Hands on with Palm's Treo 700p

First came the 700w. Today, we got our hands on the Palm Treo 700p, the latest iteration of Palm's smartphone running the Palm OS. This 700p is being offered by Sprint, which is slated to start shipping it later this month; Verizon, which is already selling the Windows Mobile-based 700w, will also be offering a 700p this month. (For more on a comparison of pricing plans, see this analysis.)

As I found from my first few hours of hands-on with the unit, the revamped Palm-based Treo 700p has many fine attributes. Palm has made numerous refinements to its Treo 650 design. For Palm users, the biggest change on the Treo 700p is a most welcome one: More on-board memory (like the 700w, the 700p has 128MB total memory, 60MB available to users, as compared with 32MB total, 23MB available to users on the Treo 650), which in turn led to greater speed and response time in my experience. In handling, I found the Treo 700p was dramatically faster than my Treo 650, at everything from loading and viewing media to scrolling through files on a 1GB SD card, and switching among applications. Even scrolling around within applications--including Documents to Go 8, preloaded on the unit, and the Blazer Web browser--was noticeably faster than on a Treo 650.

Blazing speed is also in play when you use the Treo 700p for Internet access. The unit is the first Palm-based Treo to support fast EvDO data networks. And this dual-band CDMA 2000 phone's EvDO connectivity makes browsing sites (using the integrated Blazer Web browser) a real pleasure. No more hand wringing while you wait for a page to load: Instead, blink, and you may miss how fast it really is. Sprint is offering multiple data plans.)

Also improved: The media interface--for the integrated, 1.3-megapixel camera and camcorder (1280 by 1024 resolution, up from the 640 by 480 resolution optics in the Treo 650), as well as for navigating through all of your captured media--has been overhauled, and the results are mostly impressive. It's much faster to access and organize media files.

I also found a slew of interface enhancements to the 700p, both overt and subtle. For example, in the Web browser, you can now see full, long URLs, as opposed to being limited to a one-line display; and, as you enter a password, it shows you the last letter you entered, before turning it into an asterisk--a useful tweak that makes it easy to catch a typo. Also, when you reactivate the unit from sleep, the keyguard prompt now provides the date and time, too--convenient if you rely on your phone as a timepiece, too, as I do.

My one gripe with the new look: You can no longer change image or video resolution from the main interface itself--something I often do so I can send an image to a friend's phone (one which doesn't have nearly as much space as a smartphone). To do so now, you have to press the menu button, then change the resolution and press ok--two additional steps to do the same task.

The 700p, as expected, has virtually the same physical design as the Treo 700w, which runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5 operating system. The unit has buttons on the left for volume control (instead of the rocker switch found on the Treo 650); larger, more squared-off keys that make typing easier; a bigger, roomier, easier-to-press five-way navigational button; and six larger, more clearly-positioned navigational buttons--for phone, calendar, e-mail, and home, and for power (red) and send (green).

The new send button functions like the send button in plain vanilla cell phones--ie., press it when you've dialed a number, and it initiates the call. As critical as those functions are it, having a separate button from the phone navigational button is wasteful and redundant. This new send button occupies prime real estate, taking the place of the home button on the Treo 650. And many of its functions, including accessing the call log, dial pad, and recently-dialed calls, used to be ably handled by the dedicated phone navigational button, which now only takes you to the phone application (but, obviously, could have continued doing those functions). Meanwhile, the new position of the home button, way off to the far right of the unit, feels awkward and unfortunate, considering how integral this button is for day-to-day actions on the Treo.

Aside from having its four navigation buttons keyed to the Palm OS's integrated apps, the Treo 700p's design differs from the 700w's in one other noticeable respect: On the lower row of the keyboard, the 700w has a second shift key on the right side, just like the Treo 650's keyboard; on the 700p, that second shift key becomes the menu button.

Sprint and Palm have packed the Treo 700p with a slew of software. For starters, you get the very visual On Demand software, which delivers localized (by zip code) information to your fingertips at no charge--from weather to TV listings, maps, news updates, sports, and phone directories.

Also included: My Treo, for helping you to make the most of the device (including a full user guide); the standard version of Pocket Tunes (which replaces the Real Player software on the Treo 650; for full Windows DRM and Plays for Sure support, you'll need to step up to the Deluxe version); Dataviz's Documents to Go 8, for reading and creating Microsoft Office files and PDFs; and Sprint TV, an interface for purchasing streaming media content optimized for the Treo (program offerings span the gamut from Sirius radio to ESPN sports and Looney Toons cartoons).

Although using Sprint TV's streaming was easy enough, the device is more hit and miss with support for other streaming media sites on the Web, due to the limitations of the Blazer browser and the Pocket Tunes player. I was frequently stymied by sites such as The New York Times and Youtube.com, whose design for streaming video required Macromedia Flash Player, or other features not supported by the Blazer/Pocket Tunes combo.

I found some faults with the Treo 700p's design, and I can't say it's perfect. (It didn't crash when I used it, but it did reboot twice when our editor-in-chief Harry McCracken tried to use it.) Nonetheless, as a dedicated Treo 650 user, I found a lot to like here. In fact, the speed and memory improvements alone are enough to make me consider upgrading (even though I'm not necessarily ready to abandon my GSM-based carrier and their family plan service). The Treo 700p's other niceties and enhancements only sweeten the deal.

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