- Review Price: £399.00
This week sees the first UK availability of palmOne’s latest phone, the Treo 650. An evolutionary upgrade from the highly-successful Treo 600, it sports a couple of major new features as well as several minor improvements made since palmOne’s purchase of the Treo’s original manufacturer, Handspring. It’s initially available through Orange in a specially branded version, with an unlocked palmOne release to follow through major retailers in a couple of weeks’ time. It’s the only notable PalmOS-based phone in Europe, where the smartphone market is otherwise dominated by Symbian and Microsoft. Prices for the handset from Orange will vary with deals – for example www.mobilebay.co.uk are doing the handset for £99 with a new £30 per month contract and £269 for an upgrade on an existing contract.
I should make any potential bias clear from the outset: I’ve been a Treo user since the 600 arrived in late 2003 and still love it to bits – despite it being somewhat under-specced compared to other high-end Palm devices, and recurring faults that saw me go through five handsets in eighteen months. Now that palmOne claims to have fixed Handspring’s manufacturing problems, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a 650 since they were announced late last year. Once the palmOne box was finally thrust into my hands, I was determined to resolve the question that’s been knocking on my brain for the past few months: Is this minority platform worth sticking with?
The answer: Yes. The Treo isn’t earth-shattering, it’s not going to wipe away the competition, but it’s a lovely device and well worth investigating – not just for existing Palm users, but for anyone interested in a new smartphone.
The core specs you need to know are these: It’s a quad-band phone, which makes it usable on any GSM network in the world, and has GPRS for internet access. The processor is a 312MHz Intel PXA chip, descended from the popular ARM family, and twice as fast as the 600. (You can feel the difference, too – the 600 wasn’t slow, but this is pretty nippy.) The touchscreen has also been upgraded to 320×320 pixels with 65,000 colours, bringing it in line with most of palmOne’s other devices. Full Bluetooth capability has finally been added alongside the existing I/O options of infra-red, the SDIO slot and the sync-port. The camera, while staying at the same VGA (640×480) resolution, now produces much better images than the 600’s frankly dire CCD, and the new software also lets you take short movies. Storage, however, is a major weak point: only 23MB of user-writable RAM, the same as in the 600, and it wasn’t a great deal back then; now, it feels downright miserly. Most applications can be moved to run off an SD card, but one would rather not have to juggle.
One area in which the Treo has always scored relatively well is its visual design. While not as diminutive and original as Nokia’s creations, it’s still far nicer to look at than the average Windows Mobile PDA/phone. It’s less bulky too, fitting easily in both the hand and trouser pocket, and making one-handed dialling possible without the need to evolve any new fingers. The palmOne-branded model I was given is attractively chromed, and what’s more, it actually looks like a phone. (Score one over the Blackberry there.) In terms of size it’s a little larger than the Sony Ericsson P900. The sticking point for many people remains the very American external aerial, which is not particularly attractive.