Smartphone Round Robin: Palm Treo 680 First Impressions

Palm Treo 680
By Kevin Michaluk on 10 Nov 2007 01:32 pm EST
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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!

Don't forget, a comment to this post counts as an entry in the Round Robin Contest! Be sure you're logged in before you comment.

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 PhoneDifferent.com 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 @CrackBerry.com 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!

Conclusion
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!

Topics: SPE Round Robin

Reader comments

Smartphone Round Robin: Palm Treo 680 First Impressions

28 Comments

Getting Chattermail running will be key for you. Use it with Gmail IMAP, and you will have your push mail back. No longer is there a need for BIS or any intermediary between gmail and the Treo. True synchronization between your Treo and your gmail. Filing and deleting happen both places at the same time. Delete an email just by pressing D - faster I think, than even on the Blackberry. If your office uses Exchange and turns on its IMAP capability, then you can use your Treo with your office email as well - no need to buy another Blackberry license.

Also, try using Audible (audible.com) on a Blackberry, and then try using it on the Treo. Frankly, Audible barely works on the Blackberry, and is a major pain in the ass to use. On the Treo, it works great. So if you are someone who likes to listen to audiobooks, you're much better off with a Treo.

I completely agree with you regarding Audible on BB.....I've had to copy my books to CDs and download them to my BB as MP3s, and then they work wonderfully, but what a pain in the rear!

As I recall when a friend of mine had a PALM TREO which was almost one year ago, I did notice that feature regarding two home screens, he would take some time going to the phone screen and then using his stylus to punch away to make a call, it didn't see the functionality of such OS. During that time I myself was thinking of getting a smart phone but was still searching in what appealed to me, I almost went with a Motorola Q, though luckily enough I found the right device for me and happy endings. FYI my buddy eventually switched to a BlACK BERRY.

Blackberry have shortcut keys for most of its apps and setting, M for mail, B for browser etc...... and also within the apps, it has another set of shortcut keys, which after you learn and get familiar with the shortcut keys, it will launch what you needed very fast, compare to navigate with track wheel, track ball, touch screen.

Does the palm treo or the tilt do the same?

My wife and I got new phones not to long ago. I got the pearl and she got the pantec. She already wants mine and I want the curve. So the bug has caught us both.

My wife has a treo 680 and i tell you it is the most complicated phone I have ever tried to use. She loves it though but she has been a palm user for years. I finally switched to a blackberry myself and I do not think I will use anything else again. The trackball is WONDERFUL and I absolutley love my curve!!

Great review so far Kevin, I was glad to see that you mentioned the responsiveness on the Treo OS, as it really is one of the finer points of the device it's self imo, as for the BB connect issue, you are right, my apologies for not looking into it FURTHER for you, it does NOT support BIS services, and to address you concerns with "versamail", while I have no way to fix the flood of email coming into the device, we can cover the no push problem, kinda, lol, all that really needs to be done is too adjust the timed interval on when the emails are checked you can reduce the check time to 5 mins (battery life at risk here)

# Press the Applications button.
# Tap the Email icon.
# Press the Menu button.
# Tap Options and then Preferences.
# In the "Delivery" section tap on Auto Sync
Check the box for "Auto-Sync" and set the desired sync parameters. Tap OK when finished.
Note: Available intervals are: Every 5, 15, 30, 60 minutes, 2, 3, 6 and 12 hours

The things that bother me about the Palm OS is that while it is still a very functional OS the lack of multitasking, that you addressed and the very stagnant "aged" feeling to it, the browser is weak, you'll find yourself looking for alternatives (Opera)...their is no built in Java support, this has to come from 3rd party resources (java only supported by games out of box)...not to mention, it's no longer an active OS, Palm has reduced themselves to going with WinMob, and have loooong delayed their next rendition of the OS (but this is ok right...the palm OS works good now, whats the rush?), hard to think about the days when Palm was on top. The layout of the device kinda hits me hard as well, have the seperate PDA and Phone options annoys me, with my BB all my stuff is there, no need to flip through all the icons and screens just to get to an app too much.but as with any other device you load it up with enough 3rd party apps your pretty much good to go with it..but anyways, this is Kevins review not mine lol.

I somehow knew that a blackberry person would favor the treo over the other i know that you have not had the iphone yet but i'm sure out of the "robin" phones u'll like the treo better... hmmm... maybe a treoberry is next to the market ahahahahahh well i hope ur having fun!

Seems you are having fun with the Treo 680 this week Kevin. I will be very interested to see what 3rd party applications you try and how they work.

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.

I also found it interesting that you had to get a second device to find one that would recognize your sim card. While obviously only a limited sampling, in reading the various forums it seems that so many people with Treos are on their second or third or fifth device before they find one that works - and it seems like its rare for someone to have to return a Blackberry.

The 680 can be great device - with a total overhaul using 3rd party apps. That's the problem with Treos these days in my opinion. To make them modern both functionally and aesthetically they need multiple add-ons.

As far as the Centro being more modern than the 680, that's a design thing only. The OS and software are virtually identical. A couple of version updates on some programs, but nothing that would really change the experience at all.

This is an excellent article. I can't wait to see that else BlackBerry users think about the Treo. I've been using Treos for years, and haven't had the opportunity to use a BlackBerry, so I think this 'Round Robin' thing has been great. If you have time, definitely try the following:

-Softick Audio Gateway: open up that A2DP (and AVRCP)
-TCPMP: play ANY video file (DivX, XVID, H.264...) for free
-PocketTunes Deluxe: stream internet radio (Kinoma 4 is also amazing, but on a 680 it's limited by lack of 3G for streaming video. Still very cool if you have time though)
-MobiTV: I think this is really cool. Stream internet video (sometimes live)

Oh, ad one more tip: If you use the "Quick Keys" in the Favorites setup effectively, you really only have one Home screen: the Phone screen. Set up Quick Keys for your most used apps and speed dial numbers, so you can access them all from the phone screen by holding a letter on the keyboard. For example, press the phone button once (have it set to the "Main" screen by default, so when you press the Phone button it goes straight to the Main screen), then hold P on the keyboard to open PocketTunes, or hold S on the keyboard to call Sarah. Or hold G to open GoogleMaps (oh yeah, you HAVE to try GoogleMaps), or hold Y to open the Yahoo! web page. Use these effectively, along with the 4 (8 w/option key) customizable main buttons, and you will rarely have to open the other Home screen (the one with the full, categorized lists of apps) at all.

Phew, I could go for days with these, but I'll stop. Just want you to get the full experience.

Have fun!!!

Great article. One that that Palm definitely has over WM is the speed. Of course, the POS doesn't have native multitasking, so that has a bit to do with it. Hopefully you don't run into a bunch of stability issues when you install 3rd party apps.

I do not miss that old palm OS one bit. I think they need a makeover.

One of the best things about the OS is that there is sooo much 3rd party app support. I think Palm might beat WM in this category. The last Treo I used was the 650 and the 680 doesn't look like much of an upgrade.

Enjoy missing your BB ;)

Speaking on the launcher and two home screen issues. It was mentioned you can use the built in shortcuts(25...e is designated for voicemail) You can also install Takephone and then you can have up to 50 more shortcuts with a simple press of up and then scroll left and right. I currently use all the 26 shortcuts for phone numbers and use the ibar in Takephone for a launcher. I hardly ever go to the "home" screen.

I couldn't agree with you more regarding your first impressions of the Palm 680. Having been a Treo 650 user before BlackBerry 8700 and BlackBerry Pearl, the Treo was fast and had lots of apps, but I constantly felt as if it was going to slip out of my hand. The "lots of apps" was the best part - I far prefer Quicken for Palm to Ascendo Money; but in the long run, I far prefer BlackBerry to Palm.

-swtrainer

I find that the Palm OS is much closer in look and feel to the BB than WinMo. WinMo is almost an anomaly all out on its own; a weird desktop OS morphed into a phone...

Hi, When I was looking for a smart phone / pda , I had looked at treo and although I was familiar with Palm, The Blackberry threw me a "Curve". My old Palm pda finally stopped working and my old Motorola V557 was also showing signs of going away. I found the BB 8300. Being a Ham Radio Operator, I like a challenge so when I found that the desktop software sucked swamp water and the device has a learning curve that requires climbing gear, I felt "right at home"... but I STILL like it best. Sorry, Palm. If they Ever come up to speed with a new OS and desktop, they WILL give BB a run for the money...

While I now LOVE the Push email feature of my BB 8320 Curve, I was sorta upset at first when I realized that I didn't have access to any of my old, pre-push emails. I wanted to be able to log in and to get the emails that I had previously and had wanted to save on my device. I love push email and not having to actively check email is great, but not being able to get my old emails frustrated me. UNTIL... I realized that I just need to forward the old emails to my @tmo.blackberry.com address and I'd have them for the saving. So now fully loving it and will never go back to Palm. The 650 was just SOO slow and frequently crashed a lot!

Sorry folks, but that is the botom line anymore - no excuses when other phones carry the same or better radio features than the 680. If you're not embarrased to carry it in your front shirt pocket, then it is acceptable. Recent forays with iPhone and Tilt notwithstanding, the Curve 8310 fits the bill the best. I've had them all (from Samsung i500 to Tilt) and the Curve is built from the ground up as a communication device; not a PDA with a radio bolted on it.

Nice review. I waffled between the Treo and the Curve and finally went for the Curve. It was a form-factor issue for me. The Treo was just a little too thick for me. I want something that will slide into the pocket of my pants without looking like a brick. I had a 8525 for a while, and it was a nice phone/PDA but the lack of a decent dialer screen frustrated me. I found it to be a 2-handed phone that required a stylus to make a call, not what I was looking for.

If your going to compare the best of the best, then it is only fair to compare apples to apples. I was a little disappointed that the Treo 680 was being used instead of the Treo 755p. I mean it's like..comparing an old atari to a playstationII....not fair...not fair at all. But what is nice....the comparisons are being done with the next generation smartphones.. iphone, blackperry,tilt...and the older Palm is still holding it's own. Truely a testament to the best smartphones have to offer. If you pick up the Treo 755p... you won't put it down.

I have always been a fan of Palm. Prior to the whole "smart phone" era, I was addicted to the old palm pilots. I loved it! Having been a lover of blackberry for quite sometime now, I realize I still have an affection for Palm. This review was great and seems to be the closest "competitor" to the BB thus far.

I pretty much gave up on PalmOS after having a Zire72. There was a time when it was cutting edge, but that was years ago and they've continually come up with excuses for not having an updated OS other than Windows Mobile. This is not exactly putting in a new OS, this is putting in the OS that used to be the competitor. For years we've heard noises about some form of Linux-based OS, and the fiasco with acquiring BeOS never panned out.

RIM is eating Palm's lunch, and deservedly so. They continue to develop and innovate. I'll stick with my Pearl, and perhaps upgrade to a Curve or a Pearl 8130 later.

I really wanted a camera, and that was the only reason I was looking at the treos. The pearl had not come out yet and no curve for verizon...however after research and reading several reviews I decided a blackberry would be the best choice. Just waiting for the curve to hit verizon now.

I really wanted a camera, and that was the only reason I was looking at the treos. The pearl had not come out yet and no curve for verizon...however after research and reading several reviews I decided a blackberry would be the best choice. Just waiting for the curve to hit verizon now.