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Old 09-14-2005, 08:39 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Real life Treo 650 evaluation

As a Treo 650 user for many months now, I think I'm finally qualified to give some thoughts about the device. Bottom line is that it's a great device, if you are okay with the tradeoffs of a smartphone device with an integrated physical thumboard.

What I want to do here is not cover the same old territory that so many others have covered already in some excellent Treo 650 reviews, but instead to provide real life observations after much daily use. My observations should be pretty common among users for the most part, but everyone has their own preferences and concerns so it's just my opinions. At least I think most Treo 650 users will read my thoughts and respond with "Yeah, that's right" or "Yeah, I can see why he feels that way." Feel free to share your own thoughts in the replies to this post.

General Impressions

What a fantastic device! All around it's solid, well designed hardware and software, and it's a pleasure to use. The keyboard is so much more wonderful than I could have imagined and is useful in navigating by first letter in a way that I never expected. I went from skeptic to believer in one-handed operation without a stylus almost instantly. If you try it, you'll know what I mean, and I've heard the same comment from others consistently. I rarely ever use a stylus now, even though it's right there for me any time I want it.

Nice little touches
  • Great integration between PDA and phone. You don't lose your place when you turn the phone on or off. Or if you get a call. It just works the way you want it to. Even if you're listening to an MP3 in Pocket Tunes, for example.
  • A speaker on/off switch. This is a big deal and sets this phone apart in design. I've had a lot of phones and they are all hard to silence. Some I never did figure out how to silence them under every possible noise scenario. But the Treo has a really simple on/off switch. Flip it and you're in silent vibrate mode. Great idea that every phone maker should copy. <Updated>
  • A charging led indicator that also indicates when the phone is on, or when you're transmitting. Very nice, and you can also check the battery level while it's charging.
  • Great battery life, and a user replaceable battery. I could probably watch three full lenght videos before the battery ran out on this device. I do have bluetooth and the phone off most of the time, but even with the phone on I have plenty of juice to last me a day before I do a nightly charge.
  • Non-volatile memory. I wasn't sure this would be much of a big deal to me, but actually it's wonderful. No worries about running the battery down to 0% means that you can finally make use of the full charge and battery life. And you can swap batteries without worrying about losing anything. I've done that. At first with some trepidation, but now with complete confidence and I like it!
  • You can take the SD card in or out at any time. Well, at least anytime it's not in action -- I wouldn't recommend doing it while it's being accessed. Actually I've done that also by accident and so far no problems. But I try not to. With my Toshiba PPC, it seemed to cause problems if I took it in or out while the PPC was on. You were supposed to make sure it was off, which was a bit of a pain, especially since the Toshiba would sometimes be on with screen dimmed, so it was hard to tell.
  • Great volume through the headphones and even the onboard speaker. I guess that's one advantage of the phone radio electronics, and I definitely appreciate it.
  • Very stable. I was worried because of the non-volatile memory system and all kinds of reports of instability or incompatibility of software. I used PalmFocus' software compatibility list a lot, which was very helpful. But I really find this to be the most stable device I've owned. I'm also pretty careful about what I put on it, so that helps.
  • Beautiful hires screen display. Screen brightness is adjustable with opt-up (to toggle between dim mode and regular mode) or opt-p (to actually set the level.) I've found the default level to be fine both for readability and for battery life.
  • The four app buttons with four more option app choices is very convenient and I'm really glad it wasn't left out.
  • MP3 quality seems very nice in comparison to previous devices I've had. But this may not be a plus because I've heard others complain about the sound quality. Don't know what that means. Maybe differently branded devices even have different sound quality, or it may even be a result of the software used. I've heard that AeroPlayer has better sound, but I like PocketTunes because it's simple to use, and is rumored to have a better upgrade policy.
  • Keyboard is very nice. Wouldn't want to type a lot on it, but for simple usage it's great. And it's lighted, which is actually a big deal for me, which makes a big defference. Things like Shift+Space are neat. (That usually gets you a tab when typing.)
  • It comes with a screen protector! Wonderful thing. I think every pda should come with one, even if it's a cheap one. If you buy a device you want to charge it and use it, not wait for your screen protectors to come in the mail before you dare touch the screen! No cradle with it, but I can live with that. For screen protectors so far, I've been using some leftovers from my Toshiba. Pretty much any size would work because all screens seem to be bigger than the Treo!
  • This is a cool little trick that is probably true in all the newer devices, but I noticed that if you type "youre" in the built in Memopad application, it automatically becomes "you're!"
The Verizon data plan trap

The one real regret I have about the Treo is the carrier. I'm using a Verizon plan which gives me only 10meg/month for $20 data charge. Unlimited is $40/mo, and they specifically rule out streaming content and using it as a modem, and other important uses.

You can't go without a data plan because the phone connects when you don't expect it and the per KB charge is high. That also makes airtime charge plans unusable because if it connects when you don't know it, you might get charged for a long, long phone call you didn't initiate.

I wish I had gone with Sprint's $15/mo plan even if I had to pay $150-$180 to break my commitment. It's frustrating using a wireless pda and smartphone having to worry about data usage. You'd be surprised how fast you can use up a meg. So I shy away from the email, blogging, web surfing, music streaming, remote terminal, and other wonderful wireless apps that you expect to get a smartphone for. I just can't justify paying $40/mo for the data plan.

To give you an idea of the impact of just email, it uses 4k/sync just to connect and determine if mail is available. You do that every 15mins, plus download some email and it eats up a fair amount of your data budget just for email. Not prohibitive, but small amounts add up. I think at the settings I was using, probably at 15min intervals only during daytime hours, it came to something like 1meg/month.

Cingular is probably a similar price, so it also makes one wonder what will happen during the term of commitment once you choose a provider. Will Sprint start charging more? Will Verizon lower prices? Will they all just increase prices with the reasoning that they have upgraded their networks to high speed connections that you have to pay for whether your device is high speed or not? I don't trust the carriers to be fair and reasonable, or even honest and forthright in what their reps say. So for now, I guess it's sort of a buyer beware situation.

One nice thing about the Treo is that the device makes it clear in most cases when you are connecting to the network. I'm not sure that applies to text and multimedia messaging connections, though, which might appear and hang around without you knowing it.

One example of how rediculous things are... Web surfing on the Treo. You can surf WAP sites to your heart's content on the phones that are $50 with contract. I had one, so I know. The charge for that? It's only $5/month! But you do the same thing on a Verizon Treo and you get charged $40/month! That's not right. You say, "But on the Treo you're doing heavy duty surfing so it doesn't compare." Well, not really. If you surf on a Treo, it's painfully slow (especially if you have to turn the phone on and get connected to the network first) so you may only use it for things you really need to get to. You're not likely to do heavy surfing. And the data volumes pile up fast when you count by the KBs! I basically stick with WAP sites anyway just because it's a pain to surf general sites. You can do that, and I'm sure many people do it, but between data usage and the slowness, it's just not something I want to do often.

But before we call the carriers thieves and blackmailers, there is a balance. They have to protect the amount of usage on the network, and there are heavy costs to recoup for infrastructure. Until it's mainstream, we carry a large part of the burden as early adopters. Additionally, they are understandably nervous about becoming simply a utility that supplies the network pipes and nothing else. As a result they are very focused on controlling how you use the network and ways to charge you for it and for content and features. They want to be able to make money on the business into the future, and for the time being they are the only game in town for nearly ubiquitous connectivity because wi-fi has a ways to go.

Okay, now that I've tried very hard to be fair, I'll tell you that I still don't trust them, don't think their tactics are fair and honest, and that if they become unimportant or become a less-profitable commodity I won't mind one bit. I think they basically give only lip service to serving the customer, and are cutthroat competitors willing to scalp you to make a profit in the short run. But that's just my opinion, and I reserve the right to change my mind if they prove themselves worthy of the control they desire.

By the way, I use Phone Tools Pro Suite to track my minutes and data usage. If you need to keep track it's a fantastic way to do it.

Things I wish it had
  • A bigger screen. That's the biggest tradeoff of a Treo relative to something like a T5 or LifeDrive. Daily I long for a larger screen, but right now I'm not willing to give up the phone and keyboard to get it because I only want to carry one device.
  • WiFi. This is especially needed because of the rediculous data charges I face with Verizon. There's a WiFi sled available now for $150 which is really tempting, but I keep telling myself that I want to save the money for a future pgrade to my next device.
  • Capability to listen to MP3s with a bluetooth headset.
  • Caller ID with a bluetooth headset
  • A louder speaker volume for non speaker phone calls and even speaker phone calls. It can be tough to hear in a noisy environment like a car sometimes. But, actually, it's very good
  • A better microphone and phone audio. It's not always easy to hear and be heard on calls, but it's not bad. Similar to a budget cell phone I'd say, or even some expensive phones that just don't live up to expectations. It's adequate, but better would be nicer.
  • A bigger D-pad. It's a bit small for me, but again it's okay. I'd prefer a slightly bigger one and something a bit more sturdy feeling. I have some concern that with the amount of use I give it that it may go the way of my Sony Clie up/down control. So far it's holding up well.
  • More memory. The 22meg or so that I have free before I load anything is just not very expansive. But it hasn't been too much of a problem as I wanted to keep only the best and most used software on there anyway. It's limiting, but hasn't been too big a deal, even though I don't put programs on the SD card which you can easily do. Something like ZLauncher would really help with that. But I try to keep the SD card pretty much devoted to Bibles, iSilo documents, ebooks, video, podcasts, etc. That way I can swap cards and not really lose any base functionality due to components or programs being on the card.
Minor issues with my device
  • The power connector is not very snug so the power cord plugs (all of them) seem to very easily fall out. Additionally, I have to often wiggle the sync cord quite definitively sometimes to get it connected right. That's a bit disturbing because I don't want to damage the connector, but it seems safe as long as I'm careful with it. The connectors are the worst of any device I've had that I can remember. But despite how bad it is, I beg Palm to leave it be and let us have compatible accessories for a while before it gets changed again!
  • The top of the screen is ever so slightly skewed against the line of the case. Didn't even notice it till recently either because it's so barely noticable, or because it has moved over time just slightly from use.
  • When I had Docs To Go and Versamail on the device I had a lot of soft resets, and when Versamail was checking for mail it would hesitate for a moment. Enough that, in conjunction with the concern of data access charges accumulated just by checking for email regularly, I decided to remove Versamail from my device. I did it by going to a backup because Versamail does not seem easy to "clean up" completely with a normal uninstall. This was a real shame because it's a real integral feature of the Treo, and I found myself not even willing to use it. If I had a "real" need, I would have stuck with it anyway. But I still have web access to my web mail accounts, so it wasn't so big a deal. Docs To Go just didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling about what it was doing to my device stability, so I took it off also. My memory is limited anyway and it's a big program. I do miss having it, but not too very much.
  • Not really an issue, but it seems that the battery power scale is not very uniform. The biggest jump is from 100% to 98% both when using it or when charging it. When I'm charging, odds are that when I check the charge before it's full, it will say 99%. It just seems like a reading of 99% means it's really somewhere between 95-100%. Again, no big deal.
  • The reset button is under the battery cover. Not very convenient, especially since I have a case on it. But I got a free program to do soft resets now, so it's no big deal.
  • When I switch apps from an MP3 player or TCPMP video player, it will sometimes buzz in the headphones or car adapter. I try to turn it down before exiting those programs. I also found an occassional soft reset when leaving TCPMP. Not to worry, it is rare and doesn't seem to affect general stability of the device.
  • The built in RealPlayer is pretty weak. You even lose your place within a song or audiobook file whenever you leave the program to do something and then return. That's pretty unfortunate, but Pocket Tunes is wonderful, and I have heard a lot of people like AeroPlayer also.
If you're looking at getting a Treo 650, or even if you have one, I hope you've found this interesting. Let us know what your impressions are.

Last edited by BobR; 09-15-2005 at 03:34 PM. Reason: Spelling/Clarity
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Old 09-14-2005, 09:35 PM   #2
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Very good review

I've had a Treo 650 on Verizon for almost 4 months now. Everything you say is true, but there are a couple of other points:

1) I find that if I am in a location where the Verizon connectivity is "iffy" and the Treo spends time search for a Network it uses up a lot of power.

2) When you get an incoming call, after the call is over, if the number is not in your contacts you are asked if you want to add it. If you tap on "Yes" it takes you to the contact screen where you can fill in additional information.

All in all a great device.
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Old 09-14-2005, 09:48 PM   #3
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Great hands-on review Bob. As a Treo 600 owner and a Verizon Wireless subscriber, a lot of your observations carry over. My 2-year contract is up this month, and I was lucky enough to buy my Treo 600 at a discount using the Willy Wonka's-golden-ticket-like "Roadshow Coupon". I'm considering switching carriers and/or upgrading to a Treo 650 now that I'm out from under my contract, but I think I'd like to wait and see what Palm has up their sleeves for their next non-WM 5.0 Treo. If Verizon releases an EVDO capable next-gen Treo with a reasonably priced data plan (not holding my breath), I'd be very tempted to upgrade.

Right now I'm pretty happy with my 600 because it does have a lot of the great features of the 650 that you mention. The usability and one-handed, stylus free operation is a delight, especially for a usability Nazi. The 650's screen is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm sure once you have one, you'd never go back to something like the 600's screen.
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Old 09-15-2005, 11:07 AM   #4
Antoine of MMM
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Great review Bob. Cross posting this to MMM as I write this in fact,

I have a 600 on CIngular and though the data issues are there as well. But overall, I am liking it very much. I echo the statement of missing the screen of my T5 (man I miss that screen). I also would like Drive mode (instead of File Export) and the T5's RAM that went along with it. Right now though, the 600 is nearly perfect and has made me quite a bit more mobile and productive. I've even been doing a better job of typing in doing notes and SMSs.
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