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Palm Treo 680 vs. Apple iPhone Comparison

UPDATE: Please also see my Treo vs. iPhone take the day of its launch in my post iDay: The Apple iPhone Revolution Begins

After literally years of rumours Apple finally officially announced its much anticipated iPhone (pictured below in proportion to the Treo 680) due to be released in June 2007 and naturally everyone is already hotly debating just how much of a “Treo Killer” it has the potential to become.

I have to begin by pointing out the obvious.  Namely, the iPhone is primarily a consumer multimedia phone and not a business smartphone.  As such any potential Treo vs. iPhone comparison should be principally limited to the equally consumer oriented Treo 680 and not the rest of the Treo family. 

Let me start by a simple comparative chart of the specifications below:

Treo iPhone Comparison Chart

Screen Resolution + Input Method (Palm 1: Apple 0)
Because the iPhone uses a virtual ‘soft’ on-screen keyboard instead of the full QWERTY keyboard on the Treo, Apple has naturally used this additional space to increase the screen size.  The resulting design is very similar to the one that I outlined in my post “A Future Virtual Thumboard Treo?” as well as “Future Treo Prototypes Roundup”.

I have already had the opportunity to test the virtual Thumbboard on a Palm LifeDrive and while it is certainly a unique and innovative concept I don’t believe that it is a match for a full physical keyboard.  Having said this, since the iPhone has not actually been released yet any usability considerations of its new “Multi-Touch” screen technology will naturally be limited and subjective.

Operating System (Palm 1: Apple 0)
The PalmOS has now successfully powered many generations of Treo smartphones while the OS X variant which powers the iPhone has yet to prove its mettle – particularly when it comes to telephony where Palm has had the benefit of a long learning curve.

Storage (Palm 1: Apple 0)
The opportunity to have 4 or 8GB of permanent storage on the iPhone may prove appealing at first but the fact is that seasoned Treonauts fully understand the higher benefits that an external SD card storage provides.  For some $150 I can easily add an 8GB SD card for data storage on my Treo without limitation to the number of cards that I can use.

GSM + Wireless Data + Camera (Palm 0: Apple 2)
While both the iPhone and Treo 680 share an almost identical Quad-Band radio with GSM/GPRS/EDGE support there is no doubt that Apple wins points here by adding WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 and a 2.0 megapixel camera.  However, the use of WiFi is likely going to quickly drain the iPhone’s non-removable battery which is a consideration to keep in mind.  Also, a 3G iPhone is planned for Europe by the end of 2007.

Battery (Palm 1: Apple 0)
While the battery performance of the iPhone and Treo 680 are fairly similar with 5 and 4 hours of Talk Time respectively there is no doubt that the removable battery on the Treo provides significantly better power options for Treonauts on the go.

Dimensions + Weight (Palm 1: Apple 0)
While the Treo 680 is some 15% heavier than the iPhone the fact is that I consider the additional weight of the full QWERTY keyboard, SD card slot and removable battery to be well worth it.

Leaving these technical specifications aside the iPhone does offer some unique and innovative features that our Treo could certainly learn from:

  • I am extremely impressed by the overall look & feel of the user interface with very rich graphical elements which I have been yearning to see equally well represented on the Treo (see An Issue Of Design).  The UI looks rich, inviting and user-friendly.
  • The iPhone’s “Visual Voicemail” which allows you to go directly to any of your messages without listening to the prior messages so you can quickly select the messages that are most important to you is a feature that many Treo power users have suggested for some time but which Apple is now first to implement.
  • With a full iPod interface inside the iPhone it is clear that people will be delighted by its Music, Movies and Photos capabilities.
  • The Safari web browser looks extremely robust and has a stunning display for web pages.
  • iPhone uses a rich HTML email client that fetches your email in the background from most POP3 or IMAP mail services and displays photos and graphics right along with the text (albeit it looks considerably more complex to use than on the Treo).
  • The iPhone’s “Widgets” like the Weather pictured here above are an absolute pleasure to look at and the iPhone’s “horizontal scrolling” is equally smart.
  • Advanced sensors including an accelerometer detect when you rotate the device from portrait to landscape and changes the display orientation; a proximity sensor detects when you lift the iPhone to your ear and turns of the display while an ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the display’s brightness.

At the same time there are some things that I already quite clearly dislike about the iPhone interface:

  • The main Phone interface appears to be significantly more complex and cumbersome to use when accessing your Contacts and dialling a number
  • The SMS functionality with a small screen and odd keyboard (pictured here below) is significantly less user friendly than the award-winning one on the Treo

It’s funny that the iPhone should so clearly have helped me to better recognize the terrific accomplishments that Palm has delivered with our Treo.  It may not be immediately perceived to be quite as “cool” as an iPhone but the fact is that the Treo clearly deserves the praise and success that it has already achieved.

I have no doubt that the iPhone and all its cool iPhone accessories will be an extremely successful device in its own right – one which will continue to help grow the smartphone space with an even younger generation – but for now at least I certainly don’t believe that it will be a Treo-killer.

At the same time I am delighted to see Apple enter the smartphone space as the increased competition will certainly help to bring even more and faster innovation to our Treo as all players battle it out to attain the leading market position.

Treonauts are always ready for a battle


Posted by Andrew on January 9, 2007 at 09:57 PM

Treo vs. iPhone

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by the AFrican Nerd | Jan 9, 2007 10:09:06 PM

I think the key deciding factor will be the qwert and like you said i just don't see myself going back to a virtual keyboard. Many of those who defect will end up coming back when the find out the virtual keyboard does not beat the real one

by Pedro | Jan 9, 2007 10:27:56 PM

Andrew-Awesome post! I agree with you 100% percent; the iPhone seems cool indeed, but it is far from being a 'Treo-Killer'! All features aside, I personally doubt that the beautiful casing on the iPhone will survive a single drop-the Treo does! Engadget.com has a very interesting post regarding the iPhone's lack of smartphone status. They based it on the iPhone's lack of expandable memory; removable battery; exchange or office support; and the important fact that you cannot install any third party applications on it.

Treo killer;-nope!

by d3xlabs | Jan 9, 2007 10:34:43 PM

I totally agree with you that its not a treo-killer. Loved the comparisons too. Sure spec-wise it looks impressive, but the form factor is something to be desired. Whereas the treo form factor is proven and withstood the test of time. Treo rocks. Period.

PS: Love treonauts. One of the best sites around. Using my 680 (unlocked) now because of your reviews.
Keep it comin...

by NorCalLights | Jan 9, 2007 10:41:10 PM

As a Treo 700p user (who isn't going to switch to the iPhone for at least a very long time for a number of reasons) I honestly believe we need to reserve judgement on the touch-screen interface until we get our thumbs on it. Apple does UI better than anyone else, and they claim that their virtual keyboard corrects for mistakes.

At first glance, the iPhone has the Treo beat for 99% of what I (and I would bet, most users) do on my Treo. Email, web browsing, listening to music, and making calls are all streamlined or revolutionized. While it seems like the hardware is pretty finalized now, Apple has some four months to work on the software side before the phone is released. I expect a number of other applications will be included with the iPhone at release.

At the end of the day, competition is a good thing. I think we can all agree that Palm has fallen behind the curve in a few areas.

by Alex | Jan 9, 2007 10:41:53 PM

Bleh. This thing's just another lame hipster toy. I love when some guy's showing off his Sidekick or w/e and then I bring out my T650 with camcorder/Gmaps/PdaNet/pTunes/LJP/Tcpmp and blow his mind. Nothing beats a Treo.

Also imo you should use the 700p as the benchmark you compare other phones against -- it's the pinnacle of the Treo line for the moment...

by Charles | Jan 9, 2007 10:46:59 PM

"Dimensions + Weight (Palm 1: Apple 0)
While the Treo 680 is some 15% heavier than the iPhone the fact is that I consider the additional weight of the full QWERTY keyboard, SD card slot and removable battery to be well worth it."

So you count the removable storage and keyboard twice?
We know you cannot stop praising Palm but at least try to keep the comparison categories safe...

On the history of Palm with an OS phone vs OSx phone, I totally disagree with you: Palm has failed in properly integrating phone and H/W/OS/Interface despite years of product devpt.
I have finally given up on Palm and switched to a HTC device, because the Treo650 was a crappy phone: lousy reception, takes ages to reconnect to the network fater taking the lift, the voice quality (both ways) was the worst in ten years (my first cell phone was better) (and I cannot say I like Windows Mobile)

The only use for swapping cards is for movies (not really for business phone). I hate swapping cards, it is messy.

The real advantage for business ppl the Treo has is the swappable battery (I personally never swapped battery, I have a few chargers).
The obvious other advantage for Palm is of course the number of existing applications (but you'd be amazed that most business users never install any apps on their PDAs).

I can think of several potential issues with the iPhone: the virtual keyboard, the interface between cheek and screen during call; but if this were HTC or Palm I would worry; this being apple, they will have sorted out those (at least the cheek issue). With an Apple product people will be more worried about finger marks and scratches.

by Alex | Jan 9, 2007 10:49:46 PM

Sorry for the double post, just thought I'd bring up one more thing.

The reason why Treos kick such ass is their versatility. Nearly all phones have really firm, un-hackable OS's. Granted it makes them more stable and appealing to the average consumer, but I have yet to see anything like tcpmp or ljp on anything besides a Treo (or another palm device). It's pretty obvious that the iPhone is no different. Don't start sticking your Treos on ebay yet, folks.

by Quinnovate | Jan 9, 2007 10:56:03 PM

I have to say that I'm kind of excited. I may hold off buying a 680 or 700p (my contract ran out in Dec, was going to see whether to switch to GSM or stay with Sprint/CDMA).

Why? Well, I'm a Mac guy and, as said, it does most of what we need: email, web, and Google Maps. What isn't there via the great suite of Palm apps may well be there via Mac OS widgets. Finally, there are likely to be tight links to the rich Mac OS native apps (Cal, Address, etc), instead of either MS-suite (shudder), or Palm Desktop (Ok, but showing it's age).

One unanswered question: how open will the development platform be? Apple's kinda shut out app development on the iPod, while being open on Mac OS. Which *is* this?

by Steve Jobs | Jan 9, 2007 10:56:32 PM

You guys are Treo homos. iPhone rules!!!

by Ed Colligan | Jan 9, 2007 11:21:43 PM

"You guys are Treo homos. iPhone rules!!!"

Steve Jobs, I had no idea you checked the treo forums. I personally think you're comment above was very unprofessional.

But since you're here, I would like to say to you, applehead, that you can take your iPods, your iPhones, your iTunes, and and all your other iShit and shove it up iHole, ok!

On behalf of all Treonauts, F#@K Y#*u!

by Mauricio | Jan 9, 2007 11:26:26 PM

I own a Treo and I love it. But here I find definitly a Treo killer.

Despite the note, I think the iphone got better specs. In the OS side, I believe that what you see as a weakness is really the stronger point for the iphone... OSX is really a very good OS... and the palm OS has been basically unchanged for five years or so.

I think that if the virtual keypad works for the iphone the guys at Palm should be very worried... btw, just today the shares of apple closed +8% ... the market loved the iphone.

by Wilma | Jan 9, 2007 11:26:58 PM

You're not biased, are you Andrew? You make your living on the Treo and all the stuff you need to make it worth using. Your "comparison" is ridiculous.

The Palm OS is so dated and the UI is ancient and inconsistent. Who said the 700p is a benchmark? Give me a break. Mine is a dog. The well documented delay, phone lockups, and Bluetooth incompatibilities are killing me. From what I hear (from my friend at Palm no less) is that the new 680 is crap as well. Don't expect much from Palm (or Microsoft), they don't have the software and UI expertise Apple has.

The iPhone is revolutionary. Apple will smooth the rough edges and introduce several other iPhone form factors. (Just like the iPod spawned the Mini, Shuffle, Nano, etc.) Expect a 3G version with Exchange AS for enterprise customers; they won't neglect this market.

If I were you, I would grab the URL "iPhonenauts.com" ASAP!

by Mauricio | Jan 9, 2007 11:48:13 PM

by don smith | Jan 9, 2007 11:49:09 PM

BY BY, Palm

by Ed | Jan 9, 2007 11:55:10 PM

This is so true - in comparison iPhone - Treo, you realize what an amazing device the Treo is.
As much as I love Apple this is one product i will NOT buy.

by Treonot | Jan 10, 2007 12:26:49 AM

The iPhone is taller and wider than the Treo by 2mm, yet thinner by .34 inches. Your inability to cede points here only accents the overall skew of the review. You also assume the Treo qwerty to be superior to a virtual one you haven't tried yet, group it with screen size so you don't have to acknowledge the gorgeous display, and make the laughable assertion that PalmOS > MacOS.

You are a troll.

by cvbcvb | Jan 10, 2007 12:52:06 AM

I’m a veteran Treo and Mac user. Many of the iPhone features and designs are revolutionary for a mobile phone - simply better then the Treo 680. Speaking of Palm, didn’t that CEO dismiss Apple entering the phone market with a bang? Seems like Apple’s made one heck of “a decent phone” right out of the gate...



Responding to questions from New York Times correspondent John Markoff at a Churchill Club breakfast gathering Thursday morning, Colligan laughed off the idea that any company -- including the wildly popular Apple Computer -- could easily win customers in the finicky smart-phone sector.

``We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,'' he said. ``PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in.''


P.S. These statements told me that Palm is a dinosaur... when the CEO, and its ingrained apathetic workforce, is not thinking different someone will and they will become extinct...

by Omar McManaman | Jan 10, 2007 1:08:21 AM

Treo or iPhone, it's just a matter of individual taste. I like Treo and very pleased since the first day i'm using it. Don't know about iPhone, but seems very promising. People, don't stuck youself and be fanatic nor making high-value on something you haven't try yet ;)



by John Whorfin | Jan 10, 2007 1:18:18 AM

Andrew, I highly respect you and dearly love your website (and my Treo 680), but I gotta tell ya...

You're delusional.

Apple is going to sell _exponentially_ more iPhones than Palm will ever sell Treos. From a basic usability standpoint, the iPhone is an order of magnitude more advanced, elegant, powerful, intuitive and evolved than anything Palm has ever done - plus it has Apple's marketing machinery behind it that has already sold 90 MILLION iPods. (And don't even get me started on your ridiculous assertion that the ancient, long-dormant Palm OS can even begin to compete with Mac OS X. Please.)

I'm a diehard Palm loyalist going back to my original U.S. Robotics PalmPilot Personal, up through my Handspring Visor, Treo 270, Treo 600 and now Treo 680, but those were all incrementally evolutionary. The iPhone is _revolutionary_.

So before _any_ of you bash it or write it off, I just have six words...


Apple has just given Palm a wake-up call and six months notice. Palm had better make the most of that Palm OS license agreement with Access and do something incredible.


by Kevinm78 | Jan 10, 2007 1:26:05 AM

I've owned a Treo 600, 650 and now own a 700p. Come June my Treo will be on ebay. I can't wait for the iPhone.

One thing most people have missed on this posting is that Apple understands that you don't want to quit one program to use another. I'm so tired of having to relaunch every app after briefly using another. Apple understood this out of the gate. Also, unlike the Treo, all of the different programs integrate seamlessly.

You must also understand that this phone can be synced to add new applications. There are literally thousands of useful widget already in use in OSX. You can bet there will be hundreds of developers who will find ways to port their existing Mac apps (as well as develop new ones) onto an operating system that has the most robust UNIX underpinnings covered by the most elegant and powerful user interface: OS X.

You really need to watch the keynote at Apple's web site to get a good idea how well this phone has been designed. Even little things, such as the bluetooth earpiece pairing automatically. No pairing operation of adding all of those zeros, over and over again until it finally pairs. You just bring the earpiece in range of the phone and its paired. If you don't believe that is an improvement take a look at the postings on this site of almost one hundred people complaining they can't get their earpiece to pair with the Treo. Or, if they do, they can't keep it paired.

Apple understands elegant design. Good design doesn't mean something that looks cool. A product with a great design should be simple, easy to use with a lot of uncluttered functionality. Maybe even a joy to use. I think the iPhone is going to do to the cellphone market what the iPod did to the MP3 player market.

I remember when I showed my first iPod to my family at a Christmas gathering. I set the iPod on a table and people would walk by, pick it up and play with it. Without being told, they immediately knew how to work the device. And they couldn't put it down.

That kind of design elegance is what makes Apple a great company.

I should know, I'm a designer.

by proee | Jan 10, 2007 1:49:50 AM


I'm with John on this one. I really enjoy you're input on the treo, in fact it's one of the few blogs that I ready every day. But, you are delusional here. The treo is so far behind the bar in comparison that's is sort of like comparing a Ford Escort to a Ferrari and trying to make a case for the Escort as being high performance? Stevie says this phone is five years ahead of the competition, and I would say he is probably pretty close. Think about the changes from the original Palm Pilot to the latest treo. Pretty incremental improvements at best and not a lot of innovation. I've been a palm user for years back in the days of Handspring, and now I'm a 700P user. But let's face it, the 700P has some pretty sucky limitation like crippled bluetooth, old-school UI, and very slow OS. My only complain about the iphone at this point is that's its going with just Cingular (I'm really happy with my Sprint SERO plan!)

If I were in your shoes Andrew, I'd start planning a complimentary blog on the iphone. You're input there will be quite valuable as the iphone begins to dominate the market. The Palm will start to go the way HandSpring....

by Glenn | Jan 10, 2007 2:04:06 AM

Hello! I too own both a Treo 700p and several iPods. I saw the keynote and viewed the phone. I like the way every app and feature is SIMPLE and works well together. I have owed several Treos and think come June I mabye switching. Palm has dragged their feet on fixing the 700p. I have switched out 6 phones with Verizon since its introduction. Either Palm fell asleep or just got lazy when it came to the 700p. You had my business and chose to either ignore your customers or just didn't care. The only thing that may keep me from buying an iPhone is that it's a Cingular phone and not on the Verizon network which has better cellular service. The reason Cigular can claim it has the fewest drop calls is that in the past, it had the fewest calls that connected when dialed! If their newer network is a good as they claim, BYE-BYE PALM! :-(

by Bill | Jan 10, 2007 2:40:26 AM

After the announcement today I had to rush over to the treonaut site to see the new battle of the zealots start up :) First off - I have used a Treo 650 for 2 years (3 phones to be exact) and moved up to a 700p, which needed to be replaced immediately due to a dead camera. My close friend is on her 3rd 700p in less than 4 months, all defective phones that required hours of troubleshooting. I've read many other similar posts regarding the consistantly poor quality of the Treo hardware.

Then we get to the Treo OS/software. The treo was the first phone I ever owned that crashed. It was the first phone that rebooted on its own. The first phone that locks up so often that people write Soft RESET button applications because removing the battery for reset is such a COMMON operation. I guess the reason the OS is considered 'hackproof' is because it is so unstable, you couldn't tell if you successfully broke anything!

Honestly after hard resetting my Treo and reinstalling all my apps and data multiple times on multiple phones, I can't help thinking about my years with PCs. If something starts breaking, heck, reinstall the OS! Reboot! Maybe THAT is what you mean by the Treo being a "Business" phone.

by Bill | Jan 10, 2007 2:45:21 AM

OK - so Treo OS and hardware are not so good. There must be other benefits from the benchmark 700p right? Bluetooth? Nope. I re-pair my Treo earpiece with my Treo all the time and find that process annoying. Bluetooth 2.0 will be a better experience on iPhone. Syncing? I use a CRM tool on the Mac called Daylite which required a 2 hour phone call to get it tuned just right to finally sync with the Treo 650. Hundreds of users emailed in to complain about the same issue. How about 2 way recording of activities with said CRM toolset? Nope. I make changes to Tasks and Notes on the Palm which never make it back to the CRM system. Once the CRM system gets Sync Server and syncs to iPhone, it will be game over for Treo for me. Palm interface? Looks like Windows 3.1 compared to the iPhone. But business people don't care about intuitive interfaces, do they? ;)

Palm Buttons - I had to buy Butler in order to make my volume buttons become useful as Up / Down buttons. Why? Every other cellphone includes that capability for free! Phone Locking Button - I'm stunned at how often my Treo would somehow call people, even with the phone locking on. How 'bout business applications - Word to Go vs. OSX native capabilities on the iPhone? The iPhone screen resolution itself will improve any business document review. Hands down iPhone.

Custom software? I was stunned to find out my expensive Treo could not voice dial natively, when my prior 3 crappy phones could. So I purchased Voice Dial software which would constantly crash and hang, even on small address books. Just wait when app developers start porting over TONS of applications to the MacOS X mini platform. Camera? The 700p camera is a big improvement over the 650. The iPhone will be a big improvement over the 700p.

by Bill | Jan 10, 2007 2:52:37 AM

Visual Voicemail looks like an amazing improvement for busy professionals who use their cellphone as a main form of communication. I love the fact that Apple decides that the old industry standard way of doing voice mail sucks and gets a major industry player (cingular) to wake up and agree. Built In WIFI? I've heard business people find that useful.

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