Palm Treo 750v
30th Sep 2006 | 23:00
The master is back with its first 3G touchscreen PDA
It's easy to forget, but just a few years ago it looked as if Palm would take over the world. The American company led the PDA revolution, putting touchscreen organisers and smartphones into the hands of 20 million executives, at a time when a BlackBerry was just fruit that grew on brambles.
With over 10,000 applications available in its software library, and the success of its Treo smartphones (following the purchase of Handspring), it seemed well placed to take advantage of the convergence of mobiles and other devices. But since the launch of the Treo 650 over 18 months back we've been waiting for other models to arrive on these shores.
Now Palm is back - and back in a big way. The first 3G version of the Treo smartphone has arrived in Europe, and has been ensured major billing thanks to an exclusive deal with Vodafone.
But there is something rather different about this new Palm. It may look like previous Treos, but this one turns its back on tradition by not using the Palm operating system. Instead it runs Microsoft's rival Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC touchscreen platform.
It may seem odd for old-school Palm fans. But back in the States, Palm has been producing Palm OS and Windows Mobile devices in tandem for a while so it was only a matter of time before this concept made it across the Atlantic.
The Treo 750v is a chunky monobloc handset but weighing in at just over 150g, is actually much more manageable than many Pocket PC rivals. It also keeps its dimensions trim by being the first Treo with an internal patch antenna.
The Treo tradition is maintained with a full typewriter keyboard beneath a square touch-sensitive screen. This gives you the dual option of a virtual Qwerty typewriter, or a real one with buttons - allowing you to make good use of the slip-out stylus when you have it to hand.
And when you do not want to use the pen, you can navigate around a good proportion of options using the five way joypad control. However, when scrolling through a long list of emails, you rue the fact that it does not have the thumbwheel control of a BlackBerry or Sony Ericsson P990i.
Despite its neat appearance, the 240x240-pixel screen seems a tad small and lacking in resolution compared to contemporary rivals. Practically all Windows Mobile pocket PC devices offer a better resolution 320x240 pixel display, and with only 65,000 colours on offer, this screen seems to struggle to give top notch detail when looking at downloaded PDF documents and graphics-rich webpages.
One of the issues for fans of Palm Treos is that with Windows Mobile software onboard, many of the device's facilities, the interface and features list are standard Microsoft fare that are commonplace in all other Windows Mobile-based handsets. They'd be familiar to any user of the many HTC-sourced devices that dominate the Windows Mobile market,
However, Palm has insisted on some interesting additions to the interface and functionality of the phone. A dial window means that you can make calls without leaving the 'Today' standby screen. Onscreen options allow you to access voicemail options without having to press any number keys. When busy, you can now reject calls with a canned or bespoke text message.
There's a neat facility for using phonebook photos as touch-sensitive speed-dial keys - so you prod your friend's face to call them up. And there's a simple-but-clever switch at the top of the phone for turning off ringtones when you are in a meeting or visiting the library.
Although there is a programmable key for accessing a favourite function on the side of the phone, activating some of the phone's functions can prove to be cumbersome. You need to press the Windows key to access the full menu of programs and facilities - and you can end up having to take this circuitous route simply to fire up the camera, or get the web browser working.
Although this phone boasts 3G capability, it rather surprisingly makes do without video calling. There is a built-in camera for taking stills and video but this faces in the opposite direction from the screen. And rather than letting this simply show a caller what you can see, Palm provides no video conferencing option at all.
The camera also proves to be less than sensational when it comes to taking still images. It offers a standard 1.3-megapixel resolution, so it's not ideal for producing top quality photographs. But more importantly its potential is hampered by an almost complete lack of camera controls.
There is no autofocus or macro facility, and the only zoom available is a 2x digital affair, so close-ups are a real problem. Facilities that you take for granted on modern cameraphones, such as built-in flash and white balance adjustment, are nowhere to be seen. This said, the pictures it takes have a reasonable colour balance, and the only exposure fault is a tendency to burn out highlights slightly.
With its built-in typewriter, this is a mobile that is aimed at the serial emailer. With this in mind, Vodafone provides push email out of the box, with its Visto-driven services. This proved easy to set up. However, corporate users can also opt for BlackBerry Connect as an alternative solution.
With 3G connection speeds, your messages appear quickly - and there is excellent support for most of the attachments that you are likely to get sent. Just as importantly, the onboard web browser means that you can go straight to links that have been embedded in a message, simply by touching that part of the screen.
Web pages render fast over a 3G link, but unlike many other recent smartphones the Treo does not provide Wi-Fi connectivity for in-building use, or to cut down on connection charges. This is undoubtedly a more serious absence than the lack of video conferencing.
The onboard library of software is the usual Microsoft suite of applications. A key attraction here is that you can read and write spreadsheets and text documents when on the move. And contacts and emails can not only be accessed, but can be synchronised with your desktop PC, thanks to ActiveSync and Outlook compatibility.
Apple users will bemoan the fact that, unlike with Palm-OS Treos, there is no seamless support for Macs with this device. Furthermore, although a USB lead is provided, there is no cradle for keeping the handset neatly positioned on your worktop.
Windows Media Player is used for both video and audio playback. As an MP3 player, it gets extra points by having a 2.5mm jack socket - allowing you to upgrade your headset without difficulty. The quality of sound from the phone's own speaker is reasonable but with the supplied earbuds an otherwise good tonal range is marred by sibilant top notes.
As well as a simple hard-wired upgraded, Palm also keeps the specification up-to-date by offering support for the latest stereo Bluetooth headphones.
Streamed video looks rather good on the phone, and a mobile TV service that we looked at was bright and full of detail. You get an option to blow up the image to fill the frame but the square aspect ratio can make this look rather strange, even though there is no need to rotate the phone.
How long a 3G phone's battery lasts depends on whether it can lock onto a 3G signal or not. If you can't get those video services, and make your calls over GSM, the power lasts a whole lot longer. So in an area with reasonable Vodafone 3G coverage, we were rather impressed that this handset kept running for some 73 hours, during which we made some 30 minutes of calls.
The shape of this handset is well suited to making voice calls - it is not as awkward or embarrassing to put it up to your ear as with some smartphones. Voice quality was good.
It is great to see a new Palm Treo in the UK, and this model does a lot to bring the specification of the previous 650 model up to date. However, the smartphone marketplace has become rather more competitive in the last few months than at any time in the past.
The lack of Wi-Fi and quality camera, for instance, puts it at a disadvantage. Moreover, the use of Microsoft Windows Mobile software means that it lacks the uniqueness of operation and distinctiveness of previous Treos.
Qwerty keyboard: Ranged under the display are keys for quick data inputting and email writing which double up as number keys
Touchscreen display: The touchsensitive screen offers multiple ways of entering data. There's also handwriting recognition software
Windows Mobile OS: The latest Palm Treo has replaced the Palm OS with the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system
Memory card slot: The 128MB internal memory can be expanded using swappable MiniSD cards