With the Palm Treo Pro, we can say for the first time in a couple of years that we wouldn't mind being seen carrying a Treo. Yes, Palm has released a smart phone that isn't bulky. In fact, the Treo Pro (sold unlocked for $549) looks downright elegant compared with previous Treos. And unlike the BlackBerry Curve and Samsung BlackJack II, you get an integrated touchscreen. You also get Wi-Fi and GPS, features Palm's previous GSM phone, the Treo 750, lacks. The keyboard could be better, but with its reliable call quality and reasonably speedy 3G data, the Treo Pro is one of the better Windows Mobile smart phones on the market. Too bad it costs so much.
Dressed up in glossy black plastic, the Palm Treo Pro oozes executive-class smart phone (kind of like the back of the iPhone, but all over.) And it's refreshingly pocket-friendly, weighing a mere 4.7 ounces and measuring a svelte 0.5 inches thick. The Treo 750, by comparison, weighs 5.4 ounces and is 0.8 inches thick. Nevertheless, it's hard to praise Palm too much for finally catching up with older devices like BlackBerry Curve 8310 and Samsung BlackJack II.
Dark, metallic buttons decorate the perimeter of the Treo Pro, including a thin volume bar and camera launch key on the left side, a power button and ringer on/off switch on top, and a dedicated Wi-Fi launch key on the right side, which has a small infrared window beneath it. (Does anyone beam anything in 2008?) The back of the Treo Pro is where you'll find the speaker, which is off to the left, the 2-megapixel camera, and a silver Palm logo.
One feature we're glad to see on a Treo finally is a 3.5mm jack, which means you can plug in your own earphones. It's on the bottom of the Pro, along with the micro-USB port for charging and syncing the device. The microSD/SDHC Card slot and removable battery are behind the cover, which we found difficult to remove.
Display, Buttons, and Keyboard
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Part of what makes the Treo so relatively thin is that its 2.5-inch, 320 x 320-pixel touchscreen is flush with the front of the device, as opposed to previous devices, which had protruding bezels. We appreciate having the ability to close applications using the right drop-down menu on the Today screen, touch the address bar to enter Web addresses, and fire up the speaker with a tap while on a call. The camera app also has some nice touch-enabled shortcuts. Touching this run-of-the-mill resistive screen with a fingernail yielded decent accuracy, but you'll get better results with the short but sturdy stylus.
The Treo Pro has four dedicated shortcut buttons that surround the circular five-way navigation key: Windows (for quick access to Programs and Settings), OK (mostly for minimizing apps), Calendar, and E-mail. We had to train ourselves not to use the Windows and OK buttons as soft menu keys; you have to press the soft menu keys that are on the bottom of the screen. Flanking all of these shortcut buttons are the Phone/Send and End buttons, which are subtly backlit green and red, respectively.
While this is the same number of buttons as on the Palm Treo 800w, the more roomy distribution on the Treo Pro means less real estate for the keyboard. The layout is wider than the Palm Centro's, but the keys have the same sticky, toy-like feel, and they're packed too closely together for rapid, error-free typing. We much prefer the keyboard on the BlackBerry Curve.
User Interface and Features
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Following the lead of earlier Windows Mobile-powered Treos, the Pro sports a Google Search bar on the Today screen. However, you can't do local GPS-enabled searches from this screen, as you can on the Palm Treo 800w. The Treo Pro also features Palm's trademark threaded treatment of text messages, which makes following a conversation simple. Other welcome touches include the ability to have the center key illuminate when voicemail arrives and one-touch access to the Communication Manager from the Today screen for toggling the cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth radios. You can also press and hold the power button to turn of the phone.
The Treo Pro certainly one-ups its predecessor in the features department: A new 400-MHz Qualcomm processor runs the show. (The Treo 800w had a slower 333-MHz TI CPU.) Palm includes 128MB of RAM and 256MB of storage, 100MB of which is user-available (up from 43MB on the 750). Overall performance with these components was pretty snappy, but we noticed that some apps took as long as 8 seconds to load, such as Google Maps. The microSD/SDHC Card slot supports up to 32GB of additional storage. As mentioned, this is the first Treo to sport both Wi-Fi and HSDPA data connectivity.
Syncing and E-mail
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As with all Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition devices, the Treo Pro uses ActiveSync for synchronizing Outlook contacts, Calendar, tasks, and more. What's refreshing is that the Treo Pro doesn't ship with a CD-ROM. Plugging in the smart phone via the included USB cable triggers a setup wizard that automatically downloads the latest version of ActiveSync. This cable also plugs into the included wall charger.
The Treo Pro supports push e-mail via Microsoft Exchange, and you can have new e-mails delivered on a scheduled basis from such common providers as AOL, Earthlink, Gmail, and Yahoo, as well as any type of POP3 or IMAP account. However, we experienced a glitch when we attempted to set up our Gmail account. The Treo Pro froze while trying to retrieve our settings automatically, and we had to pull the battery to reset the device. The second attempt worked fine when we entered the settings manually.
Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional includes Office Mobile, which means the Treo Pro can handle Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and Word Mobile attachments, and you can edit as well as create these types of documents. Downloading attachments is still a pain, though, as you have to do a full send/receive just to grab a single document or image.
Palm also includes Adobe Reader LE, which we thought would come in handy for checking out the reviewer's guide for the Treo Pro. Unfortunately, documents are difficult to read unless you zoom in to the point where you can't read an entire line of text from left to right. Worse, the zoom controls are touch-based and are too small.
With your choice of 3G HSDPA or Wi-Fi, surfing the Web on the Treo Pro is quick, so long as you don't mind the crude formatting of Internet Explorer. Over 3G, using an AT&T SIM card, NYTimes.com loaded in an average of 9 seconds, CNN.com Mobile took 7 seconds, and ESPN Mobile Web took 10 seconds to display a story about Michael Strahan considering coming out of retirement. Over Wi-Fi, these sites loaded in 7, 5, and 5 seconds, respectively. Full HTML sites with lots of images took about 30 seconds to load over 3G and half the time over Wi-Fi. If you want a more iPhone-like browsing experience, you can try Opera Mobile 9.5 (Beta), but we found it unstable on the Treo Pro.
You can get your GPS fix in one of two ways on the Treo Pro: the free route or the paid one. The free Google Maps app is good for local searches and getting directions if you don't need them read aloud. If you want the full navigation experience, opt for the preloaded TeleNav GPS Navigator ($9.99 per month), which offers better-looking maps and extra features, such as the ability to share your location with others and sync your contacts with your Treo Pro's address book. Just be sure you have a clear view of the sky.
On our initial test on a drive from Manhattan to central New Jersey, the application inexplicably crashed when we chose the option to type in an address for driving directions. This happened multiple times. TeleNav told us it must be a hardware-related issue, and since we've never encountered this with TeleNav on other smart phones, we're inclined to agree. Downloading the software again fixed the problem. The next morning TeleNav took a reasonable 20 seconds to calculate our route back to New York.
Camera and Media
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What do you expect from a 2-MP camera with no flash? Actually, the images we took with the Treo Pro--one of a colleague sitting at his desk and another of a floral arrangement--looked pretty decent. In fact, the Treo Pro's shots looked sharper and brighter than the same pics we took with a BlackBerry Curve 8330 from Verizon Wireless. They're not 4 x 6-inch printworthy, but we appreciated the better detail and more balanced lighting. Palm supplies its own touch-optimized skin for the camera app, which lets you zoom in with a tap, adjust basic capture settings, and adjust the white balance and brightness with your finger or stylus.
Music and video playback is handled by the standard Windows Media Player Mobile. Our Silversun Pickups MP3 track sounded nice and loud through the bottom-mounted speaker, which Palm cleverly positioned off to the side so that even when the phone is placed screen-up you can hear the audio just fine. Music also sounded full through the included earbuds, which come with an integrated mic and call button. Audiophiles will certainly want to bring their own headphones.
Because the Treo Pro is unlocked, it doesn't support carrier-branded wireless music or video services. However, there are plenty of third-party options, such as SlingPlayer Mobile.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Palm scores points for call quality. The Treo Pro was loud and clear during our tests on AT&T's network. Other callers commented that we sounded "pretty good," and on our end the quality was pretty close to that of a landline. Our only complaint was some slight fuzziness on the line during pauses.
The Treo Pro is rated for 5 hours of talk time. With very light use, our device lasted through a weekend. We reached for the charger on Monday around 9 a.m. With moderate to heavy use (calls, Web surfing, GPS) the Treo Pro lasted a little less than 10 hours. You should be able to get through a full work day without a problem, provided you go light on the Wi-Fi and GPS.
If the Palm Treo Pro cost the same as competing devices from HTC, RIM, and Samsung, we would probably give it a stronger recommendation. But because you can currently only purchase it unlocked in North America, the audience for this $549 device is pretty much limited to executives who want to stand out in a crowd with a flashier design--and who hate the idea of contracts. The Treo Pro looks nice, but it's not $300 nicer than the Sprint Treo 800w. The lackluster keyboard not withstanding, the Treo Pro is a very well-put-together smart phone, with only minimal Windows Mobile lag. We hope AT&T picks it up and sells it for a more reasonable price.