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Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Brighthand has published a more complete review of the Treo 680, which can be found here.
Palm unveiled its latest product, the Treo 680, at the Digital Life show yesterday.
Much of the Treo 680 was expected, but Palm did toss in a few curveballs like four fun colors, a bundle of useful accessories that will come with every unit, new software enhancements and inclusions and while not officially disclosed a very aggressive price point, which is expected to be carrier subsidized at $200 or potentially less.
Before we get too deep into this though, I feel it important to make sure our readers understand the target audience for this product. Already I’ve seen writers on other sites, both mainstream media and PDA enthusiast, and participants in our forums, bashing Palm for a boring product release that does nothing, of much substance, new.
At the press conference yesterday, Palm spent the first 10 minutes and nearly half of its 30-slide presentation talking about reaching out to a larger audience with this product. While the Treo 680 will invariably used for business, it’s also intended to be a step up for those looking to do more with their feature phones.
The Treo 680 is very much being pitched as a mobile computing device that is also a phone.
Palm wants people that have adopted feature phones that often offer music, integrated cameras and web access to understand that, for about the same price, they can have a Treo that does all of those things, and more, complete with a full QWERTY keyboard.
While Palm won’t officially comment on a price point, sources indicate to us that we should expect carriers to subsidize the phone down to $200, and probably less by the turn of the year.
Palm.com and Palm stores will offer an unlocked version for likely a little more, but the colored shells will be exclusive to Palm. At that price, it’s not much of a stretch for someone considering a high-end phone to consider a more functional Treo instead.
To further make the Treo 680 an outstanding value, Palm is offering a bundle, for the foreseeable future, that includes many of the accessories that new buyers need right away. This kit includes a 1 GB SecureDigital card, a headset, and a 30-day trial to Yahoo Music Unlimited.
All About Design
Palm leveraged most of the Treo 750v design when crafting the 680. The shell is about the same, with the most notable difference being the 680 is smooth with the 750v is rubberized.
Beyond the operating system change, the other notable difference is the Treo 680 uses standard SD expansion memory, opposed to the miniSD slot found in the 750v.
From a design perspective, there’s a lot to like about the Treo 680.
We have to address the colors of course; they’re the most glaringly obvious design feature of the Treo 680 family. There’s the somewhat standard graphite, accompanied by crimson (red), copper (orange), and arctic (white).
Of course given that Palm is trying to reach a mass market, the color options make sense. The market for colored cases is growing rapidly because people want some level of individuality in the computing products they purchase.
Offering an assortment of colors helps Palm appeal to this desire. As noted already, the colors will only be available in an unlocked form through Palm.com and the Palm stores.
Bring on the Pictures
Of course the Treo 680 comes with the integrated keyboard. Palm was wise enough to color-match the keys on each unit, though the graphite unit necessarily uses white keys. In my brief time with the unit I found the keys to be responsive and accurate, similar to other Treo devices.
The right side houses the SD slot. Thankfully the door has rubber hinges so a lot for opening and closing shouldn’t matter.
Also, I’m happy Palm opted for standard SD. It makes more sense for the target audience and allows better interaction with other devices like digital cameras, MP3 players, notebooks and the like.
The left side has the familiar volume and action buttons.
One of my favorite features of recent Treos is the hardware switch on the top of the unit to disable sound. It’s perpetually annoying that on other smartphones it takes several button presses sometimes to do the same thing.
The bottom houses the standard connector and 2.5 mm headset jack.
The back features the camera, mirror for self portraits, speaker, stylus silo and new Access branding.
This is a GSM phone, so it relies on a SIM card to gain access to a carrier network. A common problem with this technology is getting SIM cards in and out of a device is a pain. Palm has a convenient sled design that should make it simple for anyone to insert, remove and otherwise change their SIM card at any time.
During the Q&A session Palm was asked more than once about why its products aren’t slim like the Motorola Q and the newly announced T-Mobile Dash. Its response was something along the lines of wanting to provide the best user experience possible with fewer compromises.
I think it has made a good call. The phone is trimmed down in size, thanks in part to a smaller battery. Talk time has not been effected though; the Treo 680 is still rated at 4 hours talk time. The end result is a phone that’s a little more trim, but has staying power to do a day’s worth or business, and then some, while the thin models often poop out mid-day.
The antenna has also gone inside the unit, reducing the overall mass. Concerns about reduced phone quality are unfounded, though; Palm claims that the Treo 680 offers the best reception of any Treo to date. While we were unable to confirm this, none of the units at the show had a SIM card, there’s no reason to suspect this is false. Almost every smartphone on the market has an internal antenna at this point.
Palm didn’t just spend all its time on M&M colored shells. It made several other improvements that past Palm OS Treo users will be pretty excited about.
The Treo 680 comes with 64 MB of user-available storage. While this isn’t ground breaking, it is a lot more than the Treo 650 and is plenty for housing applications. The Treo 680 supports SD cards up to 2 GB for storing music and other files.
The Exchange sync conduit supports contacts in addition to email and calendar data. The SMS and MMS tools have also been updated with a better interface.
In addition, Blazer, the web browser that comes with Treos, has been updated. It includes new caching rules making it operate faster. It also includes new viewing modes. I wasn’t able to test this, but even incremental improvements in the web browser application are appreciated.
The Treo 680, at least the version Palm is selling, will support Dial-Up Networking (DUN) over Bluetooth. This is significant, as many smartphones offered by carriers do not offer this out of the box. DUN allows notebook users to get online by connecting wirelessly to the Treo, which acts as a modem.
Bluetooth itself has also been improved in the Treo 680. Palm is using version 1.2 and has improved support for car kits and Bluetooth headsets. Additionally they have added support for multiple Bluetooth connections.
It’s The Treo For Everyone
OK, that’s not quite right, but it is geared toward a huge audience, most of which have never owned a smartphone before.
The Treo 680 looks good, works well (in my limited testing), and at the rumored price point, will compete very well. The fact that Palm is offering it direct at a reasonable price means anyone on a GSM network can take advantage of it, making the Treo 680 the most accessible smartphone at this price point.
At the end of the day, power users are probably going to want more, and that’s why the Treo 700 platform exists. The Treo 680 is well made, though, with a tight design, good performance and promised excellent reception.
Palm is finally addressing the entry-level market; users that it hopes will step into future Treo products.
I haven’t spent enough time with the new unit to offer an official stance yet, but my early leanings are very positive.
Expect to see the Treo 680 available through Palm in the next 30 days.
Even the styli match the shell colors.
The other three keyboard colors.
Pictures of some of the new software enhancements and additions.