Review – palmOne Treo 650

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palmOne Treo 650 Review: Part 1 | Part 2

I don’t care what anyone says about the Treo 650’s memory issues, lack of WiFi support, limited Bluetooth functionality, poor sound quality, dialing delays or the fact that it’s only available on Sprint PCS. It’s the still the best Smartphone on the market. Mobile business professionals who want an integrated device should look no further, especially if your organization uses Microsoft Exchange for email and calendaring.

 

It’s no secret that palmOne created an evolutionary device with the Treo 650, rather than a revolutionary one. They’ve been criticized at length for taking this course of action, but what business and government wants is stability and progressive enhancements. Organizations are still just now adopting the Treo 600, so a massive shift would probably have hurt palmOne more than it would have helped, and we all know palmOne doesn’t need any more bad press. Overall I really like the Treo 650, but this review won’t be glowing. palmOne has done very well in many areas, but there’s plenty of room for improvement with the next model.

Due to the length of this review we have included below a table of contents so you can jump to a particular section you are most interested in.

Table of Contents

Design

The Treo 650 looks very similar to the Treo 600. While most of the changes are under the hood, the most noticeable exterior differences include a slightly larger and curved keyboard, a few more buttons and a different color.

PalmOne was smart to follow in the design footsteps of the Treo 600. It’s almost the same exact size, which compared to my tiny Sony Ericsson phone feels huge, but next to a Windows Mobile phone, it feels just right. The display is the same size as the Treo 600, but it packs in more pixels to quadruple the screen real estate. Below the display is a set of largely new or repurposed buttons, along with the keyboard, more on both later.

The bottom of the Treo 650 is similar to the 600, with the main difference being the new universal connector, dubbed multi connector. The Treo is the second palmOne unit to use the new connector; the Tungsten T5 is the other. The connector is supposed to allow for a greater range of accessories, but so far we haven’t seen them. All mid-range and higher palmOne units will have this new connector going forward, so things like power supplies and keyboards that clip in should be universal. The sync cable plugs into this port with a pass-though for power.

The top of the 650 is roughly identical to the top of the 600, sans the power button. I actually miss the power button on top; I think it’s counter-intuitive to make it a sub-function of the end call button on the phone. There’s plenty of space for it, for whatever reason palmOne decided to pull it though. The SD card slot and IR port are also on top, along with the very useful mute switch.

While the right side is more or less naked, the left side features a large up/down and enter button. The promise of what these buttons could have been far overshadows what they’re actually used for. While most would expect them to be navigational, they primarily serve to adjust ringer or in call volume. That’s fine if you are actually in a call, but I think they could have been better used, especially the little select button. Had that been offered as a back button for web browsing and such; that would have been nice.

The back of the Treo 650 features the .3 MP camera with a new reflective mirror for framing self portraits. The camera has been improved, more on that later. The back also features the speaker and a new removable panel for the battery compartment. What you won’t see is a reset button, which is found on almost every PDA over the past several years. To reset you pull the battery and hold the power button, releasing it after the initial boot. Anyway, the ability to swap out a new battery of the fly is something I didn’t need, but a lot of Treo 600 owners will rejoice.

Overall palmOne stayed the course from a design perspective, making subtle changes that end up with a positive net effect. There are a few minor concerns I have, but nothing that should be viewed as a serious problem or one that would affect a buying decision.

Buttons/Keyboard

The 650 features both dedicated phone answer and hang up buttons, the latter doubling as the power button and force to sleep button. There are also dedicated home, menu, calendar and email buttons. Noticeably absent from a wireless device is a button to launch the web browser, but there’s only so much space available. Surrounded by these buttons is the slightly smaller D-pad with action button in the center. All of the buttons feel solid and the D-pad is extremely functional; I think it’s even better now that it’s smaller. People with smaller thumbs will probably be able to navigate the device with one hand a little bit easier now.

Underneath these keys is the revised keyboard. the Treo 600 keyboard was either good or terrible, largely depending on whether or not you ever used a Treo 300. I still contend the Treo 300 offered the best integrated keyboard, except perhaps the BlackBerry devices it was licensed from. The 600 was much more cramped and palmOne tried to do something about that. The keys are slightly larger and fanned up on the corners, something that is becoming very popular with notebook PCs. The little extra size in the keys makes a noticeable difference over the Treo 600. Women or people with long fingernails will still probably be frustrated with the tiny keys, but in most cases this new alignment will be appreciated. The keyboard is very responsive, providing a nice tactile click when depressed.

The keyboard features 35 keys. Most keys have multiple functions that can easily be accessed by a blue function button on the left, the Alt button, or shift keys in both lower corners. The space bar is large, though the enter key could be a touch bigger and should have a different treatment than the very similar backspace key above it.

The keyboard backlight is probably the best part about the keyboard, it’s extremely bright. The backlight turns on whenever the Treo 650 display is active, which does mean it will drain battery at times when it doesn’t need to, but I’m sure the implications are not severe. Even so, the drain is during the day or well lit conditions, is well worth the trade for being able to use the device well in the dark. The middle of the night desire to check email is actually a pretty nice experience, from a technology standpoint. While the backlight will work well for most, there is no way to control the brightness level, so some will be bothered in dark conditions.
 
My biggest complaint with the keyboard is the number pad area. There are a set of blue buttons left-center, that are used for entering numbers into the dialer or other applications. It’s hard to dial quickly, especially with one hand. Throw in driving at the same time and it’s downright difficult. Not that this is a new issue, just one that’s mildly frustrating and worth noting.

The keyboard and buttons are generally very good. While I’m sure we would all like larger buttons, the fact of the matter is given the space available in the current form factor; that simply isn’t an option. Of course they could make the device larger to offer more space, but then palmOne would be getting away from a core competitive advantage. They’ve done well with the space available; the keyboard is definitely a plus for the Treo 650.

Processor

The Treo 650 features an Intel PXA270 312 MHz processor, not a burner by any stretch, but substantially faster than the 144 MHz processor in the 600. It’s important to understand that the processor is a strength, not a weakness of the 650. The 312 is plenty strong to run every app I’ve thrown at it without sucking the battery faster than it needs. The battery on the Treo 650 is not that great, so any more strain would be a serious problem. With the PXA270 being more power efficient than prior models, this is the best CPU for the job.

Operating System

The Treo 650 is the second palmOne unit to leverage the updated Palm OS v5.4, also known as Garnet. It’s much like what can be found in the Tungsten T5, with additional software and support for the voice and data applications. In general the OS is solid, though I have experienced unexpected reboots with some applications. It seems to be a software compatibility issue; I suppose not all developers have worked out the bugs associated with running their software in this new environment.

Memory

The Treo 650 memory is a love hate sort of thing. palmOne made a smart move by adding non-volatile memory. That means when the Treo loses power, the memory will not be wiped out. But at the same time, they only made 23.7 MB available to the user, which stores some files less efficiently than the Treo 600, resulting in less net Storage space. palmOne has resolved the situation by providing users who request it with a free 128MB memory card. They think the memory can be used more efficiently with a software patch, but at this time, no patch is available.

It’s really a shame that this is even an issue. After determining that business users would rather have more memory than WiFi in the Tungsten T5; there is no reasonable explanation for why the Treo 650 got such a raw deal in the memory department. While it’s true that many users will find the memory ample for all their contacts, email and a few games, it’s really not enough for moderate to power users. I maxed out the RAM with 6 applications in addition to what comes pre-installed. Of course programs can be installed to the Secure Digital card slot, but taking cards in and out is a pain and they’re hard to keep track of.

For light users, the memory isn’t going to be a problem at all, but anyone who was busting at the seems with a Treo 600, is going to be in a worse position now. The memory issue is the most significant Treo 650 blunder in my view and sadly one that can’t really be improved on, short of a removable memory card. While it’s not a deal killer, it’s a mistake that simply should not have been made. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to be removed from the planning team for future devices.

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palmOne Treo 650 Review: Part 1 | Part 2 

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