The Treo Pro really needs to be a success for Palm. The company that was once a team of innovators has obviously been talking to the green movement, since for ages they seem to have just been recycling. The Treo 750 was good, but flawed when put up against the competition.
For a kick off there was still no WiFi, despite the move by other manufacturers to make it a regular feature in their high-end phones. GPS was notably absent too, and the design was all too similar to the Treo 650, which came out in 2004. Its chubby dimensions didn’t house an overly beefy battery either, which provided the first UMTS Treo with pretty poor battery life.
The new one though looks to change all that. The Treo Pro really is a big step up from the 750 in some areas, but falls over in one crucial place that the previous Treos excelled.
Note: Additional larger images in the gallery at the end of the review
It all starts right from the moment you pick up the box. Gone is the corporate looking square box with a corrugated cardboard tray inside, the box now looks good! I know that may not matter to some, but it sets you in the right mood from the get go. The shiny white box with colourful pictures of the Treo Pro really show off the new direction Palm is taking with it. For some odd reason one of the corners is chopped off, similar in vein to the oddball HTC Touch Diamond box. Guess HTC were put in charge of the box design as well as being the ODM.
After you slide off the plastic sleeve and pop off the lid you’ll be greeted by the new glossy black Treo Pro. Clearing Palm has noticed the trend towards shiny casings, and has followed suit with an all-gloss exterior. No more rugged rubberisation, it’s all nice, smudgy plastic.
You’ll notice immediately how flat the front of the phone is. There is no pit for the screen to hide in, the large d-pad is much more discreet, the application buttons are integrated into a single piece of flush plastic, and the spacious rubbery keys have been replaced with micro-tic-tacs.
In profile the difference between the Treo 750 and Treo Pro is marked. Like me, the Treo has gone on a diet to shed the excess weight it has been lugging around for many years. All I can say is it’s about time!! The Treo Pro is quite sleek, and while not as thin as the E71, it’s thinner than the new Blackberry Bold. It’s a lot nicer to slip into a jeans pocket than the previous model, and no longer looks and feels like a borings suits phone.
The back of the phone is pretty much devoid of anything! The single piece that makes up the back of the phone (and the battery cover) has a small hole for the 3MP camera and mono speaker, and that’s it. If a passer-by isn’t paying close attention they will likely mistake it for an iPhone 3G, something that happened to me several times at university. And on the train. And at the shops.
Along the left side are an almost-flush volume control and a user-assignable button. On the right side towards the bottom is a flush and feeless WiFi toggle button sitting atop an infrared window (??).
On the bottom Palm have gone crazy: two standard ports. For data and power there is a microUSB port (something Nokia have been transitioning to for a while, amongst others) and a 3.5mm jack. How could Palm get it so so right?? I’ve got an old Treo retractable charge/sync cable that I can’t use, and I couldn’t be happier! The 3.5mm headphone jack is a particular surprise, since 2.5mm has been the norm for Palm. Fortunately this phones HTC roots didn’t inflict it with the miniUSB multi-connector, so your regular headphones will instantly play nice for some quality music listening. You’ll need your own earbuds, since the included ones are both very uncomfortable and of appalling quality.
On the top of the phone is a standby button (instead of buddying up with the end-call button like on the 750) and the ever-useful ringer switch. The ringer switch is just such a good idea, I wish companies in places other than Cupertino would rip it off.
I’ll just quickly backtrack to the other contents of the box. Underneath the plastic tray holding the Treo you’ll find several little getting started pamphlets, a microUSB cable and a USB AC adaptor. Like the Touch Diamond, there is no dedicated cable on the charger.
The box is devoid of a full manual or CD with software on it, but don’t think you have to head to the internet to get the stuff normally found on an included CD. Palm have implemented a very clever trick with a Treo, that lets it show up as a small USB drive when first connected, containing all the software and manuals. It’s a great idea, and works very well. Should you need to access this hidden stuff after the first connection, it can be reactivated in Settings.
Starting the Treo Pro for the first time, you’re asked to input the usual information (like date and time) before you see the today screen. Treo 750 owners will immediately notice something’s different: all Palm’s custom apps are gone. All of it, it’s almost a bare Windows Mobile 6.1 ROM that you’d find on XDA-Developers.
For some this will be a good thing, since they will load their own applications, but there were some useful things like the today screen dialler that were handy (you can type into the Today screen like before, but it goes to the Phone app), it now feels like just another Windows Mobile device.
In use the Pro feels a lot snappier than the 750, especially once you start to add third-party applications. Menus pop out faster, switching applications is swift and making calls no longer feels like your asking someone to jump off a cliff.
The new 320×320 display is an absolute delight. Palm were repeatedly criticised (and rightly so) for sticking a pathetic 240×240 display in their Windows Mobile Treos, when 240×320 was the norm for most WM devices, and 320×320 had been gracing Palm OS devices since 2002! While not as good as the one on the new Blackberry Bold (review in progress), it’s very nice.
The higher resolution makes doing pretty much anything considerably easier, and just nicer overall. Fonts are crisp and sharp not jaggy, and web browsing is easier, let down by the pathetic Pocket Internet Explorer. Stick a better browser on there and web surfing is a treat over HSDPA
The other area of major change over the previous model is the keyboard, and oh dear. All I can say is Palm, what happened? The keyboard on the Treo 750 was very good, easy to type on without looking and with good feel. The Treo Pro feels like the exact opposite. Without looking, the keys feel vague and unresponsive, with even average hands it’s a struggle not to press adjacent keys by mistake, and when you do there is almost no feel at all. In my first impressions article I said they were the same as the Centro, but they are actually a little bit bigger. Palm sent over a Centro, and while the keys on the Pro are ever so slightly larger and have slightly better spacing, it still feels like a big step down from the Treo keyboards of old.
I think they’ve done it for the design of the thing, but I think they have really missed the boat on this one. The CDMA version of this phone, whilst quite ugly and corporate-looking, has the traditional Treo keyboard, it’s such a shame that Palm didn’t put it in the GSM model.
While I’m talking about poor hardware decisions, I’d like to turn your focus to the camera. Unfortunately, I think the hardware designers must have gotten the memo confused: “Change the camera, leave the keyboard like before”. The camera is the usual junk we have come to expect from Palm (and HTC in previous years). It has no auto-focusing, no flash, and no Carl Ziess optics to pull it out of the gutter. It will do in a brightly lit, no movement pinch but beyond that the results are pretty poor. The camera in the E71 isn’t that great either, but it is better than this (and it has AF). It’s worth noting however that the cameras in it’s biggest rivals, the Nokia E71 and Blackberry Bold aren’t all that great either (they do have LED flashes though).
Performance on this thing was a mixed bag. After the loooong boot sequence, the Treo Pro is actually quite snappy, even with some third-party apps onboard. That’s until you open a lot of programs. With several apps open (Messaging, Internet Explorer, Calendar, Contacts, Windows Live Messenger, File Explorer) the thing crawls to a halt. Typing becomes all jerky, menus take ages to respond, and switching between applications is a nightmare. As soon as you close everything, it’s all silky again.
This is where Microsoft’s multitasking falls over. Unfortunately Windows Mobile just doesn’t manage lots of open apps very well, so you have to do it yourself. If you keep on top of it though, the Treo Pro is very stable and only requires infrequent resets to keep things humming along smoothly.
Back to the good stuff, and there are some important areas where the Treo Pro has thrown off the shackles of it’s forbearers.
First off, welcome aboard WiFi and GPS!! At long last the Treo has been brought up to speed with the two radios that every good Smartphone now has. To manage the WiFi, Palm added a small button on the side to toggle it on and off, making it very convenient to use just while in the office, then turn off when you leave. The WiFi worked very well for me, connecting up quite quickly to my network for web surfing and email.
The GPS, while not as long awaited as WiFi, is still an important step for Palm. A lot of people want to be able to carry just one device that can do everything, and with GPS onboard this is a reality. My Treo Pro didn’t come with any navigation software, so I loaded up the fantastic Google Maps application and took it for a spin.
The initial GPS fix took a while, but once connected it held onto it even in the city. Using Google Maps “My Location” feature, I could follow myself along the map (since GM doesn’t have voice directions) to get where I was going. This is something I do on my E71, and the Treo Pro was every bit as good.
Part of the reason I have kept coming back to Nokia’s over the past year is the irreproachable tendency to hold onto a signal. To be honest, most Windows Mobile devices are pathetic in this regard, losing signal very easily then taking forever (or requiring some assistance) to get it back.
The Treo Pro is the first Windows Mobile device that I’ve used that can compete with Nokia in the 3G signal stakes. It is brilliant! I’ve found my university to be a good test of a phones radio, as it makes even Nokia’s cringe. Amazingly, the Treo Pro was able to hold just as good a 3G signal as the E71 and N95 8GB, something only the Blackberry Bold has been able to match.
Battery life is another stinker on a lot of WM phones. The Touch Diamond I tested a few months ago was absolutely hopeless. The Treo however, manages to have outstanding battery life. How? I don’t know. It does have a beefy battery, 1500mAh, but there are plenty of other big-batteried WM phones that still sap the juice fast. My test for phone battery life is simply to use the hell out of it. That includes phone calls, lots of web surfing, lots of email (with Exchange Push active), lots of MSN Messenger, and some photos along the way. Despite this, the Treo Pro was able to hang on through the day, into the late evening. A lot of people want their phones to last several days on a charge, which isn’t going to happen with that sort of usage. If a phone can last a full day (6am till 11pm) of that, then it’s a pass. Treo Pro, you’ve got it!
Immediately after using the keyboard for the first time, I expected to despise the Treo, but it’s so good in several other very important areas that I’ve actually come to like it. With practise, the keyboard isn’t too bad (though not as good as the E71), but it’s excellent screen, about-time integration of WiFi and GPS, excellent battery life, fabulous 3G radio and overall nice design makes it a worthy consideration.
MSRP: US$549, AU$929 (why the discrepancy??)
What I Like: Excellent 3G radio, battery life, WiFi, GPS, size, screen.
What Needs Improvement: I think the old keyboard was better, glossy plastic is a fingerprint magnet.