Palm Treo 750 Review

There's no denying the wealth of technology kneaded into this phone.
There's no denying the wealth of technology kneaded into this phone.
There's no denying the wealth of technology kneaded into this phone.

Highs

  • Quad-band world compatibility; MS Direct &MS Enterprise/POP3 push email; 1.3 MP digital camera

Lows

  • Complicated operation; tightly packed keyboard; no jog wheel; no WiFi

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

Windows Mobile 5.0 is an operating system that some people swear by and some people swear at. Unlike its Palm-powered Cingular/AT&T twin the 680, the Treo 750 offers 3G UMTS broadband data services with promises to go full-fledged HSDPA sometime this year. The 750 has 128MB of internal memory compared to the 64MB on the 680 and offers a 1.3 MP vs. the VGA camera on the 680. It also adds multimedia features missing from another popular Cingular Smartphone, the studious Blackberry 8700c. But even with these add-ons, the 750 is saddled with a bloated price: $399.99 with a two-year contract and including a $100 rebate, but $649.99 if you’re not buying or extending your Cingular plan. Considering the $499/$599 pricing on the 4GB and 8GB iPhones due in June or the similarly-spec’d Samsung Blackjack at $199.99 w/contract or $499.99 w/o contract, it’s hard to justify opting for the 750.

Features and Design

The 750 is a quad-band EDGE phone operating in worldwide 850/900/1800/1900 bands, and in the 850/1900/2100 frequencies for the high-speed 3G UMTS service. UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) is the successor to GSM and serves as a foundation for Cingular’s HSDPA network, which provides roughly twice to three times the capacity and speed. In the real world, that means more data coming through the pipe faster, enabling greased lightning downloads of A/V content such as streaming video, music tracks, games and ringtones. Cingular plans on offering a firmware upgrade to HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), but there has been no formal timing announcement as of this writing. In all events, the 750’s UMTS/HSDPA capabilities give it an edge (no pun intended) over the EDGE-only iPhone, although that may not be quite the handicap it might appear on the surface. More on this in a minute.

In addition to the UMTS/HSDPA capabilities, the 750 is packed with the usual Chinese menu of QWERTY Smartphone and Windows Mobile 5.0 attributes and abilities including full Microsoft push/pull mail and application compatibility, full messaging capabilities, the ability to open MS application attachments, as well as multimultimedia capabilities. But the 750 is like Las Vegas: it’s filled with wonders but hard to get around.

Unlike most other non-Smartphone cells, the 750 lacks external application-specific or control buttons. There are no instant access keys for the camera, for the music player, nothing. You are entirely reliant on the clumsy Windows Mobile 5.0 interface to get at and control anything. For some reason, the version of Windows Mobile 5.0 on the 750 differs from the Windows Mobile 5.0 on the Samsung Blackjack and the Motorola Q. These latter two devices include a row of frequently accessed apps on the home screen that enable almost instant access via their scroll wheel controls. On the 750 however, your six last used apps are posted as tiny icons at the top of the “Start” pull-down menu. This means you are at least two screen taps away, and usually more, from just finding an application, much less firing it up. All apps are presented via tappable icons in folders accessed thru “Programs” under the familiar Microsoft “Start” menu.

Sans stylus — if you’re forced to use one hand to operate the phone because the other hand is holding a briefcase, sandwich, makeup applicator, newspaper or magazine, commuter train strap or, shame on you, steering wheel — you’re forced to use the standard step-by-step scroll scroll scroll scroll/select/scroll scroll scroll scroll/select NEWS navigation method. This manual navigation increases the time for finding, launching and using apps by a factor of four, if not more.

Physically, the handsome silver and black Treo is a quarter inch less wide than the Blackberry 8700c, but this is not necessarily a good thing. The last thing you want on a Smartphone is less room for the QWERTY keyboard. The keypad on the same-sized 680 has slightly smaller keys but more space between the keys than the 750, meaning you’re less prone to hit a neighboring button. Like the 680, the 750 has an integrated antenna, which means when it’s belt-clipped, there’ll be no surprising jabs in the love handles when you sit down.

The 750’s 2.5-inch diagonal LCD screen is plenty bright. But the screen’s vertical portrait shape is anachronistic in an increasingly widescreen video age. The necessary video letterboxing will become more of an issue once Cingular Video is available via HSDPA. By comparison, the Samsung Blackjack has a slightly higher resolution 4:3 2.2-inch screen.

Finally, some gear heads bemoan the 750’s lack of WiFi. In a broadband wireless network world, WiFi is not only unnecessary but a detriment since it sucks power like a black hole sucks matter.

Palm Treo 750
Image Courtesy of Palm

Testing and Use

Once you manage to find and figure out how everything works — everything works…sort of. The Voice quality on the 750 was reported as clear-and-clean at the receiving end but was a bit thick and muddy at our end, and it lacked the piercing volume necessary for hearing through noisy environments. Ringtone volume is barely loud enough to hear if your phone is in a pant pocket, pocketbook or bag. But there is a handy speaker mute switch on the top of the 750, which lets you quiet the phone without drilling through menus.

We had frustrating problems with Bluetooth. We managed to pair some stereo Bluetooth headphones, but either couldn’t get them to work or, if we got them to work once, couldn’t figure out how to get them to work again. Once successfully paired, we could skip tracks and pause tracks from the headphones — we just couldn’t hear them. Paired headphones appeared on the paired item list, but tapping or selecting them merely gave you the opportunity of modifying its settings rather than activating the connection. This may have been an issue with the Bluetooth radio in our test unit, but caveat emptor. Fortunately, the phone also is equipped with a 2.5mm stereo jack for connected wired headphones.

The 750’s 1.3 MP camera performed as well as can be expected. There was minimal shutter lag, indoor pictures in moderate light were well lit if lacking in crisp colors and blacks, but most shots were marred by nearly unavoidable camera motion blur. All par for the cell cam course.

Battery standby time with the usual power saving modes on (short backlight time, quick unused phone off time) is measured in weeks rather than days or hours, but actual talk time fell a bit short of the rated four hours.

We were surprised by the supposedly speedy UMTS service. In informal side-by-side speed tests, an EDGE-enabled Blackberry 8700c filled Web pages nearly twice as fast as the vaunted UMTS-powered 750. We obviously expected the opposite result, or at least equal speed to an EDGE device given the vagaries of any cell network.

Conclusion

There’s no denying the wealth of technology kneaded into this phone. But its capabilities run in direct disproportion to its functionality, and its current price is a mystery when similarly-spec’d phones such as the already HSDPA-equipped, Cingular video capable Samsung Blackjack are nearly half the 750’s price.

Highs:

• GSM 3G UMTS/EDGE/GPRS quad-band world compatibility
• 2.5-inch touchscreen
• Cingular Xpress, MS Direct and MS Enterprise/POP3 push email
• 1.3 MP digital camera w/2x zoom
• Windows Media 10 music/video player
• MiniSD slot
• QWERTY keyboard
• Stereo Bluetooth 1.2
• Long standby battery life

Lows:

• Complicated operation
• No direct application/control buttons
• Slow Web connections
• Tightly packed keyboard
• No jog wheel
• No WiFi