The Treo 800w is Palm's latest smartphone for business users, and its first with Wi-Fi and GPS.
At launch it is available only from Sprint, and this is one of the first devices with support for EV-DO Rev. A, a faster version of this carrier's 3G cellular-wireless data network.
Sprint is charging $250 for the 800w, a lower cost than is usual for a Treo on launch day, even if a two-year contract is necessary to get that price.
Inside this Review
A Caveat Before I Start
I want to offer a disclaimer at the top: I only received the review unit of the 800w on July 11, so this review is by necessity based on somewhat more short term testing than I normally prefer.
Under more relaxed circumstances, I prefer to get the feel of the device in use for a week or two before delivering my analysis. Of course, even given only about 60 hours I can do a lot of damage, and I've done my best to make the most of the time I have.
The 800w clearly borrows somewhat from the visual design of the Centro (which in turn borrowed from the Treo and other Palm units). It's got the same basic QWERTY-bar shape that the Treo line has always had, but dumps the old style buttons and directional pad for the newer Centro-style ones.
All the application buttons feel pretty good, and the only placement I had trouble with was of the two soft-keys. Right up on the bottom part of the screen's bezel, they're easily missed, particularly in a dark environment: unlike all the other buttons, they have no backlighting.
The keyboard is acceptable, though it has very little key travel, meaning you don't get that perceptible "deep click" that makes it easy to know when you've actually pushed the button. It seems fairly reliable, so you may get used to it in time, but at first it's definitely disconcerting. It seems that there's less key travel in the center of the keyboard than at the corners.
Also, the keyboard lacks an button assigned to the colon: you need to use the on-screen symbol selector if you want to insert one in your text.
I'm not wild about the 800w's thickness, to be honest. At a hair under three quarters of an inch, it's 50% thicker than, say, the Samsung i780 which has nearly the same feature set. And that extra size isn't being put into the battery: the 800w has the same 1150 mAh cell that was barely adequate on the Centro, a smaller device that didn't have Wi-Fi or GPS.
For perspective, the 800w is almost exactly as thick as the HTC Mogul, a device which features a sliding keyboard and 1500 mAh battery, along with nearly the same feature set as the Treo. For all the work that must have gone into this design, and the fact that it's Palm's flagship model going forward, I'm surprised they couldn't slim down the design a little more. Even just another tenth of an inch would make a big difference in how the device feels.
The overall build quality of the 800w is pretty good: the only spot where it actually feels flimsy is the thin plastic stylus, which I could break with three fingers. Not being an integral component, though, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Otherwise the device is well built, and feels solid.
The 320-by-320-pixel screen is far and away an improvement on the old 240-by-240-pixel one of the 700w and 750 models, though it's surprisingly dim. I had to crank the backlight all the way up to maximum to get an acceptable brightness. This may have been a deliberate measure on Palm's part to save battery life: see below.
It's quite a bit sharper than the displays on those earlier Treos, though, having almost twice as many pixels, and that makes a big difference when you're looking at text.
The display itself has a bit of a blueish cast, both in its whites and in its colors. It's most noticeable looking at pale reds, which can take on a purplish look.
Performance, Software, and Operating System
The Treo 800w runs Windows Mobile 6.1, the latest version of the platform, but users of touchscreen-based devices are unlikely to be wowed by the differences from Windows Mobile 6. The update that was so major for non-touchscreen models is very "ho hum" here, adding only threaded SMS and other almost inconsequential changes.
As with previous WM Treos, Palm's added a few tweaks to the device, mostly in the form of shortcut keys and a Today screen custom plug-in. Not bad, but a lot less impressive now with manufacturer customizations like TouchFLO on the market than it was when the first Windows Mobile Treos came out -- and it wasn't all that Earth-shattering then.
Palm doesn't actually admit what speed the processor is running in any of their documentation, so we can't be certain. However, leaked data suggests that it's clocked at 333 MHz, and my benchmark testing confirms that it's somewhere close to this number.
Performance is acceptable most of the time, though given the fact that this is supposed to be a high-end device I'd have loved to see a little more kick put into it. Particularly since Internet Explorer Mobile, pig that it is, bogs down the device terribly when trying to load any sizable page.
Palm's marketing material makes a big deal out of the Treo 800w not needing "third party" servers to get email from a company's Exchange system -- and of course, by "third party" it means "Research In Motion." Palm is clearly trying to sell the Treos as an alternative to BlackBerry devices, and leaning on the Direct Push feature of Windows Mobile to do it.
The 800w is the first of the Treos -- or any smartphone from Palm -- to feature internal Wi-Fi, making it a big deal, even though other smartphones have had this going back many years.
On the top of the unit is placed a simple single-button control for the Wi-Fi radio: press to activate. It may sound a little too idiot-proof, but it really is fairly easy to deal with, and I found the Wi-Fi performance to be sound. The network search system is the standard Windows Mobile Wi-Fi manager, so you don't need to mess around with any other software. Speed was certainly more than enough to max out my DSL connection, and I had no problems with signal strength, though admittedly my house is pretty well drenched in Wi-Fi.
The rest of the communications package includes dual-band CDMA and EV-DO Revision A. Rev. A makes its first appearance on a Palm unit, bringing with it increased upload speeds. Despite the length of time that Rev. A has been in use by Sprint and Verizon, there's actually only a handful of smartphones that are enabled for it, of which the Treo is one.
Whatever it is, the micro-USB connector is not a good trend. It's stiffer than a mini-USB port, so tight that you really have to put some energy into the cable to get it out. I've seen cases like this before, and typically connectors this tight tend to break much sooner and much easier than ones where you don't have to constantly twist and yank. I also don't get how this saves space, since it's almost the same size as a mini-USB port.
Also, as is too typical, the micro-USB port also serves as an audio output. In a nice twist though, the box does contain a basic stereo headset: nothing special, but serviceable both as a handsfree device and for sound. Many manufacturers don't bother to include one these days, even when they're using a proprietary port for audio. Kudos.
I should also mention that the 800w has Bluetooth 2.0, allowing you to use wireless accessories like the headsets that are rapidly becoming ubiquitous.
Yet another first for Palm comes in the form of integrated GPS. The device comes loaded with Sprint-branded navigation and local search applications as well as Windows Live with GPS support.
For navigation, of course, Sprint wants to obligate you to use its own branded service, which is basically a form of the widely available TeleNav over-the-air map system. To this end, there's no other GPS mapping or nav-capable software packaged with the device. Fortunately, unlike other providers who bill separately for TeleNav, Sprint offers it as part of a bundle with any Power Vision data plan costing $20 per month or higher. Plus, you have the option to use navigation software from other companies.
Getting the GPS itself running offered a bit of a fight. Since the Treo 800w uses a Qualcomm chipset for it's CDMA/EV-DO radio, I assume that it's using the built-in GPS support on that board, the way most of HTC's GPS-enabled models do. And while these devices do prefer to use the cell network to boost their lock-on speed, it's not absolutely necessary -- I've watched the Sprint Mogul get a lock with its cellular radio turned off entirely. However, the 800w seemed obsessed with dialing out whenever I tried to startup the GPS. With the cellular radio turned off, it wouldn't even try to search for satellites.
At first, I thought this was simply some kind of bug, with the device automatically wanting to get GPS assistance information, and then stalling when it couldn't. However, the error message for the Sprint Maps application made it rather more clear: in order to use the GPS, you must be connected to the cellular network. It won't even let you use Wi-Fi as a substitute. I guessed that this was simply a restriction on the Sprint apps, but I'm afraid it goes further -- even third-party applications like Efficasoft GPS Utilities can't get the GPS receiver to respond without letting it talk to the network.
In short, it appears that whether by design or accident, the Treo 800w's internal GPS receiver is somewhat crippled and tied inextricably to the Sprint network.
To be fair, when it is allowed to contact the network, getting a lock is fast and easy, often in a matter of seconds. But I can't condone this blurring of lines between standalone GPS -- which the Palm documentation describes the Treo 800w as having, in no uncertain terms -- and cellular location-based services. Either this setup is broken and needs to be fixed in the first ROM update, or someone's engaged in deceptive advertising.
I have to note that I experienced some highly erratic behavior from the device after draining the battery. Even after being plugged into the AC adapter, the phone wouldn't come back on, and the charging light would flick on and off randomly. Finally after fiddling with it, it started up again upon reinserting the charger plug yet again. I have no way of explaining what was wrong, and it might not ever happen to someone who doesn't fully drain the battery. However, it could also represent a
Also under the "bugs and oddities" file, Google Maps does not work on the 800w. Period. It won't work over Wi-Fi, and it won't work over cellular: it simply acts as if there's no Internet connection present.
UPDATE: Google Maps has begun working on the 800w now, leading me to assume that the problem was some kind of temporary glitch with the service.
Now here's the onion.
I'm not at all happy with the Treo's battery life. It's just barely adequate for use as a phone -- add Direct Push, or a little Wi-Fi use, and you're sucking down battery power like it's icewater in the Gobi Desert.
Heavy users had best plan to either leave chargers lying around wherever they go, or buy a larger extended battery. (And deal with the increased bulk and thickness that brings with it.)
I can't fathom Palm's thinking in using such a tiny battery for such a feature rich and hungry device. It certainly doesn't recommend the 800w as a Blackberry replacement when I doubt you'd get 24 hours of standby out of the device with Direct Push enabled.
Processor: 333 MHz OMAP2430
Operating System: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional (Pocket PC)
Display 2.4 inch, 320 by 320 pixel touchscreen LCD
Memory: 128 MB of RAM; 256 MB of Flash ROM (160 MB available)
Size and Weight: 4.4 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 0.73 inches thick; 5 ounces
Expansion: Single microSDHC slot
Docking: Micro-USB connector
Communication: Dual-band CDMA/EV-DO Revision A; 802.11b/g WiFi; Bluetooth 2.0/EDR
Audio: Earpiece and microphone; rear speaker; headphone/audio out via micro-USB port
Battery: 1150 mAh replaceable Lithium Ion
Input: Touchscreen; 5-way directional pad; 20-button predictive keyboard/keypad
Other: 2.0 megapixel camera; internal GPS receiver
The 800w finally brings the Treo line into feature parity with other contemporary smartphones for the first time. Whether that, combined with the Palm brand, is enough to draw in users despite some of the drawbacks is another question.
My own feeling is that while the 800w isn't necessarily a bad unit, the fact is that Palm's just now packing in features that other manufacturers have already done, and better. Palm needed a knockout device, and while the 800w may fulfill the niche for the retiring 700w, it's not very likely to bring people breaking Palm's doors down.
Palm has significantly improved its Windows-based Treo line, but a small battery and poor GPS implementation keep it from achieving its full potential.
The Treo 800w is available now on Sprint's web site.
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