The keyboard is an area where the Treo really shines. It’s easily the most comfortable and usable keyboard of that size I’ve ever got my thumbs on and is well worth a try if you visit an Orange shop any time soon. The 600’s keyboard was already good, but the 650, with its larger, flatter and softer keys, makes typing wonderfully painless. You can even tap out a message one-handed without too much difficulty. In another nice touch, it lights up during use. There’s a darker subset of keys in the middle which double up as a number pad for dialling.
Another aspect of the Treo I’ve always loved is the silence switch on top, next to the SD card slot and the storage hole for the stylus. To put the phone into silent mode, just flick the switch. The genius here quickly becomes apparent when you’re in a meeting or movie: you can both feel the phone’s setting and switch it without taking it out of your pocket.
The side of the phone has a rocker switch for volume and a new programmable button that, by default, runs the pre-installed RealPlayer software. Underneath there’s a 2.5mm audio jack for the supplied hands-free earphone; one can also buy a variety of stereo headsets and converters for listening to music, or use the loudspeaker on the back of the phone, the quality of which has improved somewhat but is still not something you’d want to use for a boombox. (One would have hoped that, given the bundling of an MP3 player, they’d have thrown in a two quid headphone-jack converter for free, but apparently not.) Also below is the new standardised port providing data transfer and power in one.
The Treo runs PalmOS 5.4 like most other current Palms. In addition to the usual apps like the calender, notebook and to-do list are a flexible phone dialler, a customised version of the contacts book, a nifty SMS application, a web browser, a feature laden email client and an audio-only version of RealPlayer. On the supplied CD you’ll also find Documents To Go for reading and editing Word and Excel files, the Acrobat Reader for Palm (which compresses documents on the desktop before syncing) and a link to download IBM’s hefty Java runtime, a 3MB install which lets you run J2ME apps and games.
One of the main reasons for Palm’s enduring popularity despite more-technically-advanced competition is the simplicity of its interface design. It’s not overwhelming for beginners, yet there’s a large amount of power beneath the surface, and the smoothness of the experience means that you spend very little time managing the running of the device and far more actually doing what you need to do. The phone app is a perfect example: within a couple of button presses one can redial the last number, call up a list of the last ten numbers dialled, call up a complete call log, jump to the contacts app, activate the camera, et cetera – and none of these involve touching the screen. No complex menu layouts here.
Furthermore, all the apps are sensibly linked together, letting you jump between them without serious thought. The contacts application lets you jump straight to dialling or texting from the list view. The SMS application (another lovely piece of work, grouping together messages from each contact in instant-messenger-style threads) presents numbers in received messages as clickable links, which will take you straight to the dialler.