Treo 650 Thoughts

I’ve been using the Treo 650 for two weeks now, and so far I’m really happy with my purchase. The Treo is a great design that perfectly combines the functions of a PDA and a cell phone. My last PDA was a palm IIIxe that I purchased about 6 years ago. While there are many incremental improvements on the PDA I used six years ago, all in all, Palm OS hasn’t changed that much.

While some people may consider this a negative, I for one consider it to be a positive. I want my PDA to look and feel like PDA. It should specialize in doing a few things really well and not attempt to act like a full fledged operating system. As far as software features are concerned, the Treo has a sold e-mail client and web browser. The organizer and calendar programs are still good but they haven’t changed much in the past 6 years.

There are three noticeable software features that inexplicably missing from this expensive product. Voice dialing seems like a no-brainer for a device that has a retail price of $650. A four year old nokia I bought new for $100 has voice dialing. The second noticeably absent feature is Graphitti, which even the first palm had back in the day. I realize Graphitti was a pain in the ass, but have they simply given up on handwriting recognition? When I had the IIIxe, I learned to write Graphitti and it worked pretty damn well. Finally, why doesn’t this device have a multi-protocol instant messaging client or at least AIM? All three of these missing features can be fixed by downloading third party shareware applications.

On the hardware end, the device is just the right size. Some may find it a little bulky, but I was actually expecting it to be bigger. I can carry this device in my pocket. Its not as comfortable as a regular phone but I can certainly walk around with this device in my pocket, but its certainly not something that I would take on a jog. The screen is simply stunning, really crisp and almost too bright. The button layout and keyboard are a joy to use.

There are some really nice features that I’ve been waiting to see in phones for quite some time. The first button feature I feel in love with is the hardware ringer switch. Frankly, there should be a law requiring a hardware ringer switch so people who seem to be obsessed with leaving their custom ringtones on max volume, can at least turn their damn phone off without fidgeting through a bunch of menus.

The camera has improved since the Treo 600, but the resolution for video and pictures remains the the same. While the camera is low res, I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the pictures, especially in low light conditions. The video function works pretty well, but I’ve had issues with playback in Linux. On OSX and windows, Apples quicktime player seems to work fine.

The battery is easily replaceable and one of the nicer niche features is the external SIM door which lets you swap sim cards between phones in a couple of seconds. Thats a nice feature, especially for people who have multiple phones. I was out the other night with a few people from work and one guy plopped 3 phones on the table. They were University accounts, so each device had a plan, but for multiple phone jockeys who can’t get their employer to pay for such things SIM swapping is easy.

A really nice feature of the Treo is the ability to run palm apps from your phone. There are applications to run just about anything. My two favorite apps so far have been ssh and vnc. The vnc client for the treo is definitely a cool demo app, but its only useful for doing small things, such has shutting down a machine. The ssh app is definitely the most useful for me.

Syncing with Linux and Evolution has been relatively painless with a USB cable. I picked up a bluetooth dongle and was able to get Bluetooth file transfer working in gnome without a problem. I have yet to try Bluetooth DUN but it looks like it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Probably the best way to transfer large files between the phone and a laptop is the SD card. I picked up 1 GB SD card from for $70 shipped. Unfortunately, the built in SD card reader for the Thinkpad X40 is unsupported in Linux. So now I have to buy a USB reader in order to make the card really useful.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the Treo 650. There are few apps I think should be included by default (Graphitti, IM, Voice Dialing). The one aspect of the Palm community that is disturbing to me is the culture of shareware. Basically any little app, no matter how insignificant, costs $20+. The Palm development community reminds me a lot of my foray in to OSX last year.