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Review of GSM-communicator Palm Treo 680
In its current condition, Palm OS is pretty much like a zombie – conjurers from Palm keep on injecting life into the breathless corpse of this officially dead operating system that, however, still shows signs of life regardless of any common sense. Model Palm Treo 680 (codename Lowrider), that we were able to get hold of several days ago is in fact the living embodiment of an entry-level communicator concept. And it’s not a big surprise that it runs on Palm OS, as a morally outdated can’t cost much in any case. Today we are publishing a preview of this communicator, keeping in mind the intention to extend it as soon as we get our hands on an off-the-shelf unit.
The path, picked by Palm is quite simple – come up with a low-end solution featuring not an impressive spec sheet, but real capabilities. «We are offering a product at a price unseen before», – were the company representatives’ words at a press-conference, where the main topics were ease of use, variety of available trims and Google. Another point of interest is that the real specifications of the Treo 680 were not unleashed back then (they eventually got released on the company’s page shortly after the conference).
At one time with the announcement of Palm Treo 680, Palm reported about its new PR agency – from that point onwards, Young and Rubicam (one of the leading agencies, having businesses in 81 countries) will be running all Palm’s advertising activities. Without a hint of hesitation, the new partner has rushed for promoting Palm Treo 680. The new slogan is «Not just a cell phone. A Treo».
Photos from www.palminfocenter.com
The campaign makes use of cross-marketing methods – Treo is being pushed forwards with the help of such widely known Internet-brands as Google, Yahoo, eBay. The intention is simple enough – even if a consumer does not have an idea of what Palm or a communicator is, but has a knack for using Internet and e-mail, then he should definitely be aware of Google and Yahoo. All in all, Palm is setting out to cover the broadest audience owing to a lower price and get the brand of Palm as popular world-wide, as it is in the US.
The main issue brought up by users on specialized forums is whether it is worth replacing outmoded Palm Treo 650s with the brand-new model? In most cases the answer is negative due to the newcomer proposing nothing new, but a different wrapping. However Palm shouldn’t worry much about that fact, since the Treo 680 targets mostly at new users, having only experience of handling ordinary handsets under their belts. So let us dig deeper and see what Palm Treo 680 has got to offer.
Starting thing off, we have to point out the main alteration in design – the external antenna has gone missing. This is the first that grabbing your eyes when placing the Treo 680 hand-to-hand with the Treo 650. On top of that time has seemingly ground the brick the Treo 650 was. No doubt, it’s a good thing about the new communicator’s looks; however some found certain charm in the Treo 650’s external antenna, which was one of the last ones on the GSM market. The shapes of the casing have gotten more curvy and smooth, so that as compared with the predecessor, the model seems to be more up-to-date, while the shell feels smaller and lighter. But at that the communicator’s outlook is still very distinguishable and cannot be confused with any other manufacturer’s solution. Another thing of note is that the Treo 680 features almost the same design as a higher positioned Treo 750.
For the first time Palm has released a number of different trims for one solution – Palm Treo 680 comes in four color schemes, and as it usually happens, the marketing department has made everything possible to give these four colors obscure and odd titles: Arctic, Copper, Graphite, Crimson, while in reality these are white, orange, classical grey and red colors respectively. Application of several color schemes results from the company’s goal to position the Treo 680 for the broad audience, favoring not CPU or OS, but the most appealing color.
Despite the casing getting more portable, against the background of the modern “slim” solutions, it looks like it should be put on a diet. Although it is far inferior to Samsung i320 thickness-wise, such direct comparison is out of place, as the Samsung’s offspring lacks a touch-sensitive screen. For fairness’ sake we should note that when faced off against Nokia E61 and HP iPaq hw6900, the Treo 680 comes out a winner.
The build quality and the plastic used are good enough, even though, this time the model is being manufactured by another Palm’s partner rather than HTC. The handset is easy to get a grip on and make calls with it, neither the dimensions nor the weight put any obstacles (113x59x21 mm, weight – 158 g). The fillets mounted on the sides prevent the Treo 680 from slipping out of hand. Though there is one thing that might cause discomfort – carrying the communicator in a pocket of tight jeans.
The layout of controls has been left almost untouched ever since the very first models in the range. The left side houses volume rocker key and sound recorder shortcut button, which deserves a few more words, actually, as it provides enough sensitivity to record phrases spoken 5-7 meters away and then play them back in a convenient fashion. You are also at liberty to record any call (both ends) by pressing and holding the dedicated key.
The flap-covered slot for SD/MMC cards has moved onto the right side – as a matter of the, this side would have been completely bald without it. This is one of the very last mass models of communicators, supporting full-size SD/MMC standard – officially, the device handles cards up to 2 Gb in size, however some 4 Gb ones might be good as well (you will need to check it before buying).
The top rim holds Infrared window and volume on/off slider, as well as the socket for stylus, which is quite bulky and really convenient in use, just like any other Palm’s stylus.
The keyboard along with its ease of use have not changed a bit since Palm Treo 650 – the manufacturer has tried to leaves everything “as-is” and the truth is, has succeeded. In the sense of comfort, the keyboard carried by the Treo 680 might be not the market’s best, but it’s not a mediocre solution either – “above average” will be the best mark for it.
The communicator makes use of a removable Li-Ion battery, whose capacity has been shrunk to 1200 mAh, so that lifetime, which was one of the Treo 650’s main trumps, is nothing but disappointment in the Treo 680. Five-six days of operation are non-existent at all – on 30-40 minutes of calls and up to 1 hours of other functions use, the communicator puts up pretty much standard 1,5-2 days of work.
Regardless of the tests we will be carrying out with an off-the-shelves unit later on, the Treo 680 has not managed to live up to the bar of long-lasting Treo devices. And while there is still some room for tuning of software, the battery’s capacity will remain 1200 mAh no matter how hard you try to squeeze more of it.
The Treo 600’s display had proven to be one of this offering’s main shortcomings, the Treo 650’s screen, however, was its indisputable advantage. Model Treo 680 incorporates on the display showing off the same quality and parameters as that of the Treo 650. A square-shaped screen provides a resolution of 320x320 pixels (regrettably, the interface does not use the potential of this resolution to its fullest), makes use of TFT technology and shows up to 65 K colors. Splendid white color rendering and viewing angles (on the left side the image remains visible almost at a zero angle) and very good behavior in the sun make all the difference, don’t they?
The model retains a built-in Bluetooth module, similarly to other Palm OS-powered device, quality of Bluetooth connectivity is no match for Symbian-smartphones and Windows Mobile, to back up these words we are listing the major flaws: missing security settings, some profiles are unavailable, ergonomics also leaves much to be desired.
In fact, Bluetooth profiles are so few, so that all you can do is literally send/receive objects, synchronize via Bluetooth, connect a wireless headset, switch the communicator in modem mode and pair it up with a Bluetooth-keyboard. The claimed A2DP support (in Bluetooth certificates) couldn’t be tested, so we have nothing to do but wait for an off-the-shelves unit to give the Treo 680’s wireless stereo a test-drive.
The uncovered camera lens is mounted on the back panel, which easily gets soiled, a self-portrait mirror is also on place, unlike a flash module.
Frankly speaking, it is the end of 2006 today and ranking the quality of a VGA camera is rather odd – the only reason why the Treo 680 has such camera onboard is its being an entry-level model. While it does pretty well at snapping images for a contact, viewing these pictures on a PC’s screen brings up memories of long-gone times, when photos taken with a mobile phone were like a quiz “guess who/what?”.
Video recorder allows for shooting in a resolution of up to 352x288 pixels.
Memory and performance
The communicator’s heart is still the same CPU - Intel XScale PXA270 312 ÌÃö, while the volume of user-manageable memory has been doubled to reach the level of 60 Mb. The CPU has everything what it takes to handle almost any task, except for high-bitrate video playback – all other applications work quite speedy, however the predecessor didn’t expose any shortcoming in this field either.
Results of formal synthetic tests are to be released in an updated version of this review; however it’s obvious that they are more likely to be a replica of what the Treo 650 had to offer.
Similarly to all latest proposals, the Treo 680 is powered by NVFS (non-volatile file system, details can be found on the company’s page) file system. The best thing about this system is that it is power-independent, which means you are not going to lose data should you battery be on a critical level of charge. The reverse of the medal, however, is segmentation of the memory – the volume is divided into large blocks, making data take up more space.
The smartphone runs on Palm OS Garnet 5.4.9. Let us check out what the pre-installed applications are.
New phone application is one of the greatest updates in the device, on a par with revamped design. But ergonomics is what everything is about – to call up the phone mode, you will need to press a dedicated key, since the green pick up button just doesn’t work for that. It’s not clear why they would need to do so, as only one button instead of two would be much handier. The application itself is divided into several tabs that can be browser the the help of joystick.
The tab coming first features only dialing window and operator’s name.
The second tab is fast-start panel containing the most demanded applications.
The tab in the middle (called up by default) is some kind of standby screen, filled up with system status, wallpaper and upcoming events.
The contact list occupies the fourth tab.
The last tab offers calls list, having quite important shortcoming – it displays only total duration of calls, while detailed information on each call is missing.
All in all the new phone application makes interacting with the communication part a lot easier, which is vital for newbies who have no previous experience of managing communicators.
At one time with the announcement of the Treo 680, they introduced a Treo-tailored client for Google Maps. The updates to the software also include Versamail 3.5, Documents To Go 8 (even though there is version 9 available already), bundled Pocket Tunes instead of Real Player.
Quick Tour. This is an application mainly for newbies providing a PDA tour and telling about keyboard management.
Calc.It’s the built-in calculator. Two versions are available: simple (basic mathematical actions) and advanced (engineer).
Calendar. It keeps the working schedule. There are several previews available. The so-called Agenda, an analog of the Today screen for Pocket PC, displays today’s events, active tasks and unread e-mails. The second preview is for the day schedule. The rest preview modes are for week and month.
Card Info. The utility displays the card information, It’s possible to format the card using this utility.
Contacts. This app enables handling contacts. You can dial numbers or send SMS right from this application, as well as attach a photo. There are 17 fields available (you can change some of them by choosing the field name from the list). In addition there are 3 extra fields (phone/e-mail, IM and address) the user can give names to 9 fields. It’s possible to add text notes as well. The contacts get seamlessly synchronized with MS Outlook, including contacts in the Russian language.
HotSync. This is a PC synchronization client. The synchronization runs via USB and Bluetooth. There is no need to do or adjust anything in this program (with a rare exception of remote synchronization).
Pictures & Videos. Allows browsing content acquired with the help of camera, slide-show is possible as well. You can rotate photos, add captions, set wallpapers, copy files from the phone memory to the memory card.
Memos. Text notes, nothing special.
Messaging. SMS and MMS are handled in the Treo 680 in a convenient fashion (previously there was a dedicated MMS app, now they got merged) All messages get arranged in some kind of chat-window automatically. The latest version of Paragon’s russifier allow handling SMS in Russian (such option is disabled by default). The drawbacks of the SMS application: long SMS separated into several messages are not supported, notifications cannot be adjusted.
PocketTunes. The bundled audioplayer which is in fact one of the best applications of this kind available for Palm OS – everything you expect from a music player can be found there.
Security. Set up passwords to prevent unwanted “guests” from browsing data stored on the communicator.
SIM Phonebook. Application for browsing contacts stored on the SIM-card, that cannot be copied to the phone’s memory via this program – you are only able to dial a number or send SMS.
SIM Srvcs. SIM-menu, nothing special.
Tasks. Tasks management – you.
VersaMail. The built-in mail client is quite good, though as usual you will end up switching codings to read letters in Russian. The all-new version of this application, found in default kit on the Treo 680 allows for synchronization with Microsoft Exchange server.
Voice Memory. Voice recorder application – as we have already mentioned above, recording quality is fairly impressive.
Web (Blazer 4.5). The bundled browser does pretty well what it is meant for – displaying web-pages by arranging their contents in one column. And again the greatest flaw is missing support for Russian language. The developer claims that Blazer 4.5 got a lot speedier as compared to the version 4.0 owing to enhanced caching algorithm, however you will hardly notice that without going for special tests.
World Clock displays local time in selected cities and towns of the world. The world map depicts night and day zones. In this utility you can set the alarm clock.
Basically, the set of pre-installed applications is not so crucial for a smartphone as it is for a handset, for almost any program can be replaced or amplified with a custom one. Palm, however, is putting great efforts into making the press and potential buyers focus on the extra software available with Palm Treo 680.
Conclusion and impressions
The device delivers good receiving quality. The default ringtones sound quite loud, so it’s next to impossible to miss a call even in a crowded and noisy room. The silent alert is average strength-wise.
Palm has set out to launch an entry-level solution aiming at the mass market. «We are offering a product at a price unseen before» - the company’s managers claim. With an included contract this model will cost about 200 USD, while an unsubscribed communicator’s expected price won’t exceed 400 USD. The model is to arrive in the Russian market early in 2007 at a price of 480 USD. To make the price lower, over at Palm they have used an amplified outdated platform, morally outmoded operating system; on top of that the Treo 680 is produced on Inventec’s factories, rather than on HTC’s ones – it’s for the sake of getting the price lower as well.
The broad audience will be drawn by the all-new modern-looking design of the casing, four color schemes and new advertising campaign, held by a new agency.
So, what are the major differences between the Treo 680 and its predecessor? Here is the list of the most crucial changes:
As a matter of fact, Palm has already succeeded in releasing the most affordable PDA ever, whose price is about 100 USD. But will they make it in time and launch the cheapest communicator (price without a contract)? When looking at current prices for Sony Ericsson M600 communicator, one could really start doubting about that. The official price of an un-contracted Palm Treo 680 is still a matter to be clarified – no doubt, the model will have much success in the US during the before-Christmas boom, but as for other markets, the Treo 680 might just not be able to make it. But before drawing any conclusions, we should better wait for the release of the final version.
Anton Kotov (email@example.com)
Translated by Oleg Kononosov (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published 16 November 2006
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