In a bid to deal itself back into the business-smart phone market, Palm has released the Windows Mobile-powered Treo 800w. This feature-packed update to the Treo 700wxis lighter and thinner than its predecessor, adds Wi-Fi and GPS, and boasts a higher-resolution touchscreen. Palm continues to innovate on top of the Exchange-friendly Windows Mobile with such perks as time-saving Today screen shortcuts and a dedicated Wi-Fi button. We wish the Treo 800w lasted longer on a charge, but its call quality and ease of use make it a good BlackBerry alternative.
Just looking at the Treo 800w reminded us of the smooth edges and straight lines of the Centro. The old Treo had a nice shape, but the protrusion of its blocky antenna and awkward curves made it a clunky fit for pockets. The Treo 800w forgoes the old gawky shape for a device that measures 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches, weighs 5 ounces, and is designed with strong, straight lines along the sides and subtle curves along the top and bottom. The phone felt light in our hands and, thanks to its smooth slip-proof rubber backing, we didn't worry about dropping it at all. However, theBlackBerry Curve 8330is still an ounce lighter and slimmer.
On the face of the phone is a generous 1.7-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels, which is a welcome step up from the 240 x 240-pixel display on the 700wx. Windows Mobile 6.1 is built for very fine touch-based interaction that often rules out using fingers to navigate the phone's many programs. Too bad the included stylus feels chintzy.
Below the screen are two discreet soft action keys and a strip of silver buttons surrounding Palm's signature five-way navigation key. There are also four programmable action keys and buttons to answer or end calls that double as a phone tool launch key and a power button, respectively.
At the top of the Treo 800w is a ringer on/off switch, a new Wi-Fi on/off button, and a dock for the stylus. Along the right is a microSD Card slot, accessible without removing the battery cover. On the left side of the phone are narrow volume controls and a soft button for launching the program of your choice. On the back is the 2-MP camera and speaker.
At the bottom of the Treo 800w is a micro-USB port that's used not only for charging and syncing but for attaching the included headset for listening to music or making calls. Unfortunately, there's a 2.5mm jack instead of a 3.5mm one, so you can't use your own headphones.
Great Keyboard for Speedy Typing
At the phone's base is an ample 34-button QWERTY pad that is much more spacious than that of the Palm Centro. Keys are more spaced, and the Treo 800w's larger buttons are also raised with curved tips, making them easier to press and more responsive to the touch.
Typing on the Treo 800w was just as fast, rhythmic, and error-free as using a full-size BlackBerry, even if the clicks are not as firm. We liked that in all word processing modes, the Windows Mobile software attempted to complete our words for us by providing a list of options after we entered a few letters. Though the program is not as smart as RIM's SureType software for the BlackBerry Pearl, the feature will come in handy.
Windows Mobile 6.1, Enhanced
Because Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 supports Microsoft ActiveSync for tight integration with Outlook, the OS is a solid choice for business users, especially those looking for push e-mail via Microsoft Exchange Server. On the other hand, Windows Mobile isn't exactly known for being user-friendly. That's why Palm continues to innovate on top of the OS. You can search the Web from the Today Screen, start typing a name or number to look one up or dial out, and even conduct an instant local search by typing in the field that says "Find ATM, gas, pizza" The handy dedicated Wi-Fi button on the top of the device instantly toggles that connection on and off (good for saving battery life).
The Treo 800w isn't intuitive in all respects. For example, some of the programs listed within the Windows icon, such as Office Mobile, aren't listed under the Programs menu. And one could argue that the clutter on the Today Screen makes the OS more intimidating.
More Memory, A Little More Pep
One of the things we didn't like about the Treo 700wx was that it tended to run out of memory too quickly. The 800w nearly triples the amount of usable memory from 60MB to 170MB. Overall performance was also a bit snappier, thanks to the new 333-MHz TI OMAP processor, a slight upgrade from the 312-MHz Intel XScale CPU on the 700wx.
E-mail and Messaging
One of the simpler tasks for the Treo 800w was setting up POP3, IMAP, and our Outlook-based e-mail. We merely used the stylus to select the e-mail app from the Today Screen, provided our Gmail username and password, and began reading our messages in no time at all. Afterwards, the Today Screen displayed the number of unread e-mail messages and provided one-tap access to our inbox.
To sync the device with Outlook, we simply plugged the Treo 800w into our PC via the included mini-USB cord, and ActiveSync installed itself with a few prompts. It then automatically synced our Outlook inbox, calendar, and notes to the phone.
Like all Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition handsets, this one comes with mobile versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, letting you read and edit Office documents on the device. Palm also includes a PDF reader and OneNote Mobile, which is a souped-up note-taking program that lets you insert photos and recordings.
When we activated the instant messaging software from Sprint (AOL, MSN, and Yahoo), Internet Explorer Mobile launched and the software download automatically kicked into gear. After we rebooted the phone and entered our AIM screen name and password, we were chatting with buddies in a threaded interface that allows use of all three IM services simultaneously (though you cannot combine buddy lists).
Surfing the Web on the Treo was speedy using its EV-DO Rev. A connection. As expected, Wi-Fi was slightly faster, which is a nice option to have when you're at home or in the office and you can't get a good cellular signal. We loaded CNN.com and NYTimes.com in 6 seconds over EV-DO Rev. A (5 seconds over Wi-Fi) and ESPN.com in 9 seconds (7 seconds over Wi-Fi). Since these are sites optimized for mobile phones, we also tried loading blog.laptopmag.com, a full HTML site, which took a still-speedy 11 seconds over 3G (9 seconds over Wi-Fi).
We then tried downloading Opera Mobile 9.5 over EV-DO Rev. A, a 4.6MB file, which took a respectable 1 minute and 17 seconds; downloading medium-to-large attachments should be no problem on this device, even when you're nowhere near a hotspot. The built-in browser doesn't support Flash, so YouTube won't work. Ajax support is also nonexistent on Mobile IE.
Other smart phones with Wi-Fi capability, such as T-Mobile'sBlackBerry Curve 8320, include software and VoIP calling plans, which can help users save money by making calls via the phone's Wi-Fi connection. Palm told us that VoIP software made especially for the Treo 800w is not in the works. Users interested in this capability can download Skype for Windows Mobile.
Sprint Navigation is definitely worth the price for road warriors who don't want to schlep a separate navigator. Users receive voice directions, traffic updates, location publishing, 2D maps, business search (with more than 10 million POIs), and a customizable address database. The cost is bundled into Sprint's Simply Everything unlimited data and voice plan ($99.99 per month), or you can purchase Sprint Navigation separately for $2.99 for 24 hours or $9.99 per month.
Sprint Navigator can measure your proximity to a location up to the foot, and you can switch between moving map, 2D map, and turning icon views without interrupting updates by the GPS receiver. It took anywhere between 5 to 30 seconds to obtain a GPS signal walking around Manhattan.
We used the GPS to plan a route from our office to the nearest park. When we chose an alternative path, the GPS rerouted us in seconds. One nifty feature lets you enter an address by speaking it, in the event that your hands are glued to a steering wheel (or if you're walking and the sun makes the screen difficult to read). The business search tool also came in handy; Sprint Navigator maps all of its findings along with your current location quickly. The feature made tracking down the nearest ATM or gas station easy.
Palm also adds its own smaller, less-robust GPS software, Maps, to the 800w. This software works with or without access to Sprint Navigator and lets you search businesses or quickly pull up the lay of the land by entering a zip code, a street address, or using your own GPS location as a reference. We wondered if our favorite lunchtime Japanese restaurant would turn up in a Maps hunt, and sure enough it did, along with nine other haunts for good sushi in our neighborhood. Maps sends you over to Sprint Navigator if you request driving directions, so only use it for viewing your location on a digital map.
While watching Sprint TV is a pain on some phones, flipping channels with the Treo 800w was a pleasure thanks to its relatively large display. Faces weren't blurry and the sound quality was strong via both the included headset and the speaker. We also used a stereo Bluetooth headset to listen wirelessly, something you can't do with other Sprint smart phones like theBlackBerry Pearl 8130.
The wide selection of content should please a number of demographics. We started by catching up on the news at CNN Live, then tuned in for The Brak Show on Cartoon Network Mobile, and ended up spending far too much time watching warring ex-boyfriends on MTV's The X Factor.
Camera and Video Recorder
The Treo's 2-MP camera has a 2X zoom and takes 1280 x 1024-pixel still images. Indoor shots appeared smoky with too much light; outdoor pictures showed accurate tones but were still a bit hazy. Onboard editing options were a pleasant surprise: The photo software allows users to crop, rotate, and autocorrect the image, and you can revert to a saved file if you make a slip-up.
The camera can also record up to 30-second videos at resolutions of either 176 x 144 or 320 x 240 pixels. Video in our office turned out dark, blotchy, and drenched in blue overtones, so don't expect much from this feature.
Windows Media Player Mobile
The Treo 800w supports microSD Cards up to 8GB. We installed a 4GB card loaded with music and videos; and Windows Media Player Mobile--very much like the full-scale PC version--instantly located our MP3s and added them to the program's library. We were then able to access lists of our tunes organized by song title, genre, artist, or album. Video playback was adequate, but nothing to brag to iPhone users about. Even in full-size mode, the viewing window takes up only about 30 percent of the 800w's total screen area, which is a terrible waste of space.
Conveniently, we could use other programs without interrupting music playback. The included headset didn't provide much punch; there was too little bass, making the music sound flat and dull. Streaming music to our stereo Bluetooth headset added richer tones and resounding notes to The Buena Vibra Sound System's brass-filled "Paloma."
Many of the calls made with the Treo 800w were crystal-clear. The speakerphone projected our calls enough to hear from more than a few feet away and did a good job picking up our voice from the same distance. Even calls made with the included headset, which failed to impress when we listened to music through Windows Media Player Mobile, were glitch-free. Pairing the handset with thePlantronics Voyager 855stereo Bluetooth headset resulted in similarly impressive results and the duo even managed to keep quality satisfactory as we stretched the connection more than 25 feet across three rooms.
Palm rates the Treo for up to 4 hours of talk time and 8.3 days of standby time. After about 2 hours of listening to music, another hour or so of calls, and intermittent Web use and document editing in MS Word Mobile, the battery was down to 39 percent. The BlackBerry Curve 8330 for Sprint lasted twice as long when performing similar tests. After another few hours of little to no use, the phone went dead. In four days of testing, the 800w's battery never survived a full 24 hours. Luckily, the device charges quickly--it took only 2 hours to fully recharge. Palmwas mumon whether or not a larger-capacity battery is in the works, but in the meantime, we would take the charger along with the Treo 800w even for day trips.
The Treo 800w isn't sexy, but it's a fast and powerful upgrade to the aging 700wx. For those Sprint customers looking for a Windows Mobile device, it's faster than the Samsung Ace (which doesn't have GPS) and lighter and cheaper than theHTC Mogul. Overall, we prefer BlackBerry Curve 8330 because the BlackBerry OS is easier to use than Windows Mobile and because that device costs $100 less. But if you're a business customer that wants Office and Exchange in your pocket, the Treo 800w is a smart choice.