Soooo Close, Yet Sooo Far for This CrackBerry Addict
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My Time with Palm’s Treo Pro has come to an end. After getting over the initial withdrawal symptoms of being forced to kick my BlackBerry Bold habit cold turkey (life without it just isn’t the same), I actually got up to speed quite quickly with the Treo Pro and its Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system. Compared to the Treo 680 I used in last year’s Round Robin, the Pro seemed a lot more BlackBerry-esque in nature which helped things out. The Treo Pro’s hardware was mainly to my liking and the WinMo OS was easy enough to figure out, though the hardware/software working together made for a user experience that was often less than efficient for a newbie like me. All said and done I wouldn’t trade my Bold for a Pro even if the deal was sweetened with one hundred CrackBerry pies, but I will say that I am excited to see what Palm I’ll be using when next year’s Round Robin rolls around. In the meantime, you can Read on for my Palm Treo Pro Final Impressions >>
Preamble Ramble: My Philosophy - On The Go vs. Stop And Use Smartphones
Before we dive into the details of my Treo Pro experiences, I need to take this opportunity to bring you up to speed on my smartphone philosophy. Since we'll be comparing a few different smartphones over the weeks ahead, I'll likely refer to this philosophy on occasion so it's imperative I put it out there for you all to know up front.
Most often when you read smartphone reviews, the author puts the device under a microscope, measuring up every single hardware specification and OS feature against its predecessors and the competition. We focus on the form factor (no touch, full touch, hybrid/slider), the processor, the megs of ram, megapixels, etc. etc., with the final verdict on any given device typically decided upon where it measures up on the tale of the tape (spec sheet) compared to everything else on the market.
And while this micro approach is expected and completely necessary for keeping score (we always want to see progress being made), I personally think what's most relevant to me as a smartphone consumer is not necessarily the specifics of what's in the device; rather, how the device fits into bettering my everyday life (both in productivity and in fun!), which in my opinion, is the whole premise behind having a smartphone to begin with.
That said, I think on a macro level, smartphones generally fall into one of three categories: on the go phones, stop and use phones, and lastly, somewhere in the middle phones. BlackBerry smartphones historically are on the go phones. That's a big part of the RIM design philosophy - to add an hour to your day by turning all of those otherwise wasted one minute chunks of time (stopped at a red light, in line at a water fountain, in the bathroom, walking down the street) into productive time. For people who don't have enough hours in the day to get done all the things they want to do, having an on the go smartphone is mandatory.
I deem the iPhone to be more of a stop and use phone. I bought an iPhone 3G the day it came out, and I've carried out a ton of personal "tests" where I walk around with both my BlackBerry and iPhone in my pocket and see which one I instinctively reach for at any given time whenever the need for a smartphone arises. I rarely reach for my iPhone first when I'm out and about, especially since the arrival of the Bold (I reached for the iPhone more often when I was still on the Curve). For just about anything I would want to get done on the iPhone when I'm on the move or already doing something else, the on the go optimized BlackBerry gets it done faster and easier (though not always better - ie. web browsing). The iPhone is awesome for a lot of things (we'll talk about that device in two weeks), but for people who don't have time to stop and fully focus their attention on the phone every time they reach for it, the user experience is less than optimal. This doesn't mean you can't use a stop and use device like the iPhone on the go... but why would would you want to if you can reach for something that will get the job done faster?!!
As you've probably figured out by now, I'm an on the go smartphone user. I'm either at a computer or else I'm out and about. When I'm at the computer I really don't need a smartphone and when I'm not at a computer then I'm all about getting schtuff done fast. I need more hours in the day - I'm not one who's looking for ways to kill time. And I think a lot of BlackBerry users out there have this same sort of mindset and set of priorities. I think this is actually one of the big reasons the BlackBerry Storm is seeing the types of mixed reviews it has. To existing BlackBerry users, moving from a trackball BlackBerry into the touchscreen Storm is a huge change as you're moving from what is essentially the ultimate on the go device to something that is now a stop and use device. As you get used to the Storm and begin to master it, it does become more of an on the go device (by far the most on the go full touchscreen smartphone I have encountered to date), but it'll never quite match up to a trackball BlackBerry for ease of on the go use and a lot of existing BlackBerry users will have difficulty going through that learning process to ever reach the point of getting it out of stop and use territory. On the other hand, many of the new Storm owners who are first time BlackBerry owners haven't been spoiled by RIM's historically ultra-efficient user experience, so they're picking up on the device without any BlackBerry baggage and are loving it (minus some of the glitches that should hopefully be addressed soon with some OS updates) - the odds are it's a hell of an upgrade compared to phone they were using previously on Verizon before purchasing the Storm.
Then there's a device like the Palm Treo Pro. I'd rate it somewhere in the middle. Out of the box and especially to a Treo/WinMo newbie like myself, it is a definitely a stop and use phone. In the first Smartphone Round Robin I went into a long ramble (much like this one I'm on right now) that the best user experience (device and operating system) came from either going no touchscreen or full touchscreen - that when you start to mix input methods (touchscreen, keyboard and navigation buttons - ie. AT&T Tilt) that things slowed down and got complicated. That was the Treo Pro when I started using it - I wasn't quite sure whether to use the touchscreen, the navigation buttons, my finger or the stylus. But with some recommendations from the TreoCentral forums (thanks JohnnyMac) and some practice, I learned to ignore the touchscreen (& stylus!) altogether and rely just on the navigation pad, keyboard and built-in shortcuts to get things done. Essentially, I turned the Palm/WinMo experience into a BlackBerry-like one.
OK. That concludes my lecture on smarpthone philosophy. Time to put the Treo Pro under the CrackBerry microscope!
Palm Treo Pro - Overview
The Treo Pro is Palm's latest smartphone, and unlike the Treo 680 I used previously which ran on the Palm OS, the Pro utilizes Windows Mobile 6.1 for its operating system. Like the BlackBerry Bold, the Treo Pro is what I refer to as an all-in-one device as it features 3G, GPS and WiFi all-in-one. Palm sells the device unlocked for $549 so you can easily purchase it and run it on the GSM carrier of your choice.
The thing I find funny about the Treo Pro story is that to a not in the know Palm person such as myself, it seems to not really be a Palm device at all. With the Treo Pro being manufactured for Palm by HTC and the device running WinMo, it makes you wonder where Palm actually fits into the equation. Aside from the obvious of putting their name and brand on the device, selling it and supporting it, the folks on the TreoCentral forums let me know that Palm was heavily involved in the details of the Pro's design, such as making sure the speaker port on the back of the phone was on the upward curve of the casing (so as to ensure the device still sounded good even when lying flat on the desk) and making sure the Pro had the popular shortcut keys for easy navigation.
While I don't keep up with latest smartphones news as much as I should outside of the BB space (that alone keeps me going 24/7), the word is that Palm is hard at work on their own all-new operating system. In other words, the Treo Pro is a stop gap device for loyal Palm Addicts to get their fix that should hopefully also appeal to would-be smartpone consumers looking for a feature-packed, compact smartphone.
Treo Pro Hardware Impressions
For a CrackBerry hands-on look at the Treo Pro, be sure to watch my Treo Pro Hands-On Initial Impressions Video (below). And if want the full skinny on the Treo Pro from an expert, I suggest you check out Dieter's awesome Treo Pro Review over at WMExperts.com.
Here's a quick overview of the Treo Pro's key specs:
The Treo Pro packs basically all of the "good stuff" you can get in a smartphone these days into a very compact package.
If the BlackBerry Bold didn't exist, the Treo Pro would be a real winner in my book. Compared to the BlackBerry Curve 8300 series (I guess we need to be sure to throw in 83xx these days so as to distinguish between the Curve 8900 that's coming out soon) the Treo Pro is jacked. Comparing the Treo Pro to the Bold is a different story however. While they are on par in terms of basic functionality (WiFi, GPS, 3G), my hypothesis is that the Bold would be the smartphone of choice between the two for a would be consumer for two main reasons: the display and the speed.
I love the fit of the Treo Pro in my hand - it's nice and narrow which makes it easy to carry in the pocket of a pair of jeans and is comfortable to hold onto when using it as a phone. With that narrow form factor comes a couple of major sacrifices though - namely a small screen and a really tight keyboard. The physical size of the Treo Pro's display would be ok if it was like the displays the Bold and Curve 8900 are packing, but compared to them the Treo Pro's screen is crap. Throw in the slightly cluttered/busy layout of Windows Mobile 6.1, and the display is cramped - I find I need to really hold the device close when looking at it and using the device. Going back to my smartphone philosophy, the cramped display is another reason why the Treo Pro is a stop and use device in my books.
My previous Windows Mobile experience was last year on the AT&T Tilt, and while the Treo Pro's 400mHz processor seems to do a much better job of powering WinMo than the Tilt did, I still found the operating system to be quite slow, especially compared to the Bold, who's 624mHz processor rocks the BlackBerry OS. When the BlackBerry Bold was introduced at WES in May, RIM's co-CEO Mike Lazaridis made mention that the Bold's killer apps were the display and speed. And he was right. Even if a Windows Mobile fan were to sit me down and offer a bajillion reasons to buy the Treo Pro over the Bold, the Bold's display and speed would win out regardless.
While I wish the Treo Pro had a better display and more speed, I could still live with both if I had to make the device my staple smartphone for the long-term. What I would have a tough time dealing with is the keyboard. If you give me a full-qwerty keyboard, I'm going to be typing on it with two thumbs. But the Treo Pro's keyboard is so narrow that you're basically forced to type with only one finger on the keyboard at a time - be it hold it in one hand and type with that thumb, or hold it in one hand and index peck at the keyboard with the other. I tried typing every way possible on the Treo Pro and no matter what, they physics of the keyboard slow you down. If any Palm Treo Pro users out there want to race me on my Bold or Curve for pink slips, shoot me an email - you're on!!
My other hardware gripe is of course the stylus! I just don't get it. There may be some people in the world who still love typing with a stylus and are proficient with it, but I personally think it needs to go the way of the dinosaurs and fast! Honestly - either give the device a display that's big enough that you can easily tap things with your finger, or skip the touchscreen altogether.
Otherwise, the Treo Pro's hardware seems solid. Build quality is very good, the 1500mAh battery life provides more than enough power for a day, and the camera takes good pictures even though it's without flash. You can zoom in on the thumbnail images to see my commentary on some of the other hardware components. All in all, the Treo Pro is a well built phone.
Windows Mobile 6.1 & the Round Robin Must-Dos
Since the Treo Pro is TreoCentral's representative phone in this year's Smartphone Round Robin and we still have the HTC Fuze coming down the pipe via WMExperts.com, I don't want to go to too heavy into Windows Mobile specifics in this review... I need to save some of my rhetoric for the latter weeks of this event!
With Palm's team hard at work on ‘Nova,' they elected to put Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition on the Treo Pro vs. the traditional Palm OS. Good decision. I still have flashbacks to my time spent on the Treo 680, when me and the Palm OS did not get along so great. I could see WHY people would love the Palm OS - especially those who were grandfathered into it from the pre-smartphone days of the Palm Pilot, but the whole separation of Phone from PDA on the 680 and the amount of third party apps that were required to bring the phone up to snuff (which then resulted in a lot of crashing) was more than I could handle (you can read my Treo 680 review here if you're curious!). I'm a big fan out of the box functionality.
The thing I like about Windows Mobile 6.1 is the familiarity factor. PC or Mac user? I'm actually both. Throughout the day I spend an equal amount of time bouncing between both platforms depending on what I'm working on at the moment (I have platform preferences for certain apps). With Windows Mobile, it's not that the operating system mirrors Windows XP or Vista in terms of appearance or navigation, but that the names and basic premise are the same: Start Menu, File Explorer, Media Player, Internet Explorer... these are all things that anybody who has ever used a PC for more than ten minutes will be familiar with. This makes feature discovery on the Windows Mobile OS quite easy - with no reading of the instruction manual or jumping onto forums you can pretty much accomplish your basic smartphone tasks.
A critical part of the Round Robin is that each editor must carry out ten Must-Dos with the device. They are:
Obviously I broke Must-Do #1 just a little bit during this round, seeing as the BlackBerry Storm was just released, but I did keep the Treo Pro going as my main brain the whole time, which did mean using it on a trip to NYC. Traveling with a smartphone is definitely the true test of a device, and I'm happy to report the Treo Pro managed to scrape by just fine.
In regards to the other nine Must-Dos, working through them was easily accomplished. Getting PIM data on the phone was idiot proof. As soon as I plugged the Treo Pro into my PC via MicroUSB cable, a window popped up on the computer which guided me through the installation of Active Sync and walked me through the syncing process. RIM could pay attention to this one. Unfortunately, just like the BlackBerry, you won't be syncing to a Mac without installing a third party solution (at the time of this writing anyways).
Getting email up and running was as easy as adding my gmail account, though it wasn't "push" email and the first time setting it up I put in some settings that had the device choke on my inbox (it got stuck trying to yank in literally thousands of messages). The first thing I Googled about the Treo Pro was to see if BlackBerry Connect was available for it. Unfortunately it was not. Instead of figuring out how to get push email on the device (will save that for the Fuze), I elected to take a bit of a holiday from push...just to see what it feels like. How does it feel? It sucks! Not having push email is a definite cure for CrackBerry Addiction - with the Treo Pro I found myself reaching for the device when I wanted to rather than having it constantly "call out" to me, as does the BlackBerry.
I don't think anyone actually uses the software keyboard, so why include it?!
Getting directions on the Treo Pro was no different than on the BlackBerry (I Heart Google), as was the process of setting up a Bluetooth headset (I used the Plantronics 925). The hardest thing was actually locating the Bluetooth set-up menu!
Not completely mobile-friendly, but easy to discover and use.
The Media Player made listening to music and watching movies and videos I had loaded onto my MicroSD card easy as well, though in this area I much preferred BlackBerry's approach to the media player, which just seemed a little more optimized for easy mobile use. Per the recommendations of the TreoCentral's forum users, I also gave Kinoma a try, which is an awesome media application. Dieter did an excellent review of Kinoma Play on the Treo Pro not too long ago... you can Watch It Here.
As for the web browser, I was shocked to see just how much Pocket Internet Explorer sucked. Considering Microsoft puts out this operating system, you would think they would have made an effort a long time ago to ensure this browser is the BEST among smartphone web browsers. Instead, they took the opposite approach and decided to have it be absolutely laughable. And this is coming from a BlackBerry user who has written many a blog post criticizing the BlackBerry web browser. The overall crappiness of Pocket Internet Explorer makes me appreciate just how far RIM has come in the development of their web browser. There is still work for them to do obviously, but the browser on the Bold / Storm / Curve 8900 is substantially improved over the old BlackBerry browser we never used (since we all installed Opera Mini). Theirs is still some work to be done before it's up to par with Apple's Safari web browser in terms of speed and rendering pages (and please bring us Flash!), but for the most part it's doing an ok job on the web.
Even CrackBerry.com renders well in SkyFire
Talking to Treo users, it was apparent that for Windows Mobile 6.1, installing Opera Mobile or the all-new SkyFire Beta web browser was the way to go. As you can see from the image, SkyFire does an excellent job of rendering web pages as it's all done server side. I found the actual use of the browser and viewing of text from sites rendered in SkyFire to be a little wonky, but was impressed nonetheless. You can watch a video quick look of SkyFire here.
Windows Mobile Likes: I mentioned both of these in the initial impressions video, but they're worth repeating - I love having a full out file system on the device and I love the task/memory manager. These should be mandatory OS features on all smartphones (assuming of course the smartphone is capable of multi-tasking!).
Full out file management is a must have
I also love all of the third party apps available for Windows Mobile. If I had more time with the device there are at least another fifty I would install. Hopefully by the time next year's Round Robin rolls around they'll be easy to purchase and download from an on-device app store.
Windows Mobile Gripes: Considering it's called Windows Mobile, on the Treo Pro I didn't find the operating system experience to be all that mobile-friendly. Again, going back to the on the go vs. stop and use philosophy, I find it to be much more stop than go, at least on the Treo Pro. 320 by 320 pixels simply does not provide enough room for the Windows Mobile OS to be viewed and used easily (compared to 320 by 240 pixels on the BlackBerry 83xx/88xx which better uses less overall pixels to provide easy viewing and use). Holding on the phone and tapping or clicking away, I often felt more like a kid playing a game of Operation (hmm..that stylus is sort of like that pair of plastic tweezers!). While the BlackBerry Approach of dumping application icons onto the homescreen ribbon isn't as elegant nor does it provides as much information as the WinMo Today Screen approach (though switching up BlackBerry themes mimics this somewhat), I think the BlackBerry approach is better for mobile use. It's easy to do what you're doing while on the move or doing something else.
I have a feeling the more pixels you throw at Winmo, the better the experience gets
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, after making an effort to learn shortcuts and rid myself of the need to ever use the touchscreen I became more productive with the phone and it was more on the go friendly, but then I just questioned why the touchscreen and stylus were even there to begin with and why it made sense to even look at this device over a BlackBerry Bold?!! I won't even begin to talk smack about the software keyboard, which I can't believe anybody would ever actually use... though opening it every now and then when composing an email or test message sure is good for a laugh!
Palm Treo Pro - Some Final Thoughts
Growing up I was the type of kid who always said Why? to any statement I was ever told or heard (it drove my parents and brothers crazy!). Though I've managed to get that habit under control over the years since, in using the Treo Pro I found myself asking the Why? question once again on a lot of occasions. That's why I began this with post with the image of the Palm Treo and Stylus in hand with the ridiculous software keyboard showing. I'm pretty sure 99.9% of people who use this phone will never use that microscopic keyboard, so Why even include it?
Overall, I liked the Palm Treo Pro. The hardware was uber nice, and Windows Mobile is very usable. If this was a device I owned and was going to use for the long haul I would definitely be able to get used to it and love it. The phone itself is a joy to carry around. If I had more free time during the week I spent with the Treo Pro I would have installed more applications to customize the user experience (ie. SPB Mobile Shell) and would have hacked things up to tweak it exactly to my liking. I could fully turn the Treo Pro from the stop and use type of device it is out of the box and into an on the go smartphone, which is what I personally prefer. That said, the majority of people who buy a smartphone are not going to spend hours tweaking it up, and in that respect I think the out of the box BlackBerry experience provided by the Bold puts the Bold ahead of the Treo Pro in the smartphone races.
In the end, I'm left with warm fuzzy feelings towards Palm and am looking forward to the next device they put out on the market. I hope it's a killer and makes the company a lot of money. Smartphone competition is more fierce than ever, and you'd be crazy not to cheer for the company that essentially pioneered the PDA and smartphone game.
Up Next in the Round Robin - The Android-powered G1! Stay Tuned...