First thoughts on the Treo 600

Here are some initial reactions to my new Treo 600. This is not
an organized review; it’s my running notes as I play with the device
and notice things:

  • It looks smaller than it really is. When I took it 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 Everything from the
    tiny caps on the screw wells on the back to the soft blue backlighting
    of the keyboard screams quality and sophistication. I
    could almost feel the rich Corinthian leather beneath my fingers.
  • 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
  • The 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 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).
  • 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 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, 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.
  • The sound output (for ringtones and so forth) is excellent, much improved over the original Treo.
  • 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.
    • The
      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
    • The
      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
      ringtowns. Which begs the question why they are offered on
      Sprint’s own service.

All in all, as expected, the Treo 600 is the best smartphone on
the market today. It’s an excellent phone and PDA, a good 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 want all of those capabilities in one
device, the Treo is for you.

The little things with this device really stand out. With its
excellent hardware and software engineering, the Treo is what
Apple would build if it were a telecom equipment company.
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 very
important 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.

Me? I wouldn’t want to carry anything else.