We’ve felt for a while that Palm has been treading water, and that the company needed to do something big to maintain its position. Is the new Windows Mobile 6 Treo 500v enough?
This new Treo is a Vodafone exclusive, at least for the first three months of its life. It’ll be available in October and depending on your contract you may be able to pick it up for free.
The Treo 500v comes in two colour schemes – ‘Glacier White’ and ‘Charcoal Grey’. I got the grey one, and while the colour scheme is nothing to write home about Palm has certainly tried hard where look and feel are concerned and has come up with a design that is appealing.
This Treo looks nothing like its predecessors. Its rounded corners and thin frame mean it is worlds apart from the last Treo, the 750v, which was also a Vodafone exclusive and the first Palm to run Windows Mobile.
For those interested in dimensions the Treo 500v’s vitals are that it is 110mm tall, 61.5mm wide, 16.5mm thick and 120g. The Treo 750v was 113mm x 59mm x 21mm and 154g.
The change in design is probably down to the fact that Palm is shooting for a broader market than just the business users it has focussed on with previous Treos. The marketing blurb emphasises the 500v’s ability to access web sites like MySpace, YouTube and eBay, for example. Um, because no other handheld device can do that, right?
Palm has opted for a large bank of buttons between screen and keyboard. That they are huge makes the Call, End, Home, Back and two softkeys easy to hit without even thinking about looking for them, and the navigation key is similarly sizeable and unproblematic to use. But this does mean the QWERTY keyboard is a bit squeezed.
Its keys are separated from each other and significantly raised from their surroundings, which helps you find them quickly, and I was OK tapping out text messages and emails on them. But if you are coming to this format for the first time you might want to try the keyboard out in-store, especially if you have large hands and/or stubby fingers.
Getting on well with the keyboard matters hugely with the Treo 500v because the device runs Windows Mobile 6 Standard. This is the version of the OS designed for what Microsoft used to want us to call Windows Mobile for Smartphones. The screen isn’t touch sensitive so there’s no tappable on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition here. But there is Word, Excel PowerPoint and PDF document viewing and basic editing of the first two, for which, clearly, you will need to be OK with the keyboard.
Palm says there is 150MB of user storage available. After a hard reset my review sample reported 151MB. The microSD card slot you can use to expand on this is under the battery, so if you are thinking of using it to get music, ebooks or whatever onto the device without going through ActiveSync you are going to be powering the Treo 500v up and down a lot.
The Treo 500v is a tri-band GSM phone with 3G but no HSDPA. What? I hear you ask? What is the point of not including HSDPA on every 3G device? We aren’t sure, but as Vodafone has announced its 7.2Mbps HSDPA the operator might be a bit miffed. On a similar note, there is no front facing camera for making video calls.
While there is Bluetooth here, Wi-Fi is absent. A camera lens sits on the back of the casing, but with no self portrait mirror or flash and just 2-megapixel capability it isn’t going to replace your stand alone digicam.
One of the things I liked about the Treo 750v was the way Palm played around with the Windows Mobile user interface to give you a different – and in may ways better – set of ways of using the device. They’ve done it again here, though my reaction is not quite as positive this time round.
First off, when you power up the Treo 500v what you see on the 320 x 240 pixel landscape screen is not the boring old Windows Mobile Today screen. Instead you get a colourful wave graphic atop a mostly white screen that is emblazoned with a red strip showing the Vodafone branding, current time and date. It isn’t earth shattering, but it is different.
One of the sofkey buttons is linked to the Vodafone Live! service. Hit it and you are ready to take advantage of all those online goodies.
The other softkey is the Start button. Hit this and normally you’d expect to see a standard Windows Mobile style list of applications. Not here. Here you get a horizontal scroll bar along the top of the screen offering things like Recent Programs, Message Centre, Favourite Contacts, Upcoming Events, Windows Live!, Music & Video, Live! and a few others.
Move through the options and the central icon grows large and becomes red and grey instead of just grey. Meanwhile below this a column of sub options scrolls into view. Message Centre gives you text message, MMS, email, voicemail and missed calls, for example, while Live! gives you a quick link into things like Google Maps and eBay.
You move through this lot using the navigation button. If you want to get into the usual icon driven Windows Mobile application selector the right softkey will take you to the Main Menu – but only when you are looking at Recent Programs. Alternatively, in the main device screen hit the navigation button’s centre to get here. Palm has played around with the way applications are organised and offers just eight top level icons into which things are nested.
Confused? Well, trust me when I say it works well enough, and the visuals are appealing, but if you intend to come to the Treo 500v from another Windows Mobile device you should expect a short learning curve while you get your bearings.
I tested battery life in my usual way – asking the Treo 500v to play music through its loudspeaker non stop with its screen forced on. I got tunes for five and a half hours, which is hardly earth shattering.
On the software side, Palm has done well in turning Windows Mobile into something rather more fun and cool to use than normal. On the hardware side there are features missing – there’s no HSDPA, no front facing camera, no Wi-Fi and an average camera. But the thinner, sleeker look is a big step forward for Palm in terms of hardware design.
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