REVIEW: Palm Treo Pro

The latest from Palm, the Treo Pro, features the Windows Mobile OS rather than the Palm OS.

The latest from Palm, the Treo Pro, features the Windows Mobile OS rather than the Palm OS. In this review, the new and standard features on the Treo Pro are given a full once-over -- including 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS.

The Treo Pro is the latest in the Palm's iconic Treo series of smartphones. While the model line has gotten away from its Palm OS roots and turned to Windows Mobile, Palm's attention to detail generally sets its Treo smartphones apart from other Windows Mobile offerings.

The Treo Pro enters the fray as this company's most feature-complete smartphone yet, with 3G support, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a GPS receiver.
Let's take a look at it in depth to see how well it stacks up to the Treo lineage in user experience, and to its newest competitors.

Design
The Palm Treo holds very tightly to the QWERTY and square-screen design that has marked the series since its beginnings. It features a 320-by-320-pixel screen, larger battery, and thinner overall profile compared to the outgoing Treo 750 model.

Besides more pixels, the Treo Pro screen is flush, instead of recessed into the device as with previous models. However, it is only the digitizer which is flush. The actual screen still is recessed, and this arrangement can be disorienting some times.

Under the touchscreen sits the green and red call buttons, the directional pad, and four application buttons. Like the screen, the application buttons are flush to the rest of the device, but the directional pad and call buttons are pronounced enough to feel and use easily. There's a nice glow to the call buttons too -- not too bright in the dark, not too dull when in direct sunlight.

Below this is the QWERTY keyboard. The keys keep the same straight-face arrangement that Palm's Centro line has, but there is more spacing between the keys, accounting for the wider device.

I personally think that the gummy feel of the keys is the worst of any Treo ever; I've had several female friends tell me that they love it better than anything else as they keys work great with their nails. I'll leave it as a toss up to personal opinion there.

The rest of the device is similar to the minimalist design approach taken by Apple and HTC. The left side of the device has flush volume up/down buttons and a customizable third button. The right side of the Treo Pro has the Wi-Fi on/off button -- nice touch there. The top has the power and ringer on/off switch. And the bottom has a not-quite-standard Micro-USB slot, 3.5 mm headset jack, microphone hole, and stylus.

The most interesting thing so far about the design is that its recognizable as something that's not a BlackBerry, but definitely catches the eye of many people. The black finish catches dust and finger-prints, but only in sweaty/oily hands and heat. I did notice that the keyboard attracted some dust a bit more than other areas.

In simple terms, it's not revolutionary, but the design just works and has an elegance about it.

As a phone
The Palm Treo Pro is a Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional device. Building on an already solid platform, this latest device continues Palm's attention to little touches to enhance the phone experience.

As with previous Treos, the action starts from the Today Screen. The default setup doesn't have previous Windows Mobile Treo innovations such as the picture dialer or smart search. In fact, its quite plain until you start dialing. At that point the phone application kicks in and begins searching the Contacts application for matches.

Once in a call, a default Windows Mobile in-call screen appears. One of the items I found interesting is that by default, the screen would lock to touch input during the call. This is something that would otherwise need to be enabled to happen.

Calls were crisp and clear. The Treo Pro is a GSM phone and utilizes UTMS and HSDPA connectivity not only for data needs, but also to improve the call quality. The quality of both speaking and listening matched the best phones I've used. The speaker phone did not have the distorted sound at the highest volume levels, but the sound did feel a bit less loud -- almost as if the tonal ranges were scaled down while the volume did go up.

As a phone the Treo Pro is not spectacular, and lacks a bit of the special touches that I am used to seeing from Palm. It's not totally a bad thing, but at the same time it's something missing from Palm's attention to Windows Mobile that previous Treo users might be used to seeing.

As a communicator
The Treo line has not just made its reputation on making calls. Its also a very capable communications device. The Treo Pro continues this with support for a variety of messaging options.

SMS, MMS, and email are handled by the Pocket Outlook/Messaging application. As with previous Treos, threaded messaging is there to enhance SMS chats to look like Instant Messaging conversations. After you get used to the keypad, it's fairly simple to just type out a message and keep rolling.

Email support consists of Microsoft Outlook Mobile. Unlike some other smartphones, Palm has included a setup wizard that will attempt to grab your settings from the email provider rather than leaving you to figure out things like server addresses and ports. If it does not find this information, then the manual input option is given.

As a mobile computer
Thanks to nearly constant TV ads from Apple, people have begun to expect their smartphone to offer Internet access and GPS, and the Treo Pro delivers.

On the Web browsing side, Internet Explorer Mobile -- updated with a better rendering engine in Windows Mobile 6.1 -- gives a suitable browsing experience. It's better than previous Windows Mobile devices, but its very "clickly." Meaning that you still need to regularly pull out the stylus. In some instances, even scrolling through the available links with the directional pad works better than just touching a link.

There's an option to IE Mobile; Opera Mobile 9.5 is a much better solution, and does a much better job utilizing the 320-by-320-pixel screen.

Getting into actual browsing, things are nice and fast. The Treo Pro offers UTMS/HSDPA, which is a fancy way of saying it has 3G. It flies from website to website with ease, which isn't surprising with this speed of a cellular connection. In truth, you'd forget that you have the option for Wi-Fi because it is so fast. Nevertheless, if you choose to use Wi-Fi, it's only a side-button click away from being usable.

Besides Wi-Fi, another new feature to GSM Treos is the addition of GPS. This isn't just A-GPS, which is mandated by the FCC. This is true "go get me as many satellites as you can and show me where I am" GPS. I was able to get a signal lock in a little over a minute indoors. This was OK, but not great. However, after getting a signal, the Treo Pro was quite stubborn in hanging onto it.

The Treo Pro comes with the TeleNav GPS Navigator application. Google Maps and a QuickGPS app are also included to give you some additional options to using navigation.
What I wish is that Palm would have added some of the GPS functionality to the Today Screen, or adding it more apparently to contacts. Searching for an address using GPS is still something not well exploited here.

Other programs that can be found on the Treo Pro include Adobe Reader, a Java applet for running Java games and applications, Windows Live Messenger, Sprite Backup, and a stub application for Worldmate Live.

Office Mobile doesn't appear in the Programs folder, yet this smartphone includes Excel Mobile, Word Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and OneNote Mobile.

Lastly, an interesting note about the Treo Pro is that it does not come with a CD for ActiveSync installation. When you plug the Treo Pro into your Windows PC, it's recognized as a removable drive and a setup application opens so that you can begin the syncing arrangement.

This is nice, but it means that, unlike other Windows Mobile devices, both ActiveSync and Outlook have to be downloaded before syncing can begin. The installer does check for both and let's you know of compatibility before getting started, however.

As a multimedia device
The Treo Pro can handle most multimedia tasks solidly, if a bit nonchalantly.

Applications such as Windows Media and Pictures/Video are simple enough to use but powerful enough to handle most tasks. The camera application is also a model of simplicity, though actual camera shots might not be as confidence inspiring unless in sun-lit conditions.

Windows Media Player handles all of the audio side of things. Supporting WMA, WMV, and MP3 formatted files, it can handle just about anything thrown at it. The memory card slot, very well hidden under the battery cover next to the bottom right corner of the screen, can can house the largest microSD cards available today (16 GB) with ease.

Pictures/Video is pretty much a simple viewer and slide-show type application. It is easy to send an image via MMS or email in a few clicks.

The camera, launched by the third side-button on the left of the Treo Pro, has a simple user interface with just a few icons, which appear in a nice contrast on top of the rest of the image that the screen uses as the viewfinder. Snapshots save to memory fairly quickly, though there is bit of noise in pictures taken in low-light settings. It could really use a Flash.

Like the phone aspects, the multimedia aspects of the Treo Pro are solid, though not overwhelming. They sit in the background of this device that is built more for communication than multimedia, but because of the wealth of third-party software available for Windows Mobile, pushing the multimedia aspects should be easily doable.

Comparison to Nokia E71
As soon as I put my hands on the Treo Pro, I immediately thought of it as a direct competitor to the Nokia E71. Let's run down the similarities between the devices and then differences.

Similarities:

  • QWERTY-based thumboards
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, GPS/aGPS, quad-band GSM and HSDPA wireless connectivity
  • Sold unlocked and without carrier (in their North American versions)
  • Emphasis on communication from Today/Active Standby screens
  • Healthy third-party application libraries
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • Differences:
  • Windows Mobile 6.1 (Treo Pro) versus Symbian S60 3.1 (E71)
  • E71 uses a standard shaped Micro-USB cable, Treo Pro does not
  • Treo Pro higher resolution (320x320 versus 320x240 pixel) screen
  • The Treo Pro has touchscreen, the E71 does not
  • The E71 has larger buttons for the keyboard, but they are spaced much closer together
  • The E71 has a higher resolution camera (3.2 MPx vs. 2.0 MPx) with built-in flash and auto-focus
  • The E71 is cheaper (<$400 versus $550)
  • Looking at the two devices, the slight nod on my end goes to the E71 based on more stout multimedia abilities and price. Though if the price were similar, it would be a very difficult decision as the Treo Pro feels more like a small phone rather than a small communicator, and has a good bit more style to it.

Specifications

  • Platform: Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition
  • Processor: 400 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201
  • Memory 128 MB of RAM; 256 MB of Flash ROM (100 MB user available)
  • Display: 320x320 transflective color TFT flush touchscreen
  • Wireless: HSDPA/UMTS/EDGE/GPRS/GSM radio
  • Tri-band UMTS - 850 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz
  • Quad-band GSM - 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g with WPA, WPA2, and 801.1x authentication
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + Enhanced Data Rate
  • GPS: Built-in GPS
  • Camera 2.0 megapixels with up to 8x digital zoom and video capture
  • Battery: Removable, rechargeable 1500 mAh lithium-ion; Up to 5.0 hours talk time and up to 250 hours standby
  • Expansion: microSDHC slot (up to 32 GB cards supported)
  • Connector: Micro-USB 2.0 for synchronization and charging
  • Audio: 3.5 mm stereo headset jack
  • Dimensions: 4.49 inches by 2.36 inches by 0.53 inches; 60mm x 114mm x 13.5mm
  • Weight: 4.69 oz; 133 grams

Conclusion
The Treo Pro is a fairly solid device for Palm. It is easy to delight in the fact that this design has seen yet another revision but has largely kept the trademark ergonomics intact.

The smaller size, addition of Wi-Fi, GPS, increased resolution, and ease of setup are clear upgrades over the Treo 750. These small improvements also makes for a simple transition for enterprise deployments who might be looking to upgrade from 750 units but keep much of the same functionality and ease of use.

On the downside, the price and some features (camera, overall system speed when browsing, and keyboard size) might come across as major downsides to the Treo Pro. Palm really tried to leverage HTC's expertise in crafting this and it shows, however the specialness that makes Palm devices is missing here and it feels more like a re-brand than a true Palm product.

Given the state of QWERTY Windows Mobile devices today, its hard to argue strongly for or against the Treo Pro. While it might fall by the wayside for some power users, the fact of the matter is that it's made more for the casual user who wants a bit more from a productivity device, and doesn't want to sacrifice usability or style.

The Treo Pro is just as comfortable in the board room or at after-work drinks, and keeps you connected without raising much of a fuss in doing so -- like a true professional should.

This article first appeared on a techtarget sister site.

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