Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Palm Treo 680
- Range of colours available, ergonomic shape, intuitive interface, well-rounded feature set, SD card slot
- No Wi-Fi or 3G, lacklustre camera, cramped keyboard
The 680 has one of the most well-thought-out smartphone interfaces we've come across. The bright colours it's available in make it more attractive and all of the programs that would appeal to a mobile professional come preinstalled. Considering the time gap between the 680 and its predecessor, however, we would've at least expected built-in Wi-Fi and/or 3G.
Price$ 799.00 (AUD)
It's been a year and a half since Palm released the Treo 650 smartphone, and aside from a few aesthetic tweaks, nothing much has changed in the Treo 680.
The most significant addition to the latest Treo is a choice of colours. The 680 is available in four different hues; the grey version we reviewed is the most conservative, but those opting for something more adventurous can take their pick from orange, red and white, all of which are an attractive and refreshing change from the drab colours typical of a smartphone.
The external antenna and blocky shape of the 650 has been removed in favour of an internal antenna and a rounder, more compact shape. The 113mm x 59mm x 21mm footprint tapers toward the bottom and curves outwards from the back, making it fit quite naturally in the palm (pun unintended).
Apart from that, the 680's feature set is almost identical to its predecessor's, making it seem more like a refresh than a completely new model. Like the 650, it has quad-band GSM/GPRS (but adds EDGE support), a 312MHz Intel PXA270 Xscale processor, Bluetooth 1.2, SD card slot, 2.5in touch screen with 320 x 320 resolution and 65 thousand colours, and a VGA camera.
The 64MB of usable memory is a nice upgrade from the 23MB found in the 650, but this doesn't make up for our biggest disappointment with the device, which is the lack of built-in Wi-Fi. As it has also missed the boat on 3G, this limits the 680's high-speed data options to Telstra's EDGE network. The camera is also a let-down - not only is it limited to 640 x 480 photos, but the picture quality is quite poor.
A shame, as otherwise the 680 makes quite a reasonable mobile communicator. All of the standard Palm productivity and multimedia applications are included, and while the menu system is more functional than fancy, it is very easy to grasp and will pose no problem, even for novice users. The main standby screen has customisable wallpaper and on-screen shortcuts to the dialpad, favourites, address book and call list, while the program launcher uses the standard icon menu grid.
As with any "connected" PDA, email and Web browsing are two key attractions, and the 680 doesn't disappoint in either area. The VersaMail program makes it easy to set up up to eight email accounts, with pre-configured settings for popular services like Gmail, Yahoo and Bigpond. The Auto Sync feature can automatically 'pull' email from each account at regular intervals - anywhere from 5 minutes to 12 hours. We particularly liked the ability to Auto Sync on particular days and times of the week - good for limiting email checks to business hours.
Push email is also catered for thanks to the Exchange ActiveSync support. This works with an Exchange-based mail server to provide push email to the 680. Both pull and push email accounts limit downloads to 5kb by default, while anything larger brings up a prompt that tells you how big the file is. A wide range of email attachments are supported, including Word, Excel, PDF, PowerPoint and image files.
The 680 isn't limited to viewing Office files - you can also edit text, Word and Excel files using the preinstalled Documents To Go application. This also offers read-only support for PowerPoint presentations and PDFs.
Like many email-oriented smart phones, the 680 has an integrated QWERTY keyboard situated below the screen along with shortcut buttons. The numeric keys are clumped together on the left half and coloured grey to differentiate them from the rest of the keys, which are white.
Alas, we found the keyboard difficult to use due to the limited space it's crammed into. While we like the convex shape of each key, they're too small to rest a fingertip on without straddling the keys on either side. Minimal key travel also makes typing with two thumbs a less than satisfactory experience.
The four-way controller, on the other hand, is well-designed. Combined with large, thumb-friendly buttons on the touchscreen and four application launcher buttons, this makes the Treo easy to operate one-handed, minimising the need to use the stylus.
One quibble we have with most smart phones is that they tend to pack in more features without making core functions "smarter". The Treo 680 differentiates itself by adding extra intelligence to calls and SMS. If you make or receive a phone call from someone not in your address book, for instance, a prompt asks whether you'd like to add them to your Contacts once you hang up. The nifty "Ignore with text" feature also makes it a one-click process to reject phone calls and send the caller a text message instead.
One of our favourite features is the threaded SMS application. Instead of the usual sequential interface for SMSs, the messaging application groups all SMSs into a chat-style window, so you can quickly see your message history with that person without having to open multiple messages. Making it even more similar to IM is the support for emoticons, and adding pictures or other files automatically turns the message into an MMS.
The 680 also offers a few entertainment options. PocketTunes is a full-featured music program, and the Pictures & Videos application lets you view photos and videos - this doesn't support popular video codecs like DivX natively, but the Palm Desktop application will automatically convert these to a Palm-compatible format. The software CD includes extra software such as the addictive puzzle game Bejeweled, Audible for audio books, Solitaire and eReader.
Call quality and reception is excellent, but we found the speaker phone volume to be weak. Battery life at four hours talk time and 300 hours standby time is exceptional for a smartphone, and you can turn the phone module off to increase run-time.
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