Here are some reactions to my new Treo 600. I’ve only been playing
with it for two days, so this is more a stream of observations than a
To cut to the chase, I like it. The little things really stand
out. With its
excellent hardware and software engineering, the Treo 600 is what
Apple would build if it were a telecom equipment company. Of
therein lies the challenge for Palm. The Treo, like most
groundbreaking Apple products, is expensive, and its comparative
advantages are qualitative and experiential. One the
early-adopter geeks like me all rush out and buy one, it will be a
challenge to crack the wider market.
- It looks smaller than it really is. The illusion is striking. When I took the device out of
the box, it looked about half the size of my old Treo 300. It’s
actually narrower but longer, heavier, and slightly thicker. I
don’t care. The subjective experience is what’s important, and
that’s where good industrial design comes in.
- Subtle user-experience tweaks abound. The keyboard now has
well-labeled “home” and “menu” keys for those common Palm
functions. You can create “favorites” that launch calls,
applications, and Web links by holding down a key on the
keyboard. There are several new and modified preferences elements, such as the Sound item with built-in ringtone manager.
- The “fit and finish” is outstanding. It just feels solid. Everything from the
tiny caps on the screw wells on the back to the soft blue backlighting
of the keyboard screams quality and sophistication.
- Runs faster than the slow-as-molasses Treo 300, though
functions like searching through a big address book (mine has over 2000
contacts) are still not instantaneous.
- Web connection speeds on the Sprint CDMA network seemed a little
better than with my Treo 300, though not radically different.
This will probably vary based on location and Sprint’s 1xRTT upgrade
five-way navigation pad does allow you to avoid using the
stylus most of the time, which is a welcome change. However, most
non-bundled software (e.g. Snappermail) doesn’t take advantage of it yet. The
built-in Web browser does, but awkwardly. For example, to scroll
down a numbered list of options, you pus the pad to the right (not
down). To use the browser “back” button you click down to the
bottom of the screen, then to the right to the “back” icon, then
click the select button (instead of just clicking to the left). Some of
the other applications support the nav bar for some functions but not
others (e.g. scrolling down), which is annoying.
- The camera is nicely integrated. Sending a photo as an
email attachment is a one-click selection after you capture the
image. You can also add photos to people in your contact list, or
make a photo your background wallpaper image. The image quality isn’t
great,though pictures look better when you transfer them to a PC than
on the Treo’s 160×160 screen.
- I don’t love the keyboard. Early reports were that it was
as good or better than the one on the earlier Treos, despite being
smaller. I find it hard to get my (admittedly big) fingers onto
the right key quickly. This may get easier as I use the device
more. Given the form factor, Handspring probably made the best
tradeoff they could.
- One of the four function buttons below the screen is assigned by default to power
on/off, duplicating the power switch on top of the unit. This
replaces the button for the Web browser on the previous Treos, which for me is a pretty
important function. It was easy enough to reassign the button
back, but I wonder why they felt the need to change it.
sound output (for ringtones and so forth) is excellent, much improved
over the original Treo. I’m ordering an SD memory card so that I can
play MP3s on the device.
- If you’ve used a previous Treo, you
know that Handspring did a nice job integrating the phone and PDA
features. Nothing really different here from the earlier models, but
if you’ve used other phones you’ll like the way this one works.
- What I didn’t like:
- I actually find the Treo 600 less comfortable to hold up to my ear
as a phone than the older Treo 300, despite the much-reviled
clamshell. On the other hand, it does look and feel more like a phone
when you use it that way.
screen is slightly
off-center to the left, though not enough to cut off any pixels. Not
sure why, though this is apparently the way all Treo 600s are, not just
stylus is harder to pull out than the previous Treo, because the top is
more smoothly recessed into the back.
- The Sprint Vision services (ringtones, games, screen savers,
etc.) need some work. I couldn’t preview the ringtones before I
bought them, and only after downloading one and being charged, was I
told that (allegedly) the Treo doesn’t support MP3-format
ringtones. Which begs the question why they are offered on
Sprint’s own service.
all of Handspring’s subtle efforts, the fact is that the screen and
keyboard are small for what they do. I noticed that I was getting a
headache from focusing in on the Web browser screen on a half-hour
commuter train ride.
noted, integration of the five-way navigation pad isn’t
universal. This should change as software vendors release
All in all, as expected, the Treo 600 is the best smartphone on
the market today. It’s an excellent phone, a good PDA, a serviceable wireless
email and Web device, a decent cameraphone, and with the expansion
slot, your choice of an MP3 player, a WiFi/Bluetooth node, or a
location-aware GPS device. If you only want to carry one electronic device in your pocket or purse, the Treo is for you.
So, should you buy one? Well, it depends. It ain’t
cheap. You can get a Treo 270/300, which has about 80% of the
functionality (though much less of the cool factor), for $99 or less.
The Treo 600 weighs in at $449 with activation from Sprint, or $399 if
you upgrade from a previous model. If wireless email is essential to you, get a Blackberry. If you make tons of phone
calls and rarely use PDA features, you’re better off with a smaller
phone-only device. If the camera is what excites you, get a Palm
Zire 71. If you want to do lots of rich media stuff, get a Clie
or a PocketPC phone. The laws of physics mean there will never be One Device to Rule Them All.
Me? I wouldn’t want to carry anything else.