Review: Palm Treo 750

The 750 greatly resembles previous smartphones from Palm, but, unlike its predecessors, it does not need an external antenna. It has a tablet design, with a 240-by-240-pixel touchscreen above an alphanumeric keyboard. This smartphone runs Windows Mobile 5.2 for Pocket PC. This will make it the first Windows Mobile device from Palm to use the GSM/GPRS standard. It will also support UMTS, but a software upgrade is expected to add HSDPA support.

When Palm announced that it would be introducing a Windows Mobile handset in late 2005, there was a collective gasp as the company that had always before seemed to want to fly in the face of convention had finally bowed to it.

It was not long after the introduction of that first Windows Mobile Treo, the 700w on Verizon, that people started to say that it had done something with the Windows Mobile platform that other makers had not done: created a usable device that simply met the needs of its users.

The follow-up model, the Treo 700wx, addressed issues with memory and performance. However, there was still not a Windows Mobile Treo that ran on GSM networks, shutting out most countries. Then in the fall of 2006 Palm introduced the Treo 750v ('v' for Vodaphone) in Europe and most knew that it was a matter of time before the Palm and Windows Mobile formula would be spread to other parts of the world.

This brings us to the here and now. The Palm Treo 750 was released on Cingular in January and for the most part has had a lukewarm reception. Whether it is because of the price, or similar feature set to the previous 700w and 700wx models, the 750 doesn't seem to have garnered the press that the other Windows Mobile Treos have.

And maybe that is a good thing. The 750 on Cingular is a solid device with very few issues. However, at the end of the day it is a smartphone that tries to do a lot of things, and does only a few things well.

Let's dig into the device and how I've used it over the past month so that you can see where this opinion on the 750 has been made.

Design
The Treo 750 was released about a month after the Treo 680 and shares many the same refinements to the original Treo design. Despite width and thickness only decreasing by 1 mm and 2 mm respectifully, it feels much smaller in the hand due to the curves of the rear of the device.


Keyboard and bottom edge

Also similar to the 680, the Treo 750 has larger thumbboard buttons and larger "action" buttons just below the screen that correspond to the soft buttons on the screen. Turning the device on and off is done by the right-most hardware button. Though a similar complaint to the 680 is that the buttons are flush, making it hard to distinguish between the power button and the 'ok' button without looking at the keypad.

In a change from previous Treos, the 750 uses the miniSD card standard. Access to the card slot is on the right side of the device behind a flap cover. Below this slot is a reset button (which is something missing from the 680). The infrared (IR) port is also located on the right side of the 750.


Right side with miniSD slot

On the left side are three side buttons, controlling volume up/down and voice memos/notes functionality. The third (bottommost) button can be reassigned to an application of your choice.

The bottom of the 750 has a 2.5 mm stereo headset jack and the Palm Multi-Connector. Unlike the Treo 650, the charge cable cannot be plugged into the sync cable; though they can still be plugged in at the same time.

The top of the 750 only has the ringer on/off switch. Clicking this switch to the off position gives a slight vibration to let you know that the smartphone is in silent mode. The stylus is located at the top read and is similar to the 680 stylus in feel. However, the two styli are slightly different in shape, meaning that there is no easy swapping of the styli.

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On the rear of the 750 you find the camera, self-portrait mirror, and speaker. While the speaker has a great placement for listening to music or using the speaker phone, the camera is too low on the device and because of the natural way you hold the 750, your finger can block part of the lens. Adjusting your fingers makes it somewhat awkward holding the device while taking a picture.

Overall, though, I found the 750 quite comfortable to hold and use. The soft-touch paint kept the 750 from slipping in my (usually cold) hands. I did have some trouble adjusting to the bottom of the thumbboard for typing. The angle of the bottom of this smartphone is less than the 680 and not as great as the 650. It is an adjustment to get used to typing on the bottom row or selecting alternate characters, but nothing that will not take a bit of time to get used to.

The 750 fits in the pocket easily, and is not nearly the bulge that the 650/700 models are.

As a phone
My first weeks with this model were spent solely using it as a phone. I wanted to get an idea of battery life and voice ability. I also wanted to see where the 750 is different from the 650 and 680 in terms of during- and after-call tasks.

In just using the 750 as a phone, I had relatively normal battery life. My days usually consisted of 2 hours on the phone in the evening and it handled those easily. I got two days of good talking with the occasional low battery warning on the third day near the middle of an hour-long call. This also means that the device spent a lot of time in the standby mode. And I did have a few calls that came in during the day where I ignored them (and sent a text message to some).

The voice quality was excellent. People on the other end sounded clear and there was not a case of them hearing me echo in the background. When using the speaker phone portion, people came in clear, but could hear background noise easier. In some instances people did not know that they were on a speaker phone, while in other conversations they remarked that they could hear themselves speaking.

During the call, I found it easy to navigate the phone to write notes and add appointments. One of the more surprising aspects of having the 750, versus the Palm OS-based Treo 650 and 680 models, was that I was able to be online while being on a phone call. This really came in handy when people were asking me for directions and I referenced Windows Live for Mobile or Google Maps while speaking with them. While it was not something that I did often, it was nice to have that option.

When the calls ended, I was presented with a notification bar asking me if I wanted to save the number into a new or existing contact, or if I never wanted to see that notification again. I was not able to determine if cutting off the notification would only affect calls from that number or from all numbers, and so I left the notification on.


Today Screen

The Contacts application is a very bare-bones and straight-forward application. There is nothing really fancy about it, it kinda just sits there and gets the job done. One of the things that I found with this Treo, though, is that I spent a lot less time in the Contacts application because I could search for a contact right from the Today screen. Once I typed a few letters, I got the contact that I wanted and then the option to call it or send an email, they were basically just right there.

Text and multimedia messaging was handled through the Messaging application. Like on Garnet OS Treos, text messaging is shown in a chat interface. This makes it easy to go back and read old messages. Adding audio and sound elements automatically turns the message from SMS to MMS.

However, I did have some issues with receiving messages from Verizon phones. Messaging would show that a message came in but it would not download to the device. Multiple messages from Verizon to this Cingular phone exhibited this issue. Sending from my Cingular Treo 650 to the 750 showed no issues however.

As a PDA
While the Treo 750 is billed as a smartphone, it's much more the PDA than some people might ever use. From personal information management, to Microsoft Office and other applications, to the ability to tweak it to do nearly anything that you want to do, this is really an accomplished mobile device - only held back by the operating system ability to suck away system resources and a sometimes confusing user interface.

At the core of any PDA is how it helps you manage your life. Contacts, Calendar, Notes, and Tasks are the four main applications one can interact with and the 750 is reasonable in their execution.

The Contacts application, as explained earlier, is nothing fancy, but gives you a similar contact card view that you would find in Outlook on the desktop with multiple numbers for contacts.

The Tasks application is about the same barebones affair. While you can add alarms and notes to task items, the interface for the Task application does not seem to line up with the "ease of use" mantra that this model shows in other applications.

The Notes application is simple but effective. You can type notes with the keyboard, write notes in freehand with your stylus, or take voice memos. One application with three easy to use features; very simple, and very easy to use. Probably the only thing missing is a Today screen plugin that would let you quickly add and view memos (there are downloadable programs that can do this).

Finally, the Calendar application comes across as the most polished aspect of the PIM offerings on this smartphone. There are several view options (Agenda, Day, Week, Month, and Year) and it is quite easy to jump from one to the other and to add and edit appointments. I do wish that the fonts were friendlier to the eye, but it gets the job done just fine.

Other applications that were easy to use and mostly helpful were the Wireless Manager - used to set up cellular and Bluetooth connections, and was accessible right from the Today screen. Voice Command was a pleasant surprise and even worked well when using my BT headset. Because Windows Mobile devices can run several programs at once, I also found that the press-and-hold of the OK button, which brought up the Running programs menu, was simple and effective at keeping things running (mostly) smoothly.

Gripes on applications though were short but poignant for this type of device. Internet Explorer, while a good enough web browser to get to some websites, was not very usable. The fact that in the one-column and default modes that scrolling up and down took you through each link instead of paging up or down was tedious. JavaScript support means that many forms-based web sites and corporate intranets are pretty much not usable. Until I changed the DNS entries, using broadband speeds was a case of "wait, wait, wait, oh there you go, boom."

As reported by many a Windows Mobile reviewer as well, Office Mobile is not very good. I started this review with it, but quickly moved to Documents To Go on my Garnet Treo because it handled the entirety of word processing much better.

ActiveSync was so-so. It was much better to sync over the air with Exchange Active Sync rather than desktop syncing. Besides being more immediate, the desktop connection suffered from several time out issues where I ended up killing the system process and restarting Active Sync on the desktop to get going.

Admittedly, I did not take a lot of pictures nor listen to music with the 750. I ran this device more as a business device that has multimedia capabilities. The camera was ok, though the resolution of the screen made it hard to really see if 1.3 megapixels were really good enough. Playing music from the speakerphone was of ok quality, though the battery life of the device without doing multimedia lends to one not wanting to add any additional strain to the battery if you need to stay connected with voice or email.

Comparison to Treo 650 and 680
My main devices of comparison to the Treo 750 were two of Palm's other smartphones, the Treo 650 and Treo 680. The 650 I have used the most and am therefore much more accustomed to aspects of its usability. The 680 is now my main device and the refinements in its usability lead to the reasons why I now use it. The 750 sits in between the two of them, but closer to the 680.


Treo 750 vs. Treo 680

The 750 is definitely much more powerful than both in terms of being able to do more. However, the ability to do more comes at a price. My review 750 needed to be reset every few days because the system was just sluggish. I was used to resetting with my 650, but my 680 rarely has needed to do so.

In terms of general use, the 750 is not as easy a device to use as the 680, however it is a lot easier to use than the 650. The neat touches and especially the Today screen implementation offer a great deal of functionality that cannot be had on either of the other models without downloading additional programs.

Battery life when just used as a phone is nearly as good as the 650, and greatly outshines the 680. However, if you are using the push email functionality of Exchange, you will find that you can get no more than one day of use, if you make more than an hour's worth of phone calls. While slimmer in profile, that smaller battery and efficient processor just cannot compensate for everything.

Conclusion
If Office Mobile were better (the improvements within Windows Mobile 6's version of Office Mobile speak towards all issues), then the Treo 750 would be a better device to stand on its own. However, those deficiencies keep it more the PDA than smartphone star.

That is not to take away from Palm though. The Treo 750 is a remarkable device and finally brings to U.S. GSM customers the Palm and Windows Mobile experience that Verizon and Sprint users have had for the past year. The slimmer profile and Exchange integration can make this easily a replacement for many BlackBerry outfits, and it is still stylish enough to not be a complete party pooper if you pull it out with your friends to shoot off a text message. It's a business device that can play after hours.

The Treo 750 is currently available from Cingular for $499 with a 2 year contract ($649 without contract).

Hardware overview
Processor: 300 MHz Samsung processor
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.1 Pocket PC Phone Edition
Display: 240 by 240 pixel LCD
Memory: 128 MB flash memory (60 MB available)
Size & Weight 4.5 inches long x 2.3 inches wide x 0.8 inches thick; 5.4 ounces
Expansion: Single miniSD slot
Docking: Palm Multiconnector
Communication: Quad-band GSM/EDGE; tri-band UMTS; Bluetooth 1.2
Audio: 2.5mm stereo headset; speakerphone; speaker & mouthpiece for phone
Battery: 1,200 milliamp Lithium Ion rechargable/replacable battery
Input: QWERTY keyboard; 5-way directional pad
Other: 1.3 MP camera

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This was first published in February 2007
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