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Palm Treo 700w Smartphone

Date: December 21, 2006
Author(s): Greg King

The 700w from Palm packs a lot into it’s small frame. This smartphone runs on the feature-rich Windows Mobile 5.0, includes a 1.3MP camera, good battery life and a full QWERTY keyboard.



Introduction


With each day that passes, technology is working to completely free us from the shackles that bind us to our desk. Technology has also taken the items we use every single day and made them small enough to carry around with us at all times. From phones to computers, we are to a point where we can carry them with us everywhere we go. From our email to spreadsheets, the joining of these two devices has launched us into the age of the smartphone.

Today we are working with the Treo 700w from Palm. Long known for their Pilot PDAs and their Treo line of smartphones, it’s safe to say that Palm has had their share of success in the mobile market. The 700 series is the first Palm smartphone to use an operating system other than Palm OS. The Treo we will be working with today is running Windows Mobile 5.0, Microsoft’s latest OS for the mobile community.

Can the Treo 700w give me that office in my pocket feel? Since it is a phone and a computer, how well does it act as both? While no one will by this smartphone for the phone itself, it is an important part of the entire package. How well does Windows Mobile 5.0 work and will it allow us to do what we need to on the Treo? With all these questions in mind, let’s find out.

What is a Smartphone?

Before we get too involved in this review, I would like to take the time to describe what a smartphone is. There are many different criteria that need to be met in order to consider a phone a “smartphone.” The basic explanation is to imagine a PDA that allows the users to place phone calls through a cellular service provider. This is a somewhat sticky explanation because in one way or another because most all cell phones today have some form of PDA functionality such as contact lists phonebooks and calendars.

While these are certainly handy features to have, they don’t exactly make your Motorola RAZR a smartphone. To me, a smartphone would be a miniature computer of sorts. Something that allows me to send and receive email, allows me to sync it with my PC at home or at work, it must have a QWERTY keyboard to ease the messaging process and perhaps it would have a camera. I would also like to be able to install programs either onto the device itself or onto a flash card and to install anything onto a flash card; the phone would have to have expandable memory. These are all things that I would look for in a phone to classify it as a smartphone.

Smartphones, basically being small handheld computers, need an operating system to function. There are many different operating systems available and more often than not, depend on the maker and the service provider of the phone itself. Notable smartphone operating systems include:

Each of these operating systems has their own advantages and disadvantages, just like any OS on the desktop market. I personally have only worked with the Palm OS and in this review, Windows Mobile. Most users will be able to recognize, for the most part, the ins and outs of working with Windows Mobile and in my experience with Palm; the OS is straight forward and relatively easy to work with. I have no doubts that Linux and Symbian are the same for users who work with phones that run these operating systems.

Packaging

The Treo 700w came to us in a humble white box that included in the kit, as well as all of the items that ship with the retail Treo. The contents are packaged safely and securely in a molded plastic casing, virtually guaranteeing that it will make its way to you safe and sound.

Once we have everything laid out, we see the USB Sync cable to connect your PC and your Treo, the manual, warranty information, a getting started guide, driver and program disks, a hands free set and the phone itself. No bells, no whistles, just the essentials to get you going right out of the box.

Once we have the phone out, we see it’s a decently sized. With a full 240×240, 65K color screen and a full QWERTY keyboard underneath, the Treo is a beautifully designed smartphone.

A closer look at the front of the Treo’s keyboard shows a designated number pad that will display numbers when calling and letters when writing. We see the send button with its green handset on the top. Next to it is the windows button. Pressing this, like on all keyboards, will bring up the start menu and all the included options (or drop down the start menu in the Treo’s case.) In the middle of the Treo is the d-pad. With the center button in the middle of the d-pad, you can select anything on the screen that is highlighted, or activated. Think of this button as your double click button. Moving on to the right, there is an OK button. This button acts similar to the center button but is easier to get to if you are using the Treo with both hands. Finally, we get to the end call button. This is designated with a red handset and can also be used to turn the phone on and off.



Closer Look

On the bottom of the keyboard, flanking the spacebar, are two shift keys. These work just like the keys on a desktop keyboard and allow you to use upper case letters. To the far right of the keyboard on the bottom, there is a small button with the entire top being dark gray. Think of this as a function button. If you want to use the “@” symbol, you would simply press this button and then the “I” key. Not much to it and it adds a lot of depth to the Treo as an emailing piece of hardware.

To give you an idea of what 240×240 really looks like, here is a quarter on the screen of the Treo. Ahh, the state of Wisconsin, known for their cattle, cheese and football (not shown.)

Moving away from the front of the Treo, the back of the smartphone is home to the Treo’s 1.3 megapixel camera as well as the external speaker. If you notice, there is a small convex circle to the right of the camera itself. This is a self portrait mirror that allows you to get a good idea of the orientation of your picture should you be vain enough to take pictures of yourself. Directly below the camera is the speaker. This is where your ringtone will come out of as well as any audio that you might have your Treo play.

Under the camera and speaker, there is a door that covers up the battery.

On the left side of the phone there are 3 buttons. The two that are together are for volume control. The bottom button can be programmed to do any number of commands.

On the top of the Treo, there is a mute switch, an infrared port and interestingly enough, an SD flash disk slot. While the 700w comes with 128MB of internal memory, only 60MB of it is usable for the owner. Because 60MB can fill up fast these days, even on phones, the SD slot adds a lot to the overall package of the Treo. Accessed through Windows Mobile, the user can store music, pictures, videos or anything else that one can think of.

No smartphone is complete without its stylus. With this in mind, Palm provides not only a quality stylus, but a convenient place to store it away. Running down the left side of the Treo on the back side, the aluminum stylus is truly a solid piece of work.

Specs

Before we get into the phone itself, let’s take a look at exactly what we are looking at. Straight from Palm, here are the specs of the Treo 700w.

In all of those specifications, there are a few pieces that truly stand out to me. I am personally interested in the ability to sync the Treo with my PC and of course, the battery life needs to live up to the implied times in the spec sheet.

For those of you who are dedicated Treo users, you will notice that the 700w has a smaller screen than the older 650 Treo. While I have not worked with the 650 model, I have not had any problems with the display on the 700w. The colors are bright and ultimately the screen is easy to read.

Features and Usage

Windows Mobile is far and away the feature that stands out the most on the 700w. With Windows Mobile comes Word, Excel and power point. Word and Excel work much the same way that the desktop versions while Power Point will allow you to go over a presentation before you have to present it. Working in IT with a background in sales, I can certainly appreciate Power Point on the go. With corporations in Palm’s crosshairs, Outlook is the bread and butter of the Treo 700w. Using Verizon’s mobile broadband, emails can be sent and received in real time, allowing seamless communication even when you’re not at your desk.

Another method of connecting to other people and devices is Bluetooth. Included with the 700w, Bluetooth allows the owner to use a Bluetooth hands-free headset should the provided wired headset not be enough. One last method of connecting to other people and devices is the Treo’s built in infrared port. Something that the Treo isn’t capable of is Wi-Fi. While not a huge downer, you will not be able to use the 700w as a mobile modem with Wi-Fi. It is documented however, that Palm’s very own Wi-Fi card that fits nicely in the top SD slot. If Wi-Fi is a must, this is your only avenue to take and while it’s not included in the package, it’s nice to know that it can be done.

Another feature that desktop users might recognize is Microsoft’s media player. Included is the Windows Mobile install, allowing users to listen to their MP3’s and watch videos that they might have stored on their flash card. The Treo 700w supports MP3, WMA and WMV, adding a bit of diversity to the 700w from a media standpoint.



Camera and Testing

The camera does as it should. It takes pictures on par with most other camera phones available today. 1.3MP isn’t anything to really brag about but it does provide pictures clear enough to add to a phone book or a contact. I personally feel that cameras on phones are nothing more than a novelty at best. I learned this the hard way. I purchased a new camera phone back in the day when they were new because they were new. I got burned. I never used the camera mainly because the pictures sucked. I am not saying that the 700w took terrible pictures but if I am going to get something with a camera on it, I want to be able to take high quality pictures, not thumbnail material for my contact list.

Regardless, the 700w and its camera can take pictures at three different quality settings and five different resolutions. The settings are an original high, normal and low while the resolutions are 1280×1024, 640×480, 320×240, 240×180. While these aren’t really anything to write home about, they do provide a decent enough picture quality at high settings for most people. Just please keep in mind that while 1280×1024 seems good; it’s still just a camera phone taking the pictures.

The Treo isn’t just limited to pictures either. Should you choose to do so, the 700w offers the ability to capture video. With just two resolution settings, 176×144 and 352×288, the phone won’t be capturing much but should be more than enough for all but the most demanding of users. When taking video, you can choose to limit the video length to 15 seconds, 30 seconds or unlimited. Unlimited will obviously take video until you run out of storage space. As stated earlier, the Treo 700w comes with 128MB of built in memory with only 60 of it being usable by the user. Not bad, but with high quality settings enabled, it can quickly fill up. Thank goodness for the expandable SD slot on the top of the phone.

Here is Windows Media player in action:

Video:

Testing and Results

Obviously there aren’t any benchmarks for phones and because of this, the testing results of the 700w come down to my own personal opinion. We would test the battery life, the reception in and around town as well as the quality of the media and software.

To start out with, I was interested in seeing just how long the battery could last. The Palm specs for the Treo are 5 hours talk time and more than 300 hours stand by. There really isn’t a lot to do to test this out but actually use the phone… a lot. We found the battery life of the Treo 700w to meet the 5 hour listing for talk time. We had to recharge just shy of the 5th hour. To me, this is impressive considering what all the battery needs to power. We do feel however, that the 300+ hours standby is a bit optimistic. While impressive, we had to recharge the Treo 700w after roughly 267 hours. This is still well over 10 days of battery life if the Treo is not being used.

For call clarity and email, I did what anyone else would do to test out the services. I took the 700w with me to work, around on errands, working on the farm…everywhere. There is something to say when you can take a break from cutting wood in the middle of the woods and check your email on the company server. Some would argue that it’s a burden to constantly be connected all the time and while I agree with this most of the time, to know that I can stay in contact with anyone and everyone is very nice. Call clarity wasn’t anything to write home about, but it wasn’t terrible either. For the most part, I can sum up the call clarity by calling it normal. Nothing special. It works so what more does one need to hear?

Conclusion

While I am not a phone, or smartphone, expert, I know what I need. I know what I want and what to look for in hardware. Coming off of using a Motorola RAZR, I can appreciate a decent phone. Size doesn’t really matter much to me and as long as I don’t get mistaken for Zack from Saved by the Bell, I really don’t care how large a phone is. With the Treo 700w, the size is almost perfect. I was able to use the phone one handed while I was driving (we do not endorse that) and for almost all applications, one handed operation is enough to get through. Powered by an Intel XScale working at 312MHz, the Treo offers more than enough brawn for most anyone’s uses. There were times when the 700w would bog down a bit while playing a video but it was hardly noticeable.

Battery life was consistent with what Palm has claimed and the emailing features worked flawlessly. For anyone who is on the move, the Treo makes one hell of a companion. While not in any position to replace the notebook at the ultimate travel companion, the Treo takes the most necessary programs and puts them on a small phone that you can stick in your pocket if you so desire.

The aim of this review was not to score the Treo on our 10 point scale, but to rather present the phone to you, the readers and let you make up your own mind. While not perfect, the 700w does offer a great deal to those of us on the move that need to stay connected. The Treo 700w was a pleasure to work with and I feel that you would be smart to check one out if you’re ever in the market for a smartphone.

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