Palm, Inc. has always been a company that does more or less what it wants to, despite the market. Sure, it has had to meet the challenge of color and high-resolution screens, expanded multimedia abilities, and even compelling and usable designs for PDA phones.
|(view large image)|
But one area that it has done a lot better than others has been making high value, low cost devices. Its most successful models, the Zire, Zire 21, Tungsten E, and many others have sold under the magic $300 price line have struck a chord with many consumers who have been looking to go mobile, but not break their wallets in doing so.
The new Treo 680, in my opinion and Palm’s hope, will continue this trend. And my early impressions of it are that it has a chance to really be a special device in not just a computing sense, but a cultural one as well.
But enough of the editorial, I have been using the 680 as my main device for the past few days and while there have been some level of adjustment from my Treo 650, I have found this device to not only be solid, but it packs in some neat tricks as well.
Opening the Box
When I opened the box, I was somewhat let down. Sure, there was a newer Treo sitting in front of me, but there wasn’t much of anything about it that made me go "Wow." It was just another Treo… right until I put it in my hands. It was at that moment that I got excited and started snapping pictures. While the 680 is nearly the same physical size as the 650 in almost every dimension (except the antenna and size of the keyboard buttons), it felt remarkably smaller and much more like a phone than a PDA.
Continuing to caress the 680, I was just amazed at the subtle changes in the design that made it non-slippery yet pleasing to hold. I honestly started to feel like this would be too much like a phone and lose its PDA-ness.
After I took the time to get over the feel of this Treo, I moved on to putting my SIM card into it. I read the reports of the 750 and how the SIM tray was under the battery, but had no idea that it was actually next to the battery in a slide-out tray that went under the speaker. Yea, you read that right. The SIM is in there.
|(view large image)|
And you should be afraid putting your SIM in the wrong way like I did, as getting it unstuck can prove difficult. Overall, I found the placement of the SIM a non-issue, although some globetrotters will disagree with me.
The battery is most definitely smaller than that found on the 650. The main thing I noticed about it was that the smaller battery made the device noticeably lighter. I found myself willing to slip the 680 into my shirt pocket more readily than I did with my 650, and it didn’t fall out as easily, either.
After popping in my SIM and the battery, the 680 began to boot. Boot time was a bit slower than the 650, but nothing that I experienced so much that I cared about it (two crashes, both user error).
Emphasizing the Phone
After booting, this smartphone opened the new and improved phone screen. While not tremendously different than the old one, it has a notable change in its feel.
The first thing I noticed was the use of the "menu icons" beside those menu items that have shortcuts. The 650 had only the traditional "upswipe" shortcut symbol. While a little detail, it was the first of many small improvement that seem to answer the needs of a novice user, and not one who came from a previous Palm OS device.
The use of transparency on the phone screen where appointments were shown is a nice touch.
|(view large image)|
I liked that I had a couple of options to go through the contacts, call log, favorites, and dial pad screens. I could either tap on the screen’s thumb-size buttons or use the larger and more responsive 5-way navigator button.
Just a few minutes after putting my SIM in I was notified of my first voice mail. This gave me the opportunity to see some more of the redesigned phone application. Formatting and buttons were smaller and easier to read. I liked that as each on-screen control button was highlighted (with a blue halo), it was textually described in a transparent bar at the bottom of the screen.
Having gotten through the voice mail, I was free to explore the rest of the Treo 680. Most operations were as fast as they were on the 650.
I was most definitely shocked with the speed at which the 680 read the music and photos from my 2GB SD card. The Pics & Video application cached thumbnails extremely quickly. And scrolling through the list of them was made easier by a kind of "quick scroll" feature, where if you hold the top or bottom toggle of the 5-way nav button, you quickly scroll to the bottom of the page. This is almost like a page up/page down feature – very useful.
Not long after, I got an SMS message and was introduced to this freshened interface. Very nice. However, once you start a chat session, you see the same interface as the 650 has.
A Communicator at Heart
Seeing as this smartphone is targeted at those who want to stay in contact, and as I rely heavily on my smartphone as my email device, I began setting up a few email accounts. The interface and setup of the account information was simple and took only a few minutes. The email application supports filtering and timed syncing of email, and so that was set up.
|(view large image)|
Besides noticing that the keys on this new devices are angled downward more than they are on the Treo 650, I also noticed that the keys are larger and didn’t have that "dimple" on them that made it easy to hunt and peck. With the 680, there is much less hunting; I just put my thumbs down and go on with typing. Same speed as with the 650 and a few less errors, kudos to Palm.
After that was done, I settled into getting my desktop prepped for syncing the new model. As with any new Palm OS device, you should make a last sync of the old device, rename the backup folder, and then uninstall the older version of Palm Desktop before installing the new one. Not doing this will guarantee issues with your new unit’s stability.
Syncing the 680 seems a lot faster than syncing the 650 ever did. If you choose to use the desktop interface to set up email on the Treo 680, you will have an easy time doing so. The installation also gives you the option of syncing to the Palm Desktop or Microsoft Outlook. For those using a solution such as PocketMirror (I use this to sync sub-folders from Outlook), those programs work just fine.
Outside of unlearning and relearning a few things, the Treo 680 is both uninspiring and inspiring at the same time. If your expectation is an upgrade to something much better than the Treo 650, you will be very disappointed. The specs are not much better in terms of hardware (though the extra memory is getting put to use). And if you are used to the software side of things, you might find that you will not like some of the different ways that the 680 does things.
However, if you use a Treo 600, or have never used a Treo or other smartphone before, you will be pleasantly surprised. The software, stability, and well thought out-ness of the entire package is just that compelling.
Stay tuned to the full review where I will get into usability, battery life, and performance. I’ll also give a final opinion on why I think that the 680 will be the most influential Palm device since the Tungsten E (it really is priced to do so in everything but data costs).
Until then, just know that I wrote this entire preview on the 680 and have not had one hiccup.