palmOne Treo 650 GSM Version Review

by Reads (84,335)

by Louie Tran, California USA

Treo 650 Quick Specs: GSM/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900 MHz world phone, Intel PXA270 312 MHz processor, 23MB user-available stored non-volatile memory, 16-bit 320×320 touch screen, SDIO expansion slot, PalmOS 5.4

The Irony

When the Treo 600 was first announced around the middle of 2003, I was excited in thinking that it would be the ultimate all in one gadget. Think about it, a color phone running the PalmOS with an integrated keyboard, camera and SDIO expandability! It sounded like the perfect device! Eventually, the specs were finally released and my excitement turned to disgust learning that there was no Bluetooth and the screen quality was a low-resolution 160×160. This was all unacceptable even if it was two years ago. I went and got a CLIE instead, then switched to the P900 later and then to an IPAQ 4155. All of these handhelds were great but they just weren’t “The One” for me. Finally PalmOne added almost everything that was missing in the Treo 600 and called it the Treo 650. Initially I wanted to get the iMate PDA2K but my friend talked me into getting the Treo instead and I am glad that I did.

 Design

 

I’ve seen people with the Treo 650 and have played with demo models of it in retail stores but I never realized how small thing is! Even the packaging that the Treo 650 comes in is very small. At first glance it’s hard to tell the difference between the 650 and the 600 as they look physically identical. The Treo 650 features a QWERTY keyboard, standard Palm PDA shortcut buttons and “Initiate Call” and “End Call” buttons intuitivively laid out. The screen resolution is 320×320 and is displayed clear, bright and sharp. This screen is nothing special to those who have the have the newer generation of Palms, but those upgrading from a Treo 600 will be very impressed. On the top there’s an SDIO expansion slot, a switch to turn off the ringer and another slot for the SIM. There’s also a thick, stubby antenna sticking out but it’s not as bothersome as it looks. On the left side, there’s buttons to adjust the volume and an extra side button that does miscellaneous things depending on the application.

Weighing a little over 6oz, the Treo 650 feels just about right. It’s definitely not the lightest phone in the world but it certainly is a very light PDA. While holding it to use and make calls it fit very well in my hands and there’s no sense of awkwardness at all thanks to the great form factor. Using it to chat, send e-mail and make data entries gets some getting used to because of the small keys, but that’s to be expected. Once you get the hang of it, it could definitely take the place of your desktop and laptop to send and receive e-mails. One thing that I did not like on the design was the placement of the headset output, which was at the very bottom of the Treo 650. It would’ve been much better if it was placed at the top of the device. Other than that, I am very satisfied with the Treo’s design.

The First Few Hours

 

When I first got the 650 and tore it out of the box, I didn’t even bother charging it. I popped in my T-Mobile SIM card and it recognized it without a hitch. The battery was at the half mark so I decided to live dangerously. I did all the initial setup steps such as setting the time and calibrating the stylus. Also, I read in a forum that there’s a potential glitch involved with “Enable Network Time” so I made sure that was disabled. When installing the HotSync software, it conveniently asked if I wanted to Sync from Palm Desktop or Outlook. I selected Outlook because my previous PDA was an iPaq and all my contacts, appointments, and notes synchronized perfectly into the Treo.

The first thing that I wanted to do was try to surf the web on this thing. I opened up the Blazer browser and it automatically connected using the T-Mobile T-Zones, but unfortunately it couldn’t connect to the web with the default settings that I had it in. Then I looked in Treo Central’s forums and they posted the appropriate proxy address for the $4.99 T-Zones users to get on the web which is 216.155.165.50 port 8080. After entering in the proxy server address, I was able to surf the web right on my handheld. Also the speed clocked in at an average of 90kbps thanks to the EDGE availability in California.

 

Next online task was to see if I could get on all my instant messanger programs. I sort of expected running into problems because I know that T-Mobile blocks the ports so I just took a chance anyway. I installed the free Agile Messenger, and was unsuccessful in logging on. Then I tried Mundu, still no luck and then finally tried Verichat, which logged on perfectly. Causurie Messenger also worked, but I’m sticking with Verichat because I’ve had great experience with it before.

After an hour of playing with my Treo, I took it to work with me (still hadn’t even charged it yet) to test out its other functions such as the phone and e-mail capabilities. After a full eight hours of working, the battery still hadn’t died yet and it was down to about 1/4 power. So the battery life is just amazing!

Phone Functions

 
 

As a phone, the Treo 650 functions at a mediocre level. Calls are loud and clear on both ends and the reception is great. You can use the touch screen to call or use the numerically laid out pad on the integrated keyboard. If you are using the PDA and want to quickly get back to the phone program, just press the green phone key and it will take you back there instantly. The speakerphone is somewhat weak but the ringer volume is very loud. Vibrate mode is utterly useless so I guess it balances out with the loud ringer.

There is a bug in regards to the call volume which goes back to the default setting every time you soft reset the phone. It’s not a major problem but you always have to keep that in mind when you reset the phone. Another issue that I did not like about the phone is that there’s no built in voice dialing. This feature is available in almost all the phones that came out last year and surprisingly; it’s not included on the Treo. You have to purchase the software to use this function separately.

The phone paired fine with my Sony Ericsson HB60 headset and I had no issues with the volume and clarity of the calls. I do however miss the feature where I could push the button on the headset, say the person’s name and it will make the call. Ringtones can easily be set in the Preferences, but it’s a bit tricky to import your own MIDI files. It would’ve been great if you could just drag and drop it from the desktop to the phone but unfortunately the PalmOS doesn’t work that way. You have to type in the web address for the location of specific file using the Blazer browser and then save it onto the phone. You can also e-mail it as an attachment and save it from there.

Speaking of Bluetooth, the Dialup Networking is enabled in the unlocked version of the Treo 650 without having to download Shadowmite’s patches. I set it up on my iBook and my VAIO U750 and both connected online without any problems.

Camera

Unfortunately, PalmOne decided not to give us a built in megapixel camera on the Treo 650 but the 640×480 camera is as good as it gets. Compared to other camera phones such as the Nokia 6600 and Sony Ericsson T616, this blows them both away. The Treo’s camera also works well in low light situations and the pictures are surprisingly clear. Like all other camera phones please don’t buy it for the camera! You’re always better off with a cheap 2MP digital camera! Check out these sample photos:

 
 
 

PDA Functions

I’ve used PDAs since the Palm III so I’m quite familiar with the PalmOS and I can say that not much has really changed over the years. That’s kind of a good thing but it’s also a bad thing. Like Palm’s in the past, there’s still no built in Uninstaller so files will still remain even though you delete the actual program itself. In quite a few cases you have to find the legacy files one at a time to delete them. Sure it’s not a big deal but I’m surprsied Palm hasn’t improved the file system after all these years. The PIM functions are pretty much the same, where you have your appointment book, address book and memo pad which sync beautifully with Outlook or Palm Desktop. The contacts list is perhaps the worst I have ever seen in a PDA because it’s poorly laid out. After syncing in my contacts and looking at it on the Treo, it was a disgusting mess. All the names and numbers are bunched together making it difficult to read. You also only have two choices in listing your contacts and that’s either by Last Name, First Name or by Company, Last Name. You can’t list it by First Name, Last Name at all! What kind of garbage is that? I’m just glad that the appointment book is fine the way it is.

 

Palm has bundled the full standard version of Documents to Go which is very useful for those who want to take their work with them. Editting Word documents and Excel spreadsheets on the Treo are great thanks to the integrated keyboard. Programmed into the ROM is the infamous VersaMail program said to be the source of a lot of the random resets users are experiencing. VersaMail is easy to setup and works with just about and e-mail service you have including gmail. You can also set it up with IMAP capable mail servers too. Unlike some people, I haven’t had any issues with VersaMail… yet.

Software

One big advantage in using Palm devices is that there’s literally a ton of software available for it. Whatever you are looking for, they already made it. There are some compatibility issues with the Treo but you’ll hardly ever run into a brick wall because developers are constantly working on them and there’s a lot of user support available online. If you want to share software and files, you can beam them to other PDAs as well. You can also send them via Bluetooth or by e-mail.

 

People have been reporting that the phone resets numerous times for known and unknown reasons. Sometimes it’s a hardware problem and simply exchanging it remedies that problem. The Treo 650 has been known to reset with some software, but those just haven’t been tested, programmed and optimized for the Treo. As mentioned above, there’s an issue with VersaMail causing random resets but that’s not in all cases.

Many users have heavily criticized the use of the Non Volatile Memory System. Basically what it does is prevent your applications and settings from being deleted after your remove that battery. The problem with this is that programs installed onto the internal memory take up more space than they normally should, which are up to 50% more! It also doesn’t help that PalmOne made only 22.4MB of memory available to the user. They should’ve at least made it 64MB, or even had a small internal battery to keep it powered long enough to save the data. Some people say that this is one of the possible sources of the random resets users experience.

Currently, the programs that I am running are Power Run, Verichat, BackupBuddyVFS, Documents to Go, VersaMail and a whole bunch of games loaded onto the memory card such as Bejeweled, Zap!2016m and Little John Player emulator and rarely have random resets that people report. There is a strange reset that happens to me about once a week and the error log shows that there is a problem with the phone program. My theory is that it’s Verichat causing the reset because it’s always running.

After over a week of extensive software usage, I am quite pleased with how the Treo 650 performs in running application after application and game after game without any major problems. I strongly suggest downloading and purchasing Power Run and an SD card (you can get one free from Palm by calling them). What Power Run does is copy memory from your RAM onto the SD card so you can save space on the limited memory memory that is given to you.

Multimedia and Fun

I already have an iPod and really don’t need the MP3 playback capabilities of the Treo but I went ahead and tested it anyway. Music plays very well using the included RealOne player and I used a cheap $3 2.5 to 3.5 headphone adapter from Radio Shack for some stereo sound. For those who can get EDGE or any highspeed wireless service, I recommend downloading PocketTunes because you can stream in online music! Very cool feature and a great alternative to carrying a pocket FM radio.

I was very happy that PalmOne bundled Zap!2016 with the Treo because I’ve been a long time fan of the series. Haven’t played it since I was using the P900 and IPAQ for two years but it’s good to have it back. Anyone who likes to play games or kill time, I recommend visiting the Astraware site because they make the most addictive games such as Insanaquarium and Bejeweled. Since I don’t have an IPAQ anymore, I was looking for a replacement to MorphGear, which is a multiconsole (SuperNES, NES, Genesis, GBA, etc) emulator. I’ve had Kalemsoft’s NesEM in the past and it ran great, but I want something that plays everything. For now, I’m using Little John Player which plays about 80% of the games I’ve tried on it. It’s still in beta and is free some no complaints there.

The Best There Is? Probably…

After having such a great experience in extensively testing the Treo 650, I would say that this is the best PDA/Phone I have ever owned. It does everything it’s supposed to and then some. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect because it’s definitely not. The address book, lack of sufficient memory, and slight system instability are some of the few things that need to be resolved. Certainly there are workarounds with some of these issues but it shouldn’t have to be that way. With all issues aside, the Treo 650 is simply the best smart phone in the market with it’s great battery life, software suite, large selection of third party software, screen quality, form factor, and functionality.

Overall Rating: 9/10

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