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November 13, 2005

The Treo 650

As I mentioned the other day, I was fortunate enough to be offered a smartphone for work. The only requirement was that it had to be one offered by Sprint.

So my boss and I drove down to the Sprint store so he could see what was available and see what he liked. I had already read a lot of reviews on the offerings and was pretty sure I knew what I wanted. My boss is about as un-tech-savvy as you can get. He likes gadgets once someone shows him how to use them, but he never rally "gets it" and you'll spend hours explaining to him that you can just hit "tab" to go to the next text field on a website. He's just from another generation.

Sprint Treo 650His main complaint about the display models were that the buttons were too small for him to see and easily use. The woman brought out their newest model, the Pocket PC 6700. He liked it because the keyboard slides out and the buttons were bigger. We played with it a little and I explained how he could check his email with the web browser and how it also had a more traditional email client. He was sold. I told him I wanted the Treo 650 because it was based on a series of operating systems that had been used on PDAs for as long as the acronym existed, it was a single piece (no sliding keyboards), and had boatloads of software for it.

We tried to buy them right there, but because we have a business account, we had to call Sprint, place the order and wait for them to be shipped. In the mean time, I ordered the bluetooth dongles from NewEgg and waited on buying any other accessories until the phones got there so I could see what they came with. I could not find a solid answer on what accessories came with the phones anywhere online and I don't trust customer service people as far as I an throw them.

For the record: The Sprint Treo 650 bought in late October comes with a HotSync cable that connects the phone to a standard USB port, a wall wart charger, a mono earbud for hands-free, some kind of adapter that lets you use some other kind of charger (I'm not sure what this is, it's still in the plastic and I haven't read the part of the manual that explains it), a thick-ass user manual, some software that facilitates syncing the phone with a PC (which I haven't used because I think it only works with Windows Macs), the phone, and a stylus.

The included USB cable will not charge the phone. Why the hell not? To charge the phone while using the USB cable, you have to plug in the USB cable, then plug the charger into the USB cable. The charger will plug directly into the phone when the USB cable is not plugged in. My boss' PPC-6700 charges straight from the USB cable. You can buy a new USB cable for the Treo that also charges the battery, but I don't understand why the one that's included does not. If it's because they think you'll be using it while a laptop is not plugged in and want to conserve battery life on the laptop, why not build a little switch into the connector that lets you choose whether or not it will charge? I think it's just a scam to sell more cables.

A few days ago we went back to the Sprint store so my boss could see if he liked the bluetooth headsets. He did not. I don't really like them either because it's just one more charger you have to carry with you when traveling. Why is there not a bluetooth headset that uses the same charger as the phone?

I'm going to post more about how to get the phone to play with SUSE later, but for now I'll say that I can exchange files with bluetooth, and sync and install new apps with Kpilot using the included USB cable. If there is a way to transfer files (like mp3s or text files) using the USB cable, I haven't found it. This is pretty disappointing because transferring files over bluetooth is very slow. I haven't tried it yet, but you can use it as a modem for a PC or laptop with bluetooth; or the opposite direction, connecting to the internet through a PC or notebook.

Most of the included software on the Treo works great. I've never owned a PDA before, so I really didn't know what to expect. I've been able to find a lot of quality third-party software at MyTreo.net. They have a large collection of freeware, free, proprietary, and trial-version apps.

I mentioned earlier that I was starting to use a group calendar to keep track of things, the calendar application on the Treo seems to be very usable and syncs fine with the .ics file created by Sunbird. By playing with Kpilot, I have been able to set it up so that it syncs with the calendar set up on my remote server.

It comes with VersaMail as an email client. You can easily set up multiple POP3 an IMAP accounts. However, unlike "real" IMAP clients I've used in the past, it doesn't seem to completely sync with the server. It does not download all the old email headers and folders, just the new ones that are unread. This is kind of disappointing because I have so many emails with information that I'd like to have available with the Treo, but it's just not there. Also, when deleting an email, an option pops up to ask if I'd also like to delete the one on the server (hello..yes...IMAP), but even if I choose yes, it remains on the sever to be downloaded when I access the account by other means. I've tried some of the trial versions of third party clients, but they weren't any more impressive and certainly not worth the price they were charging.

The browser is called "Blazer" and seems to be OK. It has a nice feature where you can choose to use text-only mode that formats the page to fit on the screen (no horizontal scrolling). The other option renders the page as you would normally see it, images, side-scrolling, and all.

There are "task" and note-taking applications which do about what you'd expect. The camera take Zapruder-quality video with sound and similar quality stills; whatever, I don't see me using this all that much.

The phone itself works fine. I've read that many people had problems with the volume not being loud enough. I haven't had this problem, but there is a commercial third-party program that claims to fix this issue. It doesn't seem to get quite as good reception as my old phone did. There are places in my house where I used to get decent reception, but the Treo now gets poop in the same places; overall, not bad reception, just not stellar.

It can play mp3s (and maybe other formats-I haven't played too much with this yet) using the included RealPlayer. You can install other media players, and from what I've read, many people do. The headphone jack is not the standard size, which sucks. As I mentioned, the Treo only comes with a single earbud, so until you upgrade to a headset using their smaller jack (or buy a $5 adapter), you're going to have to listen to your boybands in mono. Also, you can't store mp3s on the included memory, you have to have a SanDisk (not included).

I don't think it came with any games, but using MyTreo.net, I was able to pick up some awesome Tetris, Risk, and Yahtzee clones for gratis. I also got solitaire, blackjack, dopewars, and a space-trading game similar to Elite or Privateer for free.

The keyboard is very easy to use and you can actually write a few sentences before you start to get annoyed with it. I think it's a very good compromise of size and usability.

My biggest complaint: it locks up more often than...something...that locks up a lot. Windows ME locks up less frequently than this thing. I'll admit that I've been putting it under some stress. Getting it to work with bluetooth and sync cable, installing and removing software, changing preferences, etc. All the things you do to a new gadget to get used to using it. But it's no excuse. I'll be playing solitaire and it will reboot by itself. I've had it lock up more than once when using the web browser on very simple pages. I had to hard reset this bitch more than twice a day during the first few days. I haven't had to reset it yet today, but it wouldn't surprise me if I have to later. And to reset it, you have to take the battery cover off and poke this little hole with the stylus; you'd think that if they were going to make you do it so often, they'd make it easier to get to (there is a third party app that binds a button to reset, but I haven't tried it yet).

So far, it's OK. I really like the email and calendar clients, and the "contacts" functionality is really good. All things considered, I would probably not buy this thing for myself at the current prices. I think it was about $450 after the discounts we got for upgrading and extending the service contract. Unlimited data service would cost $25/month, but we got it at no additional cost because we had a cheaper existing plan that included it. If you've got the money or it will be paid for by your employer, I would say it's a pretty good choice. It is rumored that the next Treo (700?) will be out early next year, so it might be worth waiting to see what it's got or to take advantage of the inevitable price drop on the Treo 650's.

A good source for all things Treo is Treonauts.

I'll write a somewhat shorter review of my bosses PPC-6700 later.

Posted 14 years, 10 months ago on November 13, 2005
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