Previous Treo devices struck us as being too large to function well as phones, and never felt quite right as PDAs either. In some ways they were a little before their time, but usability flaws were serious too. But just at the point when Handspring is about to become part of Palm again, the Treo 600 appears. Currently available from Orange in the UK this shows that it really is possible to combine the Palm operating system and telephony features into a single, usable device.
To function as a combined PDA and Phone the Treo 600 needs to be pocketable even when you want to travel light, but it also needs a screen worth viewing, and as Handspring has decided to slap in a keypad this has to be large enough to be practical. The compromise is just about right. The Treo 600 weighs 168g and while its overall size is larger than the svelte phones we carry at the moment it is small enough to live with. The thumbpad is OK for SMS and short email messages (if your fingers are on the small size) and the screen, at 2.5in diagonal is large enough even for reading ebooks. The 160 x 160 resolution and 12bit display is a bit passÃ© in PDA circles, but not so terribly old fashioned to put us off.
The ROM includes Palmâ€™s, Calc, Calendar, and To Do applications, Contacts is incorporated into a Phone Book with dialler. Additional software on ROM includes Documents to Go, the Blazer Web browser, software for the Camera, SMS, MMS and email tools, and a couple of games. Thereâ€™s 24MB of RAM free, and an SD card slot for augmenting this. Synchronisation with your PC is achieved via a cable rather than a cradle.
The camera is a bit of a gimmick. It captures images at two sizes, referred to as â€˜largeâ€™ and â€˜smallâ€™. You can drop images straight into MMS messages. The Treo 600 is all about usability, though, and here it scores highly. On the ergonomics front, the directional movement button is located beneath the screen where it is easy to use one handed: the other possible location is right at the bottom of the casing, which is where other PDAs locate their buttons, but this is an awkward spot to get to one handed. Where software is concerned, the Blazer Web Browser renders pages vertically, so that no horizontal scrolling is required. This worked well even for graphics and content rich sites like the BBCi homepage (www.bbc.co.uk), and while the relatively low resolution of the screen means text and graphics look a little blocky the sites we visited were perfectly usable.
Battery Life matters a lot with a connected PDA. If it is to function as your phone it has to be reliable. Handspring reckons youâ€™ll get up to six hours of talk time and ten hours of standby from a single charge. We turned the radio on and ran BatteryBench in its Full Power mode, as usual. It delivered eight hours 16 minute of life â€“ enough for a working day. To see whether we could eek out any more life we tried it at Normal Use as well, and got a bit more â€“ nine hours 47 minutes.
Handspringâ€™s Treo 600 is the most user friendly and competent PDA and Phone combination weâ€™ve seen to date. Smaller than O2â€™s XDA, and with less in the way of obvious extras, it is a pocket sized, efficient device. Some caveats: Thereâ€™s no Bluetooth, no voice recorder, the headphone jack is smaller than standard, and, most importantly perhaps, those with stubby fingers should check out the keyboard before buying to make sure they can cope with its diminutive size because thereâ€™s no Graffiti.