As other smartphone developers race toward bigger touch screens, slimmer metal cases, and storage on par with most personal media players, the market’s straggler, Palm, just managed to cough up its first Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone over the summer: the Treo 800W. Far behind the competition on the feature front, and expensive too at $250, the Treo is unlikely to satisfy many besides the most diehard Palm fans and Windows Mobile users.
Features & Design
Besides picking up Wi-Fi for the very first time in a Treo history, the 800W is also the first of Palm’s offerings to get A-GPS capability. Other improvements from the old 700W include a smoother, slimmer profile, no stubby antenna, and a 2.0-megapixel camera. It’s also the third phone from Palm to use Windows Mobile (version 6.1) rather than the company’s own Palm OS.
The top of the phone’s short rectangular profile is dominated by a square 320 x 320 pixel touch screen. Since it spans only 1.74 inches, Palm has primarily designed it for PDA-style navigation with an included stylus that stores away in the top of the phone, rather than with fingertips. Below the screen, the phone has dual soft buttons for making on-screen selections, a D-pad with four feature-specific shortcut buttons clustered around it, and the usual call/end call buttons on the far left and right. The entire QWERTY keyboard Treo users know and love has been squeezed into the remaining inch or so at the bottom of the phone, and given a slight outward bow. Around the outside edges, the Treo has a number of dedicated buttons, including a volume rocker, record button, mute slider, and a hard switch for Wi-Fi. A MicroUSB 2.0 connector on the bottom delivers charging and PC connectivity.
Though it’s clad in plastic from head to toe, the lightweight materials Palm used on the Treo feel solid – especially the rubbery-feeling plastic on the back cover, which resists scratches, doesn’t slip in the hand, and seems immune to fingerprints. Its depth of nearly three quarters of an inch will put a bit of bulge in your pocket compared to competitors like the iPhone, which shave a third off that dimension, even though Palm has done its best to smooth out the profile. Weight of 141 grams feels reasonable for a device this size, but still stacks up on the heavier side compared to similar phones from RIM, Motorola, and even Apple.
Usage & Testing
The Treo 800W’s display, while small, offers excellent resolution and very tightly packed pixels that make for sharp, well-defined images. Upon first firing up the phone, the interface initially looked quite pixilated and dim, but boosting screen brightness and turning on ClearType resolved both problems.
Unfortunately, there’s no setting that will turn the decrepit and poorly aging Windows Mobile 6.1 platform into a stunner of an OS that runs with the likes of Android or the iPhone OS. The operating system’s age shines through at every point, from its clunky browser that formats full-size Web pages into narrow strips of illegible text, to the pitifully disorganized ways of changing certain system settings. Though some manufacturers like Sony and HTC have been putting a shine on the system with custom graphical user interfaces, Palm has made no such effort, and the end product looks and feels old.
The Treo’s GPS application would have passed as usable three years ago, but it falls completely flat compared to modern Google-Maps based systems. Not only does the notchy scrolling and zooming action make it difficult to keep track of what you’re looking at, for us, it stalled completely with a “Loading map…” message at some points, and also totally crashed at others. After making a sincere effort to use it, we mostly concluded that it would be too cumbersome and unreliable to really use for most day-to-day routing.
Palm’s included stylus, while not necessary for most operations, was so cheap that bent easily in our hands while pressing down on things. Eventually, we just gave up and used the D-pad for everything, even though it was slower.
Sprint’s EV-DO Internet access was one of the few highlights of the Treo’s operation. It consistently offered extremely quick downloads and streaming data, though the browser severely cripples its most important functionality. We do appreciate Sprint TV though, which offered an impressive array of content and smooth frame rates, even if the screen is a bit too small to watch it on for long periods.
The keyboard also functioned well, allowing us to type text quickly and accurately without much adjustment. Each key has a pronounced bubble, which makes differentiating close keys easier, as well as an audible click for tactile feedback.
Unless you’re already in love with Palm products and the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system, the Treo 800W offers very little to lure new users over to it. At $250 with a two-year contract, it also ends up costing far more than Sprint’s other smartphones without much to justify it. We would definitely leave this particular Palm product alone.
• Sharp screen
• Likeable keyboard
• Quality case materials
• Fast EV-DO Internet
• Small screen
• Cheap stylus
• Poor GPS software
• Lousy browser
• Thick case