as well as contacts, schedule, etc. is critical for me. Mobility is critical for me.

First, some background. I bought a Treo 600 about 18 months ago - the Sprint CDMA model for those keeping score at home. I found it to be an indispensible tool, but not without its problems. First, the built in applications are lousy. The built in web browser is all but useless, unable to load any but the simplest of pages. The built in email application is pathetically basic. The camera produced poor results even in perfect conditions. I frequently had to reset the phone, on some days as much as often as three or four times. It was only a good phone when measured against everything that came before it.

On the good side, the GoodLink software http://www.good.com/ provided extremely good synchronization with my company's exchange server. The killer usage here has been for my engineers to send me a patch in email, detach the patch to the SD flash card, and use a pocket USB flash card device to load the patch onto the client server. When clients are behind strict firewals, the phone paid for itself in prductivity gained from not having to leave the client site and find a hotspot every time I needed a patch

Also, PDANet by http://www.junefabrics.com/ is a very useful app tht allowed me to use the Treo as a modem, getting up to 144kb data connection on my laptop anywhere within Sprint's 1xRTT digital network.

I had looked briefly at the Treo 700w. I didn't like the fact that Windows Mobile is not quite as usable as the Palm OS on a Treo. 700w need to pull out the stylus and use two hands a lot more often that users of the Palm based Treos. I also didn't like the fact that the screen resolution was reduced compared to that of the Treo 650. The 700w did offer EvDO service, however, for data speeds rated at 400-600kb with bursts up to 2Mb. I was already using an EvDO PCMCIA card at this point, though, and so that was interesting but not compelling.

My plan, then, was to wait for the Treo 700p, rumored for a late May release. The 700p is basically an updated 650, fixing the one glaring flaw with the 650 - its small memory - and adding EvDO support. A friend, however, offered me a sightly used Sprint branded Treo 650 for free, however. I jumped at the chance. I called Sprint and activated the new phone, then immediately started putting it through its paces.

Before doing anything else, I upgraded the firmware to the latest and greatest - rev. 1.13. Then I got the newest version of GoodLink installed. At this point my new Treo was functional for work, and I could look at other features at my liesure.

Even before adding additional software, the base unit represents a major upgrade. The mail application supports POP and IMAP and comes with built in profiles for major mail providers. I was able to configure it immediately for access to my AIM mail and the mail account associated with my cable modem. The built-in browser is pretty darn good. I'm able to use it to get to GMail and Yahoo! Mail. In fact I've found it works well on all but very few of the sites I visit on a regular basis. The phone application has a nice shortcuts function that can be used both for speed dial and to launch most other aplications quickly and easily. The launcher has been upgraded to handle applications installed on an SD flash card as well as the internal memory, so I no longer need a special application for that.

On the hardware side, there are several nice upgrades as well. First the screen is a bright 320x320, which supports QVGA apps with room above and below for menus and such. The camera is not great, but greatly improved. It is usable now, rather than a waste of space. The battery is removable, and I've taken to carrying a spare rather than pulling out the charger on particularly heavy days.

I only have one complaint. The keyboard functions are slightly different than the Treo 600. I'm accustomed to pressing the far right power key in order to turn the screen back on during a call. Now that button also ends a call, so I've accidentally hung up on some people before I broke the habit.

All the palm products benefit from a large library of free and low cost software. I had been running a mobile content application called AvantGo but the web browser is good enough that I may drop it. I'm looking into various MP3 and video players as well, but will go down that road once I get headphones. The coolest application I've found so far is Kmaps, which delivers Google Maps directly to my phone. I also enjoy card games, and have purchased about a dozen from Seahorse Software, including Euchre.

There are several IM choices at several price points. VeriChat is the standard full featured choice, but costs $25 up front then $20 per year. I don't use IM very much, so I instead installed Agile Messenger 2.0 Beta. VeriChat can run in the background while using other applications, but Agile is a foreground only application. Agile has the advantage of being free (as in beer), however, which is the right price for the occassional user.

BlueTooth is functional, but not perfect. Others have complained that the Treo 650 is prone to static with many headsets. I can't disagree. My wife recently got the Motorola RAZR V3c with matching H500 headset and that combination outperforms the Treo 650 and Treo headset. It is still better than the wired headset, though, and I won't go back. I chose the Treo headset because it uses the Treo charger and I didn't want to carry around yet another wall wart in my bag, but I might have had better performance if I had studied all the reviews and chose a different headset. Voice dialing is not available built in, but there are some 3rd party apps that provide this.

Dial-up networking is available natively via BlueTooth as well - reducing the need to use PDANet. PDANet, however, still has the advantage of being able to connect the phone and PC via the sync cable for better speed and battery life. The Treo 650 is still a 1xRTT device, so it isn't any faster than the 600. The 700p should support EvDO.

A note about chargers: Sprint made a decision to sell a universal charger that charges most off the phones sold by Sprint. They provide a small adapter that connects the universal charger to the Treo 650 power port. It was easier to find a Sprint universal car charger and an iGo power tip for Sprint at my local Radio Shack than get the "native" Treo versions of both.

As a final note, the stability of the Treo 650 is a step up from the 600 and, from my observations of the Windows Mobile users I know, better than that as well. I've experienced a few hangs or resets while installing and removing various combination of software, but hangs or resets in normal use have been rare. Most of them have been related to using the web browser to open a page that downloaded too much content, causing an out-of-memory condition. The phone always recovers just fine. Unlike the 600, the Treo 650 is smart enough to automatically reactivate the phone if the phone was turned on before a self-triggered reboot. The 600 woud sometimes reboot leaving the phone turned off - and one got to enjoy a quiet day until realizing that all the incoming calls were going straight to voicemail.

A note about service... I'm using Sprint and I've been happy with it. In the US, the CDMA service providers tend to have better coverage and better data plans than the GSM providers, and that certainly won't change until WCDMA/UMTS replaces GSM. The two national CDMA providers are Sprint and Verizon. Verizon has a better coverage area but Sprint has a generally better rate structure. Verizon also has a reputation among the smartphone community for modifying their phones, disabling certain features. My usage varies greatly month to month, from a few hundred minutes to a few thousand. Under the Sprint "Fair and Flexible" plan, I only pay a small increment for blocks of minutes over my base amount. I never get stuck with a several hundred dollar bill because I went 500 minute over my plan. Also, with unlimited roaming I get voice service on the more extensive Verizon network.

In summary, the Treo 650 is an excellent smartphone. It is very functional, has broad software support, and does everything I need it do. It suffers primarily from an undersized memory, which can be somewhat mitigated by using a large flash card. Voice dialing is also a feature that my wife's RAZR does so well and makes me jealous. A better BlueTooth capability would also be nice. I wish I had upgraded a year ago. I'm extremely satisifed, though I will probably upgrade to Treo 700p once it has been out for 6 months or so. The larger memory and EvDO support are too tempting, but I'll wait for the price to come down a little and the initial bugs to be worked out.

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Treo 650 Review

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  • you just wanted to be like me. ;)
  • I have been eyeing this phone / PDA ever since I gave up using my palm m100 about 3 years ago when I got a good cell phone. But I have longed to return to the days have a more user friendly interface for all of my contacts than the cell phone. I have found that Nokia makes one of the more data friendly OSes. Samsung is crap. Contact names can only store something like 14 characters. WTF?

    And Sprint has been nothing but awsome for me. Perfect coverage in Boise and rarely if ever a dropped call (1 every

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