Treo 700w: A marriage not made in heaven

Some features are so well executed, you can't help grinning, while others are so clumsy, you smack your forehead. Video: A look at the new Treo

You thought the apocalypse was upon us when Apple Computer switched to processor chips from Intel, which Mac fans had considered the Dark Side for more than 20 years?

Well, try this on for size: Palm's new Treo 700w cell phone-organizer runs on software from Microsoft. Yes, that Microsoft, whose palmtop software was mocked by Palm employees for years as bloated and inefficient.

What's next--a new radio show with Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken as co-hosts?

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The first question, in Palm's case, is: why? The answer is: corporate sales.

For years, Palm has stood by, gnashing its teeth and losing market share, as corporate tech buyers lived and breathed the credo, "Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft." So maybe, thought Palm, it could join that party by offering its much-admired Treo phone with Microsoft inside.

The second question is: how?

From the beginning, Palm's and Microsoft's design philosophies were miles apart. Microsoft lived for long lists of features and 65 different ways to get at them, while Palm strove for simplicity and directness. (At one point, Palm actually employed a tap counter--a guy whose job it was to make sure no task required more than three taps on the PalmPilot's touch screen.) How on earth can these two approaches be reconciled?

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Video: A look at the new Treo
Palm's Treo 700w comes with Windows OS

As it turns out, not very easily. The Treo 700w ($400 with a two-year Verizon commitment) is a Frankensteinian mishmash. Some of its features are so inspired and well executed, you can't help grinning, while others are so clumsy, you smack your forehead.

In the first category, you'll find a cluttered but fantastically useful new Today screen, your starting point and home base. It offers speed-dial buttons for your most frequently called contacts, displayed either as names or, cleverly, as photos.

The Today screen's Search box summons names from your address book as you type on the excellent micro-keyboard. In fine Treo tradition, you can generally pluck one name out of a thousand in your address book just by typing the person's initials. One more button press places the call or sends a message. You can also set up the Treo's alphabet keys as speed-dial buttons--B for Big Boss, for example.

The Today screen also lists your appointments and the number of unread e-mail messages. All of this information is synched effortlessly from Outlook on your Windows PC, either via a USB cable or (if your corporation uses Microsoft Exchange Server) wirelessly, over the air. Added-cost Macintosh compatibility is in the works from MarkSpace.

Finally, the Today screen includes a Google search box that takes you directly to the Web. (Google? Does Microsoft know about this?)

Those are only some of the ways in which Palm has improved on the standard Windows Mobile operating system. You can tap VCR-like buttons (Play, Skip, Delete and so on) when checking your voice mail so you don't have to memorize keystrokes.

Conference calling is practically effortless on the Treo, compared with the standard Windows Mobile method (which involves shuttling between the Contacts and Phone programs). Palm has gone well beyond Microsoft's limited use of sound cues, too. For example, you can use MIDI files, MP3 files or even video clips as ringers for individual callers, as alert sounds or even as alarms to wake you in the morning.

All of this comes in the sleekest Treo yet, a gleaming slab whose glowing, domed keys and buttons are a delight to the fingertips. (Palm says that it has ironed out the hardware glitches that drew complaints on earlier models.) The usual Treo hardware goodies are here: a switch that instantly silences all sounds, a camera (with improved resolution--1.3 megapixels), speakerphone, a beefy battery (4.5 hours of talk time), a slot for an SD memory card (to hold music, photos and videos), and a five-way rocker switch that lets you operate most functions with one hand and no stylus.

The Treo has always been a great little Internet machine, but

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