Palm Treo 680

Week #2 in the Smartphone Round Robin has been a challenging one, with Murphy’s Law and limited time making it difficult for me to get to know the Palm Treo 680 as well as I’d like before writing out my first impressions. I will be spending the weekend really getting to know the Treo 680 inside and out, so look for an in-depth final thoughts article early next week. Nevertheless, I do have some initial insights which you can read all about After the Jump!

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TTT - Tight on Treo Time
The unlocked Treo 680 I received last Friday didn’t like my Rogers SIM card and efforts to re-unlock it (just incase it wasn’t properly unlocked the first time) proved to be futile. With no time to waste, a new unlocked Treo 680 was sent my way which I finally received on Wednesday afternoon. For whatever reason, this Treo 680 had no trouble with my SIM card. Go figure! Same phone, both unlocked by the same method, but one worked and the other didn’t.

Treo 680
The First Treo 680 I received Woud Not Unlock

I was finally up and running, but unfortunately had only a few short hours to charge the Treo up and get to use it that afternoon – Wednesday night and Thursday/Friday I was tied up with prior engagements that left very little time to spend with the Treo. In the couple hours I did have that first afternoon, I wasn’t quite able to turn the 680 into my “main brain”. I did get my PIM data synced no problem, but couldn’t get the email working (details to follow).

Combine both circumstances and it means my first impressions are literally first impressions. As it stands, I still have a lot of To Do’s to check off as far the Round Robin “What We’ll Do” Rules are concerned.

Palm Treo 680 Impressions

Initial Impressions
The Treo 680 reminds me a lot of my old BlackBerry 8700. The 680 is a good ½ inch narrower, but in the thickness, length, weight and general form factor departments they are very similar. And just like the BlackBerry 8700, the Treo 680 is what I would call a “slippery” phone – the outer casing is made of hard plastic and doesn’t feature any sort of rubberized grip, so it never feels quite secure in your hand. Choosing between the two, I do prefer the Treo 680 over the 8700. Both have that nice dense feel that I like, but the Treo 680 is much nicer to hold when talking.

Treo 680
The Treo 680 (bottom) reminded me of my BlackBerry 8700

Treo 680
BlackBerry 8700, Treo 680, BlackBerry Curve 8300 side by side

Comparing the Treo 680 to the BlackBerry Curve (the BlackBerry featured in the Round Robin), is a slightly different story. The Curve is smaller in every aspect, feels nicer to hold, talk and type on, and just seems/looks newer. I wouldn’t call the Treo a dinosaur, but picking it up definitely does not instill the same latest-generation smartphone feel that the Curve, Tilt, and iPhone do. Checking out Palm’s website, I’m guessing the new Palm Centro would fair better in a side-by-side comparison to the Curve as far as look and feel go.

Treo 680 Details
At first glance, the Treo 680 seems quite berry-esque (or maybe it’s the BlackBerry that’s quite Treo-esque). Either way, the major departure in design and usage comes via the Treo’s touchscreen. Because the Treo 680 felt like a Blackberry in my hands, my brain didn’t want my fingers to use the touchscreen at first. The Treo’s center-navigation buttons were easy enough to use, but by design require a lot of “clicking”. You’re constantly click, click, clicking to go up/down/left/right on the screen, and then clicking again on the center button to select. I definitely prefer the BlackBerry’s trackball navigation.

As I started to use the touchscreen, I began to like the Treo more. Unlike the display on the AT&T Tilt, most of the icons/shortcuts on the 680’s display are big enough to easily tap with your fingertip. This is a big bonus as it keeps the Treo a mainly one-handed phone. A stylus is included, but I found that by alternating between touchscreen and the center-navigation buttons I could maneuver my way around the phone. There are definitely some merits to having a touchscreen on a phone – it is intuitive (just touch what you want to open/execute), but as a guy who puts speed/efficiency of completing tasks as one of the most important factors in judging a smartphone’s design, I still think the BlackBerry cannot be beat. To use a BlackBerry like the Curve, you never have to move your thumb more than a ½ inch in any direction and you can fully navigate the phone (all you need to do is scroll your thumb over the trackball and click the menu or back buttons located immediately on each side of the trackball). So far, when looking at both the AT&T Tilt and Palm Treo, a ton of hand/finger movement is required to get around and use the phone. More Movement = More Time. Intuitiveness is nice, but if you plan on using the phone for more than 3 days I would take Speed of Use over Intuitive/Ease of Use hands down (I personally still think the BlackBerry OS is both – fast and intuitive!).

Treo 680
Touchscreen and Navigation Buttons - still a lot of finger
movement required to navigate the phone.
You're Looking at the "PDA" Home Screen

Palm stays true to it’s PDA heritage by including four launch buttons under the Send/End buttons: home, calendar, phone, and email. Like the BlackBerry Curve, the SIM card holder is located under the battery, but unlike the BlackBerry Curve the Treo 680 features an externally accessible media card slot. I was kind of surprised to see that the Media Card slot was for an SD card and not a microSD card (again, kind of a last generation vs. latest generation smartphone), but I slid my 4gb microSD card into an SDcard adapter and the 680 had no trouble immediately finding my music when I launched the PocketTunes app. A quick Google search turned up that the Treo 680 does not support A2DP (it was nice to see that TreoCentral forum results were right at the top!), which disappointed me. I guess I won’t be using my Motorola S9s with it.

Treo 680
Media Card - I put a 4gig microSDHC card into an SD card adapter

Palm OS First Impressions
After using the AT&T Tilt’s Windows Mobile 6 operating system for a week, I was ecstatic to experience the speed of the Palm OS. The difference between the two phones is night and day. Like any new phone, the Palm OS requires some time to get to know it. In the little time I spent using the phone, it mainly made sense. Hitting the Home Key on the phone causes the home screen to cycle through displaying different shortcuts (Main, Multimedia, System, Utilities, All), which is a nice way to segregate and display all of the phones features and functions. I wish the BlackBerry OS featured something like this vs. just dumping every shortcut into Applications. When you think about it, shortcuts found on the BlackBerry under Applications such as Options, Set Up Bluetooth or Manage Connections are not really user applications but are for system settings to help control the phone. Mike over at knocked the BlackBerry OS for its confusing assortment of shortcuts on the homescreen, and after playing with the Palm OS for a few minutes I am starting to agree with him that there’s room for improvement on the BlackBerry OS.

Where the Palm OS confused me was on its division of Phone from PDA. On the Treo 680, there are essentially two home screens. The one mentioned in the paragraph above is essentially the PDA home screen, and it’s the home screen that launches when you hit the Home button on the phone. When the PDA home screen is active, hitting number keys on the keyboard does not launch the phone app and begin dialing (as it would on a BlackBerry). Instead, with the Palm OS, you first have to get out of PDA mode and into Phone Mode by hitting the Phone button. Once on the Phone home screen, you can now punch numbers on the keyboard to dial, or bring up a touchscreen dial pad, contacts, call history, or phone options. If there was one word to describe the BlackBerry operating system, I would probably call it “integrated”. Every feature on a BlackBerry is as fully integrated as possible with every other feature on the phone. The Palm OS is sort of the opposite. It’s very much “either or” in nature. You do this, or you do that. You don’t do both at once. While the Windows Mobile OS is “very good” at multitasking and the BlackBerry is “pretty good” at multitasking, it seems the Palm OS does not multitask at all. Once you leave an app, you have left the app and whatever you were doing behind.

Treo 680
The "Phone" Home Screen. "PDA" Home Screen shown previous.

Again, I’ve only spent a small amount of time on the phone, so there’s still a lot more for me to learn about the Palm OS.

Synching/Email Set-Up
Syncing the Treo 680 to my desktop was easy. I installed the Palm Desktop app off the CD included in the box, and within a few minutes had my contacts and calendar on the phone. Email was another story though.

I use Gmail as my primary email account (my address forwards to it), so I tried setting up my Gmail account on the Treo using the included Versamail client. When I realized it was POP email and that the phone has to login to retrieve messages I almost cried (so long push email!), but I quickly came to terms it with it and put in my information. The Treo came into major issues at this point though. I tend to not delete emails, so my Gmail account has over 5,000 messages in it. When the Treo began to download the email, I think it got overwhelmed. Every time it would try and connect to the mail server it would soon time out or have an error, and the messages that did come through to the phone were from two years ago, not today.

I hit the TreoCentral forums, and was happy to see that member Bla1ze had already anticipated my aggrevation and posted a link to download BlackBerry Connect for the Treo 680. I managed to download BlackBerry Connect and install it onto the phone quite easily, but was unsuccessful in getting it set up. When I go into the BlackBerry Connect preferences screen, it shows my BlackBerry Status as being suspended. When I try to start the service, the error message indicates there are no Service Books on the device. The vicious circle of settings won’t allow me to Register on the Network to get service books on the device which means no email. When I re-read through the BlackBerry Connect download instructions, I then noticed that they only mentioned BES when talking about BlackBerry Connect for the Treo 680. As a BIS customer, maybe that means I’m hooped for BlackBerry Connect on the Treo 680.

Treo 680
BlackBerry Connect wasn't working for me on the BIS.

So as of right now, I’m without email. I JUST read on the TreoCentral forums that I should try ChatterMail on the Treo 680 as it is allows for IMAP and therefore should work well with my Gmail. As soon as this posted I will give that a try!

Too soon to tell! As of right now, I can see both sides of the Treo. I can see all of the good things in the device that allowed it to build up such a huge following, and I am also starting to see why everyone likes to make fun of Palm devices these days. I still have 48 hours to spend with the Treo 680 before I make a switch to the iPhone. Hopefully I can realize the full potential of the Treo in that time (or at least learn it well enough to cross off my To Dos from the Round Robin check list). Wish me luck!