Palm Treo 680

I could be a Treo User, but would much rather be a CrackBerry Addict! 

My time with the Palm Treo 680 has come to an end. After getting off to a slow start with the device (read my initial impressions here), I’m happy to say we’ll be parting company as well-acquainted friends. As soon as I’m finished writing this article, I’ll yank the SIM card and put it into the iPhone that’s sitting beside me in a UPS box... that should be fun! Read on for my Final Treo 680 Impressions >>

Don't forget, a comment to this post counts as an entry in the Smartphone Round Robin Contest! Be sure you're logged in before you comment. Another Quick Round Robin Note: You’ve probably noticed by now that we’re extending the event by a week… that means I’ll move onto the iPhone this week (first impressions tomorrow, final impressions for Friday), and next week will be back to my BlackBerry Curve for final thoughts and the official Round Robin Roundup.

Palm Treo 680 Final Impressions 

It did take some time and effort to turn the Treo 680 into my “main brain” per the Rules of the Smartphone Round Robin, but I made it happen and managed to survive yet another week without my BlackBerry. I never did quite reach a level of total comfort with the Treo –  the email was always a bit whacky for me and without BlackBerry Messenger I still feel lost and cutoff from my world (a fault shared by any non-BlackBerry device), but by installing a whack load of 3rd party apps I got the 680 doing everything a BlackBerry could do and even a bit more. A BIG Thanks to all of the TreoCentral members and individuals who commented to my Treo First Impressions article with tips and suggestions – you made the week much easier.

Evolution of Use
I covered the Treo 680’s hardware/form factor in my First Impressions article, so there’s no need to go over that again, but what I do want touch on is the evolution of how I physically used the Treo over the course of a week.

For the first couple of days I tried to operate the phone with just my right hand (as I would my BlackBerry Curve). In terms of length and width the 680 is a small device (thickness is another story), so one-handed operation seems like it should be the given norm. But the Treo’s touchscreen sort of complicated matters for me. I often found I could not easily get to where I wanted to go on the display with the navigation buttons (too much clicking required) and trying to use my right thumb on the touchscreen produced less than accurate taps. As a result, this forced me to swap the phone to my left hand so I could peck at the screen with my right index finger or stylus before swapping back to my right hand for continued use. It was a bit of a juggling act.

For the next couple of days I held the Treo with my left hand from the start, and used my right hand’s index finger on both the touchscreen and navigation buttons. It felt a bit awkward to use my index finger on the navigation buttons (it would be like using your index finger on a BlackBerry’s trackball and menu/back buttons instead of your thumb), but found I was immediately more effective with the Treo when using it in this two-handed manner all the time. When trying to use it one handed, I found the touchscreen and button controls almost worked against each other – my thumb wanted to use one or the other – not both. When I held the 680 in my left hand and used my right index finger for input, however, my dexterity was improved and I could then seamlessly move between button controls and touchscreen and work my way around the Palm OS much faster.

My Intermediate Phase - Hold the Treo with my Left Hand and Use
My Right Index Finger on the Buttons and Touchscreen

Finally, on my last two days of Treo 680 use, I consciously said farewell to the touchscreen and went back to one-handed use. I read some great posts in the TreoCentral forums on how to setup the device for max-efficiency and ease of use (i.e. mapping the keyboard to launch different apps), and between that and my improved familiarity with the OS I was able to do my day-to-day basic tasks relatively quickly in one-handed fashion without having to rely on the touchscreen.

I’m sure experienced Treo Users who have their devices tweaked up can perform any task on their device very quickly. I still think the BlackBerry is a better one-handed device and I much prefer the trackball with back/menu button navigation, but at least I gave the Treo 680 my best shot during the Round Robin. I came a long way with the device in a short time.

3rd Party Apps and the Treo
After a week of Treo use, I’d have to say the following comment posted by Scott403540 in response to my Treo 680 First Impressions article sums up the Treo 680 perfectly …

…It seems the critical difference between Treo and Blackberry is Blackberry does what it does very well right out of the box while Treo suffers in that respect, but there are tons of 3rd party apps available for Palm that allow it to do more than the BB. Of course, 3rd party apps also have a tendency to make the device unstable.

From talking to Treo users and browsing forum threads, it became very apparent to me that if I wanted to unlock the potential of the 680 and get the full “experience”, I’d have to commit some time (and in some cases money) to installing 3rd party apps. Here’s the summary of what I loaded up:

  • ChatterEmail – Email Client
  • TCPMP – Video Client
  • Audio Gateway – Audio Streaming Client
  • ZLauncher – Theme/OS Customization
  • FileProg – File Management
  • GoogleMaps – No Explanation Required :-)
  • LEDOff – Utility for Controlling the LED Display
  • xWeather – Weather Client
  • Opera Mini 4 – Web Browser
  • Arcade Reality – Game
  • Video Jigsaw – Game

A good start, but there are many, many, many more utilities and apps to download for the Treo that allow you to improve the way you work with device and expand upon its built-in functionality. With the above 3rd party apps installed, my device stability has remained rock solid.

ZLauncher GREATLY changed my Treo's interface. I've barely scratched
the service with ZLauncher, but it's obvious you can tweak the Treo
to work the way you want it to work.

While new BlackBerry software titles are being released everyday, the volume of BlackBerry apps available still pales in comparison to the selection available for Palm devices. Hopefully we’ll catch up, especially considering RIM’s growth in the consumer smartphone market. Developers, get on it!!!

The Round Robin Challenge Check List

To make sure all of the community editor’s get good use of their smartphone of the week, we abide by the following rules:

1. Editors must use their assigned smartphone as their "main brain" and may not use any other smartphone OR music device (such as an iPod) for one full week: I did it, it took some work and 3rd party apps to make it happen, but I got through it.

2. Editors must attempt to sync their phone to their computer, syncing all PIM data: The Palm Desktop Software was easy to use. The most complicated part? Realizing you have to hit the “sync” button on the Treo’s specialized device connector cord to begin the syncing process. I installed apps both OTA and via the Palm Quick Install application. The desktop installer was easy to use.

3. Editors must attempt to set up their email on the smartphone: ChatterEmail allowed me to hookup my Gmail via IMAP. I was hoping for BlackBerry Connect, but it’s only available to those using the Treo 680 with a BES (not BIS). The default client would only do POP with my Gmail (booo!), but ChatterEmail got the job done decently well. It did have some issues though. Every now and then the messages would come through to the phone looking crazy (XLMERsdfaeLTJLKXWEQRJ:GVJI*Wr0q-tiqpi2345-014f dsKLJJ#WOURAKSFJ;mnbdar) and I found if there was a pile of new messages in my account when I turned the phone on it took a while for the ChatterEmail to catch up with them – it seemed to want to process each new message at a time (and give me notification of it on the screen) vs. just catching up right away and telling me I have new messages (as it would on the Blackberry).

The ChatterEmail app Occassional gave me Goofie Emails...
back in Gmail they looked just fine though

4. Editors must attempt to use their smartphone to get directions at least once: Google Maps did the trick. As always, easy to install and use!

5. Editors must attempt to use their smartphone with a bluetooth headset: Softtick’s Audio Gateway made it easy for me to stream music to my Motorola S9’s. It makes me wonder if a software app could fix up the lack of A2DP support on BlackBerry’s that don’t come with it (only the Curves and Pearl 8120/8130 currently support A2DP). It took me a couple of tries to pair my BlueAnt Z9 headset using the Palm OS Bluetooth device manager, but it did work fine on the third try (I’m not sure what caused the initial hiccup).

Audio Gateway
Audio Gateway worked great with my Motorola S9s

6. Editors must attempt to install at least 2 3rd-party apps (if possible) on their smartphone: Done and Done and Done!

7. Editors must attempt to play a game: ToySpring games are wicked fun! Video JigSaw and Arcade Reality is AWESOME. It uses the Camera on the Treo to create the game’s main graphics. Watch the YouTube video below to see Arcard Reality in action. Somebody needs to make this for the BlackBerry ASAP! Thanks D-Caf for suggesting it!

8. Editors must attempt to browse the internet:  I decided to kick it up a notch and downloaded and installed Opera Mini 4. When I went to launch the app I got the error “Missing IBM Java VM” message. I found the JVM download and install instructions on Palm’s website, got it setup, and was off to the races. Palm’s built-in Blazer web browser is ok (kinda like the default BlackBerry browser), but Opera Mini 4 is better.

Opera Mini 4
Some installation hassles, but Opera Mini was a nice upgrade from
Palm's Blazer Web Browser

9. Editors must attempt to add music to their smartphone and use it as their music device: Easy. My 4GB microSD card is loaded with music and PocketTunes did a fine job of playing them all.

10. Editors must attempt to watch a video on their device: I installed the TCPMP app which allows you to play almost any video format on the Treo 680. I won’t say which videos I watched on the Treo, but lets just say it worked great! Wink

It took some 3rd party app support, but the Treo 680 managed to become my “main brain”.

My Final Thoughts 

Stuck Stick with What Works…
You ever notice how once you own something, you start seeing it everywhere? It always happens with cars and this week proved to me that it happens with smartphones too. After a few years of only ever seeing people with BlackBerrys, I finally started to notice Treo users. And not only did I notice them, but I stopped them in their tracks and talked to them about their Treo. I had five conversations with five Treo-using strangers (three at the shopping mall, two at the hospital) and in each case a nearly identical story emerged – the person had been a Treo user for a couple of years, had recently considered upgrading jumping ship to another smartphone, but decided to hold off for now as they are not in a rush to change as their Treo does everything they need it to do. I mentioned the BlackBerry Curve, and every Treo user I spoke to knew the device and liked the looks of it (in a couple of cases wanted it), but they just couldn’t justify going through the process of switching to and learning a new device when the one they have already does everything they need it to do. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don't fix it (at least until you have to).

There’s no doubt that the Treo OS is a bit dated in terms of looks (even after I dressed mine up with ZLauncher something about it still screamed Windows 3.1) and function (where’s the multitasking?) and that’s putting some Treo users into the “looking zone”. At the same time, it shows just how good the device and OS is – Palm built a phone that people can effectively integrate into their lives and are therefore not in a rush to part ways with it. I think Treo users are a loyal bunch – but I hope for Palm’s sake they give the OS an overhaul soon or that loyalty will eventually go elsewhere.

In Week 1 of the Round Robin I felt envy toward the Tilt’s GPS/WiFi/3G all-in-one capabilities, but that wasn’t the case with the Treo 680. Other than the sheer volume of third party apps available for the Palm OS, from a hardcore BlackBerry user’s standpoint the Treo 680 didn’t offer me much to get excited about. And I’m sure there are a lot of Treo users who might feel the same way after using a BlackBerry for a week too. Both devices get the job done, but they do it in a similar yet somehow very different manner. The device of preference will likely be the device of greater familiarity.  

For myself, I think my brain is just better suited to the BlackBerry OS. I prefer my BlackBerry Curve’s trackball navigation over the Treo’s touchscreen/multi-button inputs and I much prefer the menu and back button methodology of the BlackBerry OS vs. the need to hit “done” or “ok” on the Palm OS to return to a previous screen or tap at the top of the screen for menu options. And the BlackBerry handles email MUCH better, which is important to me.

Push come to shove, I could be a Treo User....but I'd much rather be a CrackBerry Addict!

Up Next
Mike now has his hands on the Treo 680 and I am going to get started on the Apple iPhone. This month marks quite a journey for me - from No Touch with the BlackBerry to Half Touch with the Tilt and Treo 680 and now onto Full Touch with the iPhone.

Be sure to check in tomorrow to see how this bonafide BlackBerry Addict copes!