Palm Treo 700p Review

by Reads (129,463)

The Treo 700p, the counterpart to Palm’s popular Windows-based model released in January, is the company’s latest smartphone device, and the first to run Palm OS since the release of the Treo 650 in 2004.

This review was done on the Sprint version of the Treo 700p, but most of the commentary also applies to the Verizon version of this device.

 

Design & Construction

Design wise, the Treo 700p is nearly identical to the rest of its extended family. It maintains the basic form-factor of the 600 and 650, while adopting the slightly sleeker lines and new button styling of the 700w.

The arrangement of buttons above the keyboard has been changed around a bit, rearranging the keys according to, well, nothing that I can discern. Some of it maintains compatibility with the 700w, other parts–such as moving the Call and End/Power buttons from the outer application buttons to where the 700w had its softkeys–seems to be just shuffling things around for aesthetics’ sake.

The keyboard itself hasn’t changed much. The buttons are small and rounded, with a solid white backlighting when pressed. Text input isn’t as fast as on the larger keys of some of the HTC devices, but the Treo’s keyboard is much easier to get at.

Visible: camera lens, stylus, speaker, battery latch, and external antenna port.

Top of device: SDIO slot, infrared port, vibrate switch, and indicator LED.

The 700p is the first Palm OS device to be branded as “Access Powered,” replacing the older and more comfortable phrase “Palm Powered.” The new label is both printed on the rear casing of the device and it’s on the splash screen that shows up when you perform a reset.

Hardware

Processor: 312 MHz Intel XScale PXA270
Operating System: Palm OS Garnet 5.4.9
Display:

2″ 320 x 320 transmissive/reflective LCD

Memory: 32 MB RAM; 128 MB flash memory (62 MB available)
Size & Weight 5.3 inches long (including antenna, 4.4″ without) x 2.3 inches wide x 0.9 inches thick; 6.4 ounces
Expansion: Single SDIO slot
Docking:

Palm Multiconnector

Communication: Dual band CDMA/1xRTT/EV-DO; Bluetooth 1.2
Audio: Microphone; speaker; 2.5 mm stereo headphone/headset jack
Battery: 3.7 volt, 1800 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion replaceable/rechargeable battery
Input: 5-way directional pad; touchscreen; four remappable application buttons; three fixed buttons
Other: 1.3 megapixel integrated camera

 

Processor

Palm hasn’t changed the processor from the Treo 650 one bit. The 700p is still being driven by the 312 MHz processor found in the 700w, 650, TX, and most other recent Palm, Inc. units. Maybe someone in Procurement made a mistake and instead of ordering 500,000 such processors, they accidentally ordered five million of them. It’s as good an explanation as any as to why Palm has stuck with one processor for so long, without even incremental upgrades.

Seriously, though, after all this time I don’t get why Palm hasn’t implemented some form of speed-stepping. If they just took advantage of the built-in scaling controls on the Intel processors they could have a 624 MHz processor with barely any more power drain than a 312 MHz CPU.

 

Operating System

I can’t say that Garnet has changed much since the last time I saw it on a new Palm Inc. device. The look and feel of the OS is the same as usual, despite the change over to Access branding — visible on most of the built-in applications’ “About” menus.

There have been a few new additions, though. For instance, Palm has added the option to decline a call via text message, originally seen in the Treo 700w. Also, you can file the number of a call into your contacts, even if it’s for an existing contact. There are a number of small interface tweaks of this kind.

For reasons I can’t begin to rationalize, Palm continues to ship their devices with the Blazer web browser and VersaMail email client, despite the fact that these two programs account for an unnaturally large percentage of all complaints about the Treo family of devices. However, it’s not all bad. Palm has, at the very least, done a bit of work to soup up Blazer. While it’s still hugely lacking in terms of page rendering and visual style, it has gotten a significant speed boost, as well as some new multimedia functions.

The latter includes support for streaming a half-dozen or so major multimedia formats including MP3, WMA, WMV, and MPEG4. Technically, Blazer itself doesn’t actually handle these, but rather it grabs the relevant information out of the web page and feeds it to the Kinoma media player that’s in the Treo’s ROM. This is the only way to access the Kinoma player, since it doesn’t have an application icon of its own. Consequently, you can’t directly open a streaming media URL: it has to be invoked from the web browser.

There are limitations to this of course: not all formats can be streamed, and some fairly major outlets like Google Video are unsupported. But it remains a big step over all previous streaming media options for the Palm OS, and even allows you to use things like XM Satellite Radio’s online streaming service — albeit through a mobile portal like MiniXM.com or XStreamXM.com.

Last but not least, the biggest good news in this category concerns the polish of the OS. I’ll qualify this first by saying that I haven’t loaded up the 700p with dozens of apps or extensively tested it under duress. So it’s quite possible that I’m just not giving the thing a reason to behave badly. However, my experience would seem to indicate that the 700p is considerably more stable than the Treo 650 was at launch. Palm has been doing a lot lately to correct the compatibility problems first introduced in the T5/Treo 650 generation of devices. Of course, it’s not perfect, and there’s still a huge amount of Palm OS software that isn’t compatible with the 700p. However, the existing stability problems are much improved.

 

Display

The 320 x 320 display of the 700p is far superior to the 240 x 240 screen of the 700w, although the 700w’s ability to use sub-pixel font rendering and TrueType fonts evens things out a little bit. Standing on its own, the 700p is crisp, bright, and quite pleasant to view.

 

Memory

Memory has always been a stumbling block for the Treos. The 600 came out with less than 32 MB when Palm’s standalone handhelds had 64, and the Treo 650 actually had less memory available than the 600, a paltry 24 MB. Finally, with the 700 series, Palm has moved in the direction of correcting this. The 700p features 128 MB of flash memory, split between housing the OS and user storage. This leaves about 62 MB available for programs, files, and the like, which is the same amount as on the identically specced Treo 700w. While not overly spacious, it’s a lot better than before.

The amount of real RAM has also been increased substantially, The 700p has 32 MB, up from approximately 12 MB in the 650. While you can’t see or directly access the Treo’s RAM, the increase is still a boon. More available RAM means more space for programs to run, larger buffers to increase performance, and overall increased system reliability. In many ways recent Palm models have been somewhat starved of RAM, which has resulted in some issues with stability and performance. Boosting the RAM should help with that.

That’s not to say that there’s no downside–with a larger quantity of memory to chew through, some functions are actually slower than on the Treo 650, such as indexing and some application switching.

 

Size & Weight

In form-factor terms, the 700p is an exact clone of its last two ancestors, retaining the thick and narrow profile first pioneered by the Treo 600. It’s much bigger and heavier than your average phone, but less bulky than carrying two separate devices–although there are more compelling arguments in the classic one device/two device debate than bulk.

Left to right: Motorola v360, Treo 700p, Dell Axim X51v

While it was one of the smallest phone-integrated devices on the market when the design was first debuted, the Treo has been gradually one-upped — or should I say one-downed? — in the size department. Compared to newer devices like the Motorola Q or HTC Faraday, Tornado, and Apache, the Treo is somewhere between average and bulky. On the other hand, though, most of those other devices don’t have touchscreens, and only half of them have full keyboards. However, with all the options on the market today, the Treo’s form-factor isn’t as compelling as it once was.

 

Expansion

The 700p features a standard full-size SDIO slot, and comes standard with Palm’s FAT32 driver which enables the use of memory cards above 2 GB. Cards as large as 4 GB have been successfully tested with it.

Unfortunately, Palm has stated that there will be no official support for their own Palm branded Wi-Fi card on the Treo 700p, despite the fact that the card is supported on the 700w. I can only attribute this to one of two issues. First is that there’s something about Palm OS Garnet’s networking code that prevents it from being able to easily switch between two connections. This has actually been proven to some extent by attempts to hack the existing Palm OS Wi-Fi drivers to work on the Treo 650 — enabling the drivers disables cellular Internet, and vice versa. It’s unknown, however, whether or not Palm could work this problem out if it wanted to.

The second theory states that Palm has declined to develop Wi-Fi drivers for their phones in order to placate restrictive carriers like Verizon, who don’t want people using cheap Wi-Fi as an alternative to expensive EV-DO broadband, or as a conduit for VoIP. Whichever of these theories you subscribe to, the simple fact is that the 700p does not do Wi-Fi, and probably never will. If you can’t live with that, you’d best look elsewhere.

 

Docking

The 700p will fit perfectly in any cradle designed for the 700w, and should — I emphasize should — also work in most cradles designed for the 650. That’s not guaranteed, though, so if you’re upgrading from a 650, check out compatibility before you make any assumptions.

 

Communication

The 700p is the first Palm OS Treo — indeed, the first Palm OS smartphone of any kind — to run on the increasingly popular EV-DO 3G network here in the US. Verizon and Sprint both operate fairly large-scale EV-DO networks, and according to their estimates, both networks cover about the same number of people. Depending on your location, of course, you may have coverage from one but not the other, or you may be one of the roughly 60% of us who don’t have EV-DO coverage at all. If you’re the latter, the 700p will step down to the older 1xRTT data network, with maximum speeds around 120 Kbits per second. This is compared the 300-700 Kbits seen on EV-DO.

The 700p is now available from both Sprint and Verizon, so you can pick which service fits your needs best. For the purposes of this review, our Treo was running on Sprint. The big catch with Sprint, of course, if that if you go outside their native coverage you lose all your data service. They’ll roam onto Verizon for voice, but not for Internet.

To combat this, I tried to see if the 700p could be made to dial-up a standard ISP and connect to the Internet as a voice call. I plugged in the details of my landline ISP, and told the Treo to connect via its cellular modem. It proceeded to dial, but refused to actually connect, stating that “Data service is not available in this area.” Apparently, a dialup modem call is treated for all intents and purposes as data. Even had I succeeded, the data speed would have been a paltry 1 kilobyte per second, barely enough to check email. No great loss, then. Unfortunately, without Wi-Fi, and with all cellular Internet cut off, you’re very effectively disconnected from all data and connected applications if you ever leave Sprint coverage.

So, if you anticipate any need for Internet connectivity outside of the civilized areas of the world, I would strongly suggest you go with the Verizon version of the Treo. While it’s far from what they advertise, Verizon’s coverage does extend over many areas not served by Sprint. That said, if you can live with the relative restrictions, Sprint is also vastly cheaper, as well as being a less restrictive service.

The 700p also comes with Bluetooth 1.2, allowing for short-range connectivity to headsets, PCs, GPS receivers, and a number of other peripherals. Enabled out of the box, at least on the Sprint version, is the Bluetooth Dial-up Networking profile, letting you connect to the Treo for Internet access from any Bluetooth enabled handheld, laptop, or desktop.

Unfortunately, both Verizon Wireless and Sprint now require you to pay extra money to them for the purpose of using your phone as a modem, even though you’re already paying for a data plan. Verizon wants an additional $15 per month for the option, on top of their $45 per month data plan. Sprint “only” demands that you use their PAM (“Phone-As-Modem”) service for $50 per month, compared to $20 per month for unlimited data without PAM. Reminds me why I’m a GSM user. There are some work-arounds being developed by users, but these mostly require you to connect via USB, rather than via Bluetooth.

Getting back to our original topic, the 700p now supports multiple Bluetooth connections, where the Treo 650 did not. So for instance, you can now connect both a handsfree system and a GPS receiver at the same time, rather than having to disconnect one in order to connect the other. Not supported by default is the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile used for stereo headphones: you still need third-party software to enable this.

 

Audio

Audio quality on the Treo is good. Although the speakerphone isn’t the loudest, it’s quite sufficient if you’re not in a terribly noisy environment. Volume and clarity for both calls and music are more than acceptable.

 

Battery

The 700p has an 1800 mAh battery, compatible with those found in the Treo 650 and 700w. This means that you can use any of the existing third-party battery replacements for the existing Treos. The standard battery is rated at up to 4.5 hours of talk time, or 300 hours of standby time. Talk time is, of course, measured with the screen off, so if you’re using the device for Internet access it will be somewhat less than this. From my experiences, the estimates are roughly accurate, although battery life will tend to vary heavily with usage. For all that it packs in, the 700p delivers acceptable battery life — not as much as you might get out of a dedicated phone, or even some of the more long-lived phone devices from HTC, but quite adequate for day to day use.

 

Conclusion

On some level, it’s disappointing that Palm didn’t do a little more with the 700 series. Seeing as it is currently the 600 pound gorilla of the smartphone market, it could have gotten away with a bit more, like adding Wi-Fi or a VoIP suite as standard. This speaks to design as well — the overall Treo styling hasn’t been significantly altered in two and a half years. While it’s still competitive, it would be nice to see a sleeker and more modern Treo, or perhaps a range of designs akin to HTC’s lineup.

All that aside, the 700p is a significant improvement over the 650, and alleviates a lot of the major problems with the last generation Treo. It’s not an enormous upgrade, but is probably enough to tempt many Palm faithful who don’t want to jump to the 700w. Compared directly to its Windows-based sibling, the 700p has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. As always, the best way to judge is based on individual needs. The 700p lacks the Exchange connectivity features and Wi-Fi options of the 700w, but does have a better screen and the classic Palm OS interface. I suspect that despite its flaws, the 700p is going to be a good performer for Palm.

 

Pros:

  • EV-DO broadband
  • Increased memory
  • New multimedia capabilities

Cons:

  • Uninspiring form-factor
  • No major upgrades
  • Lacks multitasking

Bottom Line:

A solid, if not revolutionary, upgrade over the Treo 650.

 


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