Treonauts Verdict: Treo 650 _IS_ the Best Smart Phone in the World
Some of you have wondered about my MIA over the last couple of days and my arguably puzzling silence while being at the center of the action at CTIA in San Francisco where our long-awaited Treo 650 was officially released on Monday. The answer is that I have been gathering as much information as possible from people at palmOne and PalmSource as well as other attendees and spent a lot of time absorbing this, thinking and slowly formulating my own opinion as to whether the Treo 650 was just OK, great or fantastic.
On Monday morning I woke up in a foul mood after the press release announcing that the Treo 650 would only have 32MB of memory, that the camera was not the anticipated 1.2 megapixels and the rumour (later unfounded) that the Bluetooth might have been crippled by Sprint. It was all painfully disappointing - so very close to perfection... Little happened early that day at CTIA to lift my spirits but later I finally had the opportunity to play with a Treo 650 on my own for over an hour and this considerably swayed my mood back upwards and prompted me to rapidly write my last post.
However, I remained annoyed, filled with doubt and still unsure as to how I really felt about the Treo 650. For me it was not a simple question of grabbing a press release and running a spec sheet on the blog. I needed to be able to get to a stage where I could categorically state that the Treo 650 had supplanted its sibling to become the very best smart phone in the world. What I needed was more one-on-one time with the Treo 650...
I am glad to report that my wish has now been granted and that I've had a chance to play with it for many, many hours... so here is my honest and final take on the Treo 650.
First of all it must be noted that the Treo 650 is not just a 'minor' upgrade to the Treo 600 but a completely new redesigned smart phone that happens to share its sibling's winning form factor but very little else - there are so many new features and improvements that it is simply unfair to say that palmOne did not deliver purely because of the issue of the memory and the camera. It is a fact that the overall experience of using the Treo 650 for what it has been primarily designed to do - phone, email, browsing, SMS and PIM applications - is in absolutely no way hampered by the lower memory or camera resolution. On the other hand palmOne could have avoided a lot of grief by increasing the first and fully upgrading the second...
Thus yes, power users like myself and many of you will have to continue using a launcher or PowerRun to install our spillover applications on an SD card but within the greater scheme of things this is but a minor inconvenience. As for the camera, I like many carry a high-end 4.0 megapixels one with me pretty much at all times and my Treo would never be a replacement for it. Like the mini Polaroid camera which takes stamp size pictures for the fun of the moment the camera on the Treo 650 should be seen as a complementary feature for specific uses (palmOne has built one such use in its improved Contacts application for example).
Now that I've gotten these sticky issues out of the way (and out of my system) let me take you through both the new and improved hardware and software features that in my opinion combine to make the Treo 650 the absolute best smart phone on the planet (now leaving our Treo 600 as the second best one...).
While I would naturally have preferred the antenna to be built-in to the phone the T650 sports one that is smaller than that of the T600. My understanding from speaking with various people at palmOne is that there were design constraints within the need to deliver quad-band capabilities which we'll all agree is considerably more important.
2. Infrared Port
Tested - works fine, fast and without any hicups whatsoever...
3. Ringer On/Off
As always this is as simple as sliding the button to On or Off mode and is identical in shape to that found on the Treo 600.
4. Expansion Card
Finally you can insert the card facing up as would seem 'logical' to most Treonauts.
5. Sim Tray
Remove, insert SIM card and you're ready to go.
6. Digital Camera (Improvement)
One of the most contentious issues on the Treo 650 has been that it does not sport a higher resolution camera. While this is true I can say that while the resolution may be the same the one on the Treo 650 is significantly better than that found in our current Treo 600. Aided by the higher resolution screen, a 2X digital zoom and a much more intuitive interface this feels like a completely new camera.
A smart looking grey stylus crafted in one piece is in my view a significantly much smarter presentation than the T600 stylus with its 3 piece structure and the relative annoyance of having to unscrew it in order to reset the phone. Now the tip of the stylus can be used directly to fit the reset slot.
8. Removable Battery (Massive Improvement)
While I personally never found myself in a situation that required more juice than the T600 could deliver in one fully charged stretch it is obvious that many other Treonauts will welcome the convenience of carrying multiple batteries over long travel or active usage conditions.
9. Volume Button
A slightly redesigned volume button works as well as the previous one.
10. Customizable Button (New & Useful)
While rumours had previously circulated that this additional side button was intended for push-to-talk functionality it is in fact a customizable button that will bring up any preselected application when you hold it for a few seconds. It is my understanding that the button comes factory-mapped to the RealPlayer for MP3 playback.
11. Phone Speaker (Slight Improvement)
The phone speaker has been upgraded to provide better audio quality for your calls.
12. 320x320 Color Display (Massive Improvement)
It is without a doubt that the brilliant 65,536 colors TFT display on the Treo 650 is absolutely stunning and has no point of comparison to the Treo 600's low-res 3,375 colors. As I've noted previously, even the smallest details can be clearly seen without straining your eyesight. The display alone significantly increases the feeling that the Treo 650 is a more 'robust' unit than its sibling.
13. Applications Button
Aside from a change of location on the phone the apps button performs exactly as before.
14. Phone/Send Button (New & Useful)
You can 'wake' the Treo 650 by pressing this key and it will open the 'phone' app as before. Pressing it a second time will bring up the 'call log' which was previously done by the center nav button.
15. Calendar Button
Again, the function of the button has not changed but the calendar application itself has improved (more in Software below).
16. Menu Button
This was perhaps the button that took the most getting used to but once you've memorized its new location you realize that from a usability perspective it is much improved.
17. Power/End Button (New & Useful)
Trust me when I say that the previous Power button is not at all missed on the Treo 650. The new one which also serves as the call end button works perfectly well and pressing it for a few seconds will connect or disconnect your carrier session.
18. Email/Messaging Button
Exactly the same function as before with the ability to map a primary and secondary application to the button.
19. 5-Way Navigator
The nav button feels slightly more responsive on the Treo 650 but aside from this it retains the same functionality as on the T600.
20. QWERTY Keyboard (Massive Improvement)
The new keyboard is absolutely fantastic (an understatement). The slightly larger keys and minor shape change as well as the flattenning of the keys and a better 'press' responsiveness combine to deliver an extraordinary improvement over the T600 keyboard. I don't think that I am exagerating if I state that I felt my typing ability to have improved by at least 20% on the Treo 650 keyboard.
21. Phone Dial Pad
This remains located in the same place but with the keyboard improvements it is now much easier to dial the numbers quickly and without input errors which I experienced occasionally with my T600.
22. Headset Jack
I am now resigned to stop complaining about the 2.5mm jack issue. The Treo 650 is a phone and 2.5mm is standard in the phone industry so this is what would seem logical to implement. As I've written before I've had a 2.5mm headset for a while on my T600 and I'm very happy that this will be one of the accessories that I'll be able to reuse on the T650.
23. Multi Connector
While I am certainly not 'happy' that I will not be able to reuse my current accessories on the Treo 650 I am willing to put up with it by telling myself that this is the last time
24. Microphone (Improvement)
To my astonishment I discovered that the tiny opening at the bottom back of my Treo 600 was in fact the microphone! The microphone on the Treo 650 is therefore not a new addition but a repositioning to the front where it will be less prone to pick up peripheral noise.
25. Status Indicator
It still blinks as before...
26. Speaker (Improvement)
I am by no means an audio expert but to my normal ears the new speaker on the Treo 650 sounds clearer and louder than on my current Treo 600.
Among all of these hardware features it is evident that the enhanced screen and keyboard, removable battery as well as the repositioned buttons are not only the most important improvements but combined also deliver a completely different experience to that of the Treo 600.
Furthermore, the build quality on the Treo 650 is leagues ahead of the Treo 600 as the many mistakes and issues found in this generation have been corrected. Overall the Treo 650 feels like a grown-up version of the Treo 600 - slightly wiser and more robust. You could say that the Treo 650 is an evolution revolution.
A redesigned and enhanced home Phone screen provides information on three top lines with an 'unread email notice' (not shown) appearing to the left of the time and a 'next appointment' appearing below the time. The bottom line below the dial pad provides access to the customizable favorites menu. Users can also select to replace the dial pad display with any picture on their phone or SD card. Alternatively you can also choose to fill the screen with seven lines of favorites.
Bluetooth (New & Useful)
Never having had the opportunity to use a Bluetooth device before I was very curious to see just how easy or complicated it might be to setup a BT headset on the Treo 650. Here it was simply a matter of clicking Setup Devices.
Next there is a two step Hands-free Setup which took barely a couple of minutes to complete.
Here my test Jabra 250 headset has been successfully paired to the Treo 650 without any problems at all.
On the top right hand corner you'll notice that the BT icon has changed to display a small headset indicating that my Bluetooth is active and that the audio portion of the calls is now being relayed to my Jabra headset.
As I mentioned earlier a simple use for the camera has been incorporated into Contacts.
You can add a picture taken with the camera or any photo on the phone and 'map' it to your contacts.
Is this case I am in the home of Joe Banana so I snap a picture of one of his products (the picture taken is automatically cropped in a square format).
A reference picture for Joe Banana is now mapped to his contact.
Joe Banana's complete details with picture. Should JB call my Treo 650 his picture will automatically pop-up on the screen.
The familiar Calendar view.
Enhanced by the ability to select multiple user-defined categories for each appointment.
A new aggregate daily view which provides you with a complete list of appointments, tasks and emails for a given day.
Versamail (New & Useful)
As we'll all agree, eMail is probably the single most important feature that Treonauts are looking at on the Treo 650. VersaMail has been completely revamped and now supports up to 8 email accounts on POP, IMAP and MS Exchange Server.
While VersaMail does not support 'push' in the traditional sense you can however set your email to sync automatically on a periodic basis from every 5 minutes to hours and schedule this for different times of day and days of the week as well as to set alerts whenever a new email is received. To be honest with you I consider this to be more than enough for my purposes but as previously reported there are also a number of other solutions provided by third-parties such as Good Technologies and soon BlackBerry that will provide mobile professionals the choice to fit their particular needs.
Having to date considered the messaging app on my Treo 600 to be the very best in the world I didn't immediately expect that this could become even better. Aside from keeping all of your SMS messages in the now familiar thread format you are now able to make use of MMS by taking/attaching pictures and sound at the simple press of a button.
The camera interface has been completely revamped and is now not only more intuitive to use but also feels like a quality modern camera as opposed to the toy-like feel of the T600. Naturally the higher resolution screen helps enormously to add value to the camera.
There is now also a 2X digital zoom which is useful if you're looking to take product close-ups for example.
It's perhaps difficult to judge from this picture alone but the image quality and resolution of the picture taken on the T650 is significantly higher than that on the T600.
Camcorder (New & Useful)
The Treo 650 now supports video via the same interface as the camera. You can see the Camera and Camcorder icons to the left of the center navigation button on the screen. I found it useful not to have to switch or launch yet another application to use either.
Media (New & Useful)
The new Media application on the Treo 650 allows you fast access to your photos and videos both on the phone and SD card. You have different view options as well as a slide show with the single press of the bottom right button on the screen. There are many other functions such as the ability to add a voice memo to each of the pictures which I find extremely neat.
One of the great things that I found was the ability to rapidly select any media to send via either BT, SMS or eMail.
Web Browser (Improvement)
Blazer 4.0 on the Treo 650 not only delivers such a superior experience thanks to the higher screen resolution but is now also much easier to use thanks to full 5-way navigation button support. To many it will also immediately feel much faster as the browser rapidly downloads text first and images only later. I could not test it on EDGE but it is obvious that browsing on a faster network should make the entire experience even smoother.
Visiting Treonauts on the Treo 650...
The main improvement on the Tasks front is that you now have the ability to sort more easily as well as to view pending tasks by date thanks to easily accessible tabs at the top of the screen.
I can't imagine anyone not finding a practical use for such a complete calculator and now that the interface has been completely revamped it also makes for a considerably more enjoyable experience.
The familiar WorldClock but now with the addition of a built-in alarm clock.
I had been clamoring for such a simplified alarm ever since switching from my Nokia where I used one regularly and I'm glad that I'll now finally be able to set wake-up alarms on my Treo 650 with but two clicks and without using a stylus.
Considering that the Treo 600 was already the best smart phone in the world, that no other contender comes even close to matching the overall capabilities, flexibility and usability of either the Treo 600 or 650 there really can be no other logical conclusion than that the Treo 650 is now the very best - perhaps even the only real - smart phone on the planet.
Our job and that of palmOne is now to go out and show the world just how much more fun Treonauts have getting things done in their private life, at work and when playing...