Even though the sleek and beautiful touch-screen Palm Treo Pro is essentially a minor update of the 800W, its alluring external aesthetic make it feel like a whole new phone. Like the 800W, Palm does a superior job of putting lipstick on the Windows Mobile 6.1 swine behind the Pro’s pretty face with a highly sensitive touch screen, and mapped hard keys that limit your need to actually touch the screen. The Pro offers up the now-familiar slate of Windows Mobile productivity and multimedia entertainment options, with mixed results. Bottom line: We wish the operating system matched the Pro’s beautiful exterior. And it won’t: The Pro is not upgradeable to the coming Windows Mobile 6.5. But for those who need or want a slick Windows Mobile device, you get an easy-to-use smartphone that, at $200, is both easy on the wallet and on the eyes.
Features and Design
Design-wise, the Pro seems like the offspring of a marriage between the iPhone, with its smooth, jet-black plastic exterior, and the Palm 800W, with its screen and keyboard configuration.
It’s subtle, but Palm has humanized Windows Mobile, removing some of the alien feel the OS has on a touchscreen device. For one thing, the Pro’s sensitive 2.5-inch touchscreen conveys finger and fingernail touches to action with surprising alacrity, minimizing, if not altogether removing, the need to use the included stylus.
Pro also carries over an OK button from the 800W, which lands to the right of the navigation array, a Wi-Fi activation key on the right perimeter, and a customizable key on the left perimeter, all to help eliminate the need to touch the screen at all.
The Pro is a hair taller (by .08 of an inch), but thinner in width (by .08 of an inch) and depth (by a substantial .2 of an inch) than the 800W, and .31 ounces lighter. These improved dimensions make the Pro far more breast pocket friendly – it’s taller so easier to grab, thinner so it doesn’t bulge as much, and lighter so your pocket won’t sag.
Inside, you’ll find a 2-megapixel camera and video recorder, 300MB of user memory (vs. 170MB user memory in the 800W), all the usual Windows Mobile pocket applications and PIM functions, the complete array of texting, IM and e-mailing functions, an array of other work and play apps including Windows Media Player, and Sprint’s own applications: GPS navigation, music store, Sprint TV, etc.
Like a rock massaged for centuries by a flowing river, the jet black Treo Pro feels sleek and smooth, the physical exemplar of what a futuristic digital assistant should be.
A bright 2.5-inch touch screen sits top and center on the front of the Pro. Since the screen has a square 320-by-320 pixel resolution, there’s no need for an accelerometer. You won’t need it the stylus slotted into the lower right bottom, either – we pulled it once just to see how easy it was to pull out, put and back and didn’t touch it again throughout our entire test period.
A power switch and a ringer on-off toggle sit up top. On the left is a smooth volume switch that could use some tactile identification, and the customizable button.
The Pro’s one trouble spot is the QWERTY thumbpad. The keys, which are brightly backlit and eminently more readable than those on the 800W, seem to be a hair smaller and more tightly packed than those on the 800W. More importantly, the 800W’s keypad curves slightly upward towards the edges, which seems more natural than the linear arrangement on the Pro. These are all subtle differences, but when combined, they make the 800W keyboard slightly easier to compose messages and text on than the Pro.
As with most phones with QWERTY keyboards, punching in phone numbers is often a challenge on the Pro. The black-on-white number keys jump out amidst the other white-on-black keys, but the number icons themselves are small. Even if your key location sense memory is accurate, and you’re careful when pushing the closely-packed keys, you will make mistakes.
Ports & Connectors
On the bottom is the microUSB jack, and the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, which was missing on the 800W. On the rear is the camera lens, and a small speaker which we mistook for a rear cover latch (oops, the convex speaker screen is now concave).
You have to slide the back cover off to access the microSD slot, located on the inside side of the phone. It can accommodate a card up to 32GB.
Can a phone serve as a workable PMP?
Sprint TV content loads quickly, and clips are crisp, clean and colorful, running smoothly with perfect voice-visual sync, and no digital artifacts or buffering blurps.
Music playback on most of Sprint’s music-enabled phones suffers some hiccups. Thank goodness the Pro uses Windows Media Player, rather than Sprint’s interconnected player-and-music-store app. But every few songs, we heard a mysterious delay, sometimes as long as 15-to-20 seconds, between tracks. Music does play as you perform other operations, though, such as Web surfing and word processing.
You can assign transport controls (pause, play, stop, etc.) to any physical buttons you want, but the intuitive default settings are already adequately mapped to the navigation array. On the music playback screen is all the playback and track info you need along with album art and tiny touch transport buttons, which you won’t need. The Pro’s major disadvantage as a PMP is the lack of instant access to any media player functions – they can be accessed only the Windows Mobile Start menu.
It’s funny how often fancy phone makers forget that people actually use these well-endowed devices for actual ear-to-ear conversation. Thankfully, Palm hasn’t. The Pro is an excellent sounding phone, sans most of the usual cell connection waver, and co-callers report unusually high clarity at their end. The rear speaker also pumps out plenty of volume for both music and speakerphone conversation.
Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A connection delivers some of the fastest Web surfing I’ve ever experienced. Mobile Web pages sprang into view in around three seconds, while non-mobile pages such as IMDb loaded in around 15-20 seconds.
As a result of these Usain Bolt speeds, the Wi-Fi connection, at least for Web surfing, is nearly redundant. Pages filled a little faster with it, but it’s hardly worth the extra battery drain.
Inside Palm’s coffin-like heptagonal box is the phone, and a two-piece USB travel charger (the plug piece has a USB jack into which the miniUSB cable is inserted). We wish all cell phones included this convenient arrangement, which saves the manufacturer the cost of an additional USB cable.
The Pro’s pinhole 2.0 MP camera is a major disappointment. First, there’s no direct camera access button – you have to go through the Start menu – which means no “Quick, get a picture!” reaction snaps.
Second, still photos, while large, are tinted horribly green, details away from the center of the image are often out-of-focus, and edges seem unreal, as if they’ve been digitally interpolated. We shot a couple of small QuickTime videos, but you won’t see them as examples accompanying this review – they wouldn’t open.
The Pro’s rated battery life of 5 hours talk and 250 hours standby is a half hour and 50 hours more, respectively, over the 800W. But in our unscientific tests, we got nowhere near either number. The Pro’s best showing in our tests was 4:45, but on a few occasions we got four hours or less. That’s disappointing, to say the least. One sap on the battery may be the screen, which stays on – but locked – during a call. You have the tap an “unlock” tab to make the other choices, including mute, speaker and end, active.
If cool-factor aesthetics aren’t a critical issue for you, the slightly bulkier and less stylish 800W is $100 less than the Pro, and all you really lose is 120MB of internal memory (easily compensated for with a microSD card) and the 3.5mm headphone jack. But with the Pro, Window Mobile executives with a cool-gadget ego to stroke no longer need be ashamed whenever compatriots whip out an iPhone or BlackBerry Storm. So, the question is, is the Pro’s prettiness worth the $100 premium over the 800W? Our own answer would be more pro Pro if it were upgradable to Windows 6.5, but it’s not.
- Beautiful and functional aesthetics
- Zippy EV-DO Rev. A connections
- Landline-like voice quality
- Crisp and clean video playback
- 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
- Not upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.5
- Poor camera and video
- Poor battery life
- Tightly-packed QWERTY keypad
- No direct access keys for camera or music playback