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Getting a HANDle on the Treo 700p

I seem to have strange luck and research blind spots when it comes to cell phones. The last phone I bought, a cute Sony Ericsson T616 was one of the last phones to be sold under the AT&T name, sentencing me almost immediately to mobile carrier purgatory under the new Cingular ownership (couldn't get rollover minutes or other advantages since I didn't have a Cingular phone). At the time I was in need of a new phone so the rush made me miss this major business merger that was in the works.

700p-rofile.jpgSimilarly that phone's contacts and wireless capabilities (or lack therof) finally pushed me to getting a smartphone and while my transition to it is complete and the experience is an upgrade in every way, I am about to embark on a review that will be going stale within the quarter as Access releases the Linux version of Palm OS which will address all of the issues that I have experienced and give Palm more than a fighting chance against the wave of crappy Windows Mobile phones hitting the market.

So the Treo 700p has been a fun project as it has me diving into a new platform head first. I get to bring all of my preconceived notions, hopes, and dreams to this little device and have them realized, or dashed against the cold, hard rock of technology.

Since the Palm OS on the Treo comes from a long line of personal organizers, one must look at this as an organizer first. The sad state of cellphones is (with a few exceptions, of course): if you have more than 300 contacts (like pretty much everyone in NYC does) or if you like people listed in your address book to have, well, addresses you are pretty much required to get a device like this to store all of them. One feature my colleagues and I found surprising is how quickly having our full contact list in our phone caused us to "clean up" our database; people would call us from a new number and the phone would ask after the call if we'd like to add this number to our contacts list as a new contact or a new number to an existing contact. After doing so the change would make it's way back to our computers via a hotsync. Very nice.

The calendar is also a great tool to remember where you need to go in a given day, and it's easy to check appointments, then jump to the internet via Blazer (the built in web browser) to get a google map, all while on the phone.

The phone aspect is top-notch; sound quality is excellent both in the headset and handset. Dialing is easy using the touch-screen or keypad. The only thing I had to get used to was pushing the Function key before hitting # or * as there are not dedicated keys for this.

So the basics are more than covered here. But this is a damned expensive phone/calendar/address book, which is where the popular and established Palm OS comes into play. This device very easily jumps over the line from Personal Digital Assistant to a laptop-computer-in-the-palm-of-your-hand. All you need to do is add the software.


Out of the box it comes with a bunch of full-fledged productivity and multimedia software...

- Email with SSL capability and multiple accounts (VersaMail)
- Digital Camera (1.3 MegaPixel, decent low-light photos)
- Camcorder
- pTunes (iTunes like jukebox, handles incoming calls gracefully like iTunes on Motorola phones)
- Audible.com Player (listen to your books)
- Memos (basically a plain-text editor)
- Office Suite reader/editor
- Voice memo recorder
- World clock has great view/settings and a usable alarm
- Audible book reader software
- Snappy Web Browser (Blazer)

and hardware...

- 2.5mm Stereo headphones/mic combo, corded (surprisingly good)
- Bluetooth
- Speakerphone (liveable, good for voicemail)
weather-in-browser.jpg world-clock-alarm.jpg
Checking a Doppler radar with the Blazer web browser and a nice view of earth with the built-in "World Clock"


Power Up: Add these to jump from PDA to Portable Computer:


FOR LAPTOP-LIKE-MEMORY-MANAGEMENT:
- 2GB SD card (average price: $50) At press time 2GB is the maximum size recognized by Palm OS though 8GB cards are currently on the market. This is an absolute must for anyone using the phone for music, pictures, video.
- UDMH (Unlimited Dnyamic Memory Hack) ($9.95) This is a memory management utility that was originally developed for gamers to emulate more graphic-intensive consoles but turns out to be very useful for those running more than one of the newer Palm applications simultaneously in "background" mode


FOR LAPTOP-LIKE CAPABILITIES:
- Causerie ($19.99) Instant Messenger for all major networks. Supports background mode, encryption, and quite a bit more)
- Screen Shot ($15.95) Good for web and application developers anyone who wants to Apple-Shift-3 their Treo
- Resco Explorer ($14.95 or try File Z for free and HandZipper ($9.99) for the same functionality on a budget). View *all* files on system, including invisible files and directories. Zip and unzip files.
- Dictionary-to-go ($12.00)
- Little John Palm OS (free) Multi-console game emulator.
- Telnet-H ($25.00) SSH2 Terminal emulator. A must have for server admins on the road.
- Adobe Reader for Palm OS (free) Optimize .pdf files for small-screen viewing.
- Chattermail ($39.95) Yes, Versamail is functional and with some tweaking to remove all the "are you sure" messages it can be made to be quite efficient but Chattermail just handles almost everything better. First and foremost, it actually marks messages on IMAP servers properly (when replies are sent and messages are read), it also keeps in sync by itself (separate commands in Versamail), runs very well in background mode and has many notification options. Also does "push" mail for those who like the Blackberry method of doing things, and more.
resco-explorer.jpg telnet.jpg
Resco Explorer folder view and Terminal emulator


FOR LAPTOP-LIKE LOOK AND FEEL:
While the Palm OS is certainly useful and efficient, it is not exactly pretty. If you're a Mac user you'll be quick to appreciate the following two utilities:
- Palm Revolt ($14.95) Add the "aqua" interface to the Palm OS
- iTunes skin for pTunes ($5)
aqua-interface.jpg itunes.jpg
Aqua Interface in action and iTunes skin for pTunes


TO PLAY NICE WITH YOUR REAL LAPTOP:
- Salling Clicker ($23.95) Use your phone as a Bluetooth remote control for all kinds of applications including slideshows, presentations, iTunes, movies, and more. "Proximity" feature can tell how far away from your PowerBook you are and have actions triggered based on distance.
- USB Modem ($24.95) Most networks (including Sprint) have no formal support for Macs to use the phone as a modem either on their data network or DUN. This utility makes it easy to use your EvDO speed to give your laptop an internet connection when wifi isn't available. Buy as part of the "Palm Utility Belt" and get "CardReader" which mounts your SD card on your desktop. I've tested it and it seems safe to rename SD cards from your Mac -- just don't use spaces.

My speed tests at dslreports.com were mixed, but all were better than dial-up:
- 533/39kbps via USB Aug 28 in Brooklyn
- 241/53kbps via Bluetooth Aug 28 in Brooklyn
- 672/36kbps on second USB test in Brooklyn
- 351/51kbps on third USB test in Brooklyn
- 216/42kbps from Hell's Kitchen

We've also received confirmation of this working with reasonable speeds using the Verizon network in St. Paul, MN.


- Missing Sync for Palm OS ($39.95, Mac OS X) Makes it SUPER easy to sync everything on the phone; iTunes playlists for music, folder for files, Mark/Space provided Memo application, iCal, Address Book, etc. No need to install Palm Desktop at all.
cardreader-palm.jpg
Mounting your SD card as an HD using Cardreader
cardreader-mac.jpg
A view from the Treo and from Mac OS


Things I like and surprising uses for phone:

- Used superbright screen as a flashlight more than once
- Long battery life lasted morning to night on a recent road trip from NYC to Buffalo, NY. Services used throughout the day: Instant messenger, Email, phone, Camera, pTunes, Memos
- This is probably a New York thing (since it's against the law in many states to drive while listening to headphones) but I love dumping podcasts and radio shows onto the phone for listening on the subway. They're getting awfully crowded these days and, during rush hour especially, a hardcover book is no longer practical.
- Considering what it is and comparing it to other similar products the keyboard is really quite good and a lot faster than graffiti (also faster than some of your friends WPM speeds on full-sized keyboards). The keys are small but the slight bevel makes it easy for most adult-sized fingers to punch the right one.
- Combination USB/charger/Sync cable very clever and utilitarian. You effectively get *two* chargers with the purchase of your phone, enabling you to leave one at your significant other's, office, or country home.
usb-comm-charg-sync.jpg
The utilitarian cable: charge, communicate, and sync


General observations:

- OS is a lot like Mac OS 7. Does have crashing tendencies with some applications. This should be a non-issue with the Linux version and much reduced on Palm OS 5.x when running UDMH (listed above).
- Speaking of "Linux version" one of my early observations was that the Palm OS was a little "linux like" due to the graphical interface changing from app to app. Apparently the UI will be more strict in the Linux version which would be an unexpected surprise.
- Unsure if 2.5mm jack is the best way to go. 3.5 would allow use of standard headphones, but 2.5 is smaller (for when the Treo actually gets thin) and the corded version that comes with the phone is more than adequate
- If you're doing SSL email or anything with a lot of data you need a STRONG network connection with Sprint. If you are in a weak coverage area you will likely get error messages instead of completed transfers. Better safe than sorry, though.
- This is one of those Apple-like features that is built into the OS but not really advertised. Palm OS has a very good "autocomplete" that silently puts apostrophes where you need them, saving you keystrokes
- The Function-search is awesome keyboard combination for system-wide searches and acts a lot like Apple's Spotlight in OS X. Displays results very quickly in major categories like: contacts, calendar events, etc.
- Why exactly is "paste" menu-p instead of menu-v like it is on Mac and Windows?
- For the SAME PRICE as Cingular I have the same amount of phone minutes PLUS all-you-can-eat data on Sprint PCS network. Coverage has been pretty good so far. Can't beat it.
- The size of the device seems like it could be an issue but it's smaller than a wallet and fits in a back pocket just fine. When you have this much usefulness I think one overlooks the size, especially as the competition is pretty comparable. (No, the Motorola Q is not direct competition)
- The "quick off' screen and the easy to access vibrate mode are well thought out and intuitive.
- While you can install and run Java apps (like Opera Mini and many, many others), those seem to be the slowest and least stable. I pretty much ditched Java as there wasn't anything I just had to have
- While phones with scroll wheels are pretty fast for navigation, you still can't beat a touch screen, especially when surfing the web.


Summary

For a tech person on the go this phone is leaps and bounds above anything else in it's category. Though you do have to add some of your own software to the mix, the flexibility that you can gain is well worth it. While the Palm OS is retiring soon, the current iteration still is light and powerful enough to provide quick access to all of the things one would need on the road, has an extensive libarary of software not even touched on in this article, and represents the sweet spot as far as convergence is concerned in this moment.

I've played with a few QWERTY Blackberry devices and they are iPod-like in their beauty, speed, and only-do-a-few-things-but-do-them-very-well philosophy, but the lack of features like cameras, music players, and utilities like Terminal applications means you'll need to purchase and carry extra devices with you. Blackberries are email readers. Good email readers, but not a lot more.

The Windows Mobile phones add a little functionality to the mix but as long as they are programmed for yet-to-be-released hardware there are going to be speed issues, and being Microsoft security and performance will always be a problem.

My hope is that the forthcoming version of Access Linux Platform will bring much of what needed to be purchased aftermarket to OEM status and give users of the new Treos (and other devices) even more value and functionality out of the box.

For the time being, the Treo 700p has set the bar at a pretty comfortable place for it's users.

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on September 12, 2006 5:57 PM

Comments

Thanks for your useful article.

I wil try Causerie, as I am disappointed with IM+ from Sharpe Services, which does not support the 5-way directional pad, and has so-so user interface.

I'm IN LOVE with ChatterEmail. It's terriffic, and the author updates it often.

You did not mention CardTXT, a great FREE editor that works with memory cards, and handles unlimited file size.

Be well.
-ron jeffries

Posted by: ron k jeffries at September 21, 2006 10:39 PM

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