When we made our wish list for the successor to the well-received Treo 600, it was to keep the great design but add several missing features. Fortunately, that's precisely what PalmOne did with its new Treo 650. This model offers a high-resolution display, a faster processor, Bluetooth wireless, Palm OS 5.4, and a removable battery--all notable additions. But the honeymoon ends with some shortcomings, specifically the stingy memory, the complicated Bluetooth implementation, and the lack of Wi-Fi. How you feel about these issues depends on your needs, but for our money, the Treo remains the best all-in-one communicator available. Though it's currently offered by Sprint PCS and , PalmOne plans to introduce versions for most major carriers in 2005. (A GSM model is available through .) At around $600, the price is hefty, but you can already find it for less with service. The PalmOne Treo 650 looks virtually identical to its predecessor. It is the same shape and size (4.4 by 2.3 by 0.9 inches, not including the stubby antenna) and only a hair heavier at 6.3 ounces. In fact, it looks so similar that during testing bystanders often did a double take and even then had to ask, "Is that the Treo 650?" No wonder--why tinker with a design that has stood the test of time? Of course, the Treo 650 is not the most compact smart phone on the market; models including the RIM BlackBerry 7100t and Windows Mobile 2003 smart phones such as the and the are all significantly smaller, though they don't have a full QWERTY keyboard.
Still, there are some notable changes to the design. The most impressive new feature of the Treo 650 is its improved display. It is the same size (2.5 inches diagonal; 320x320 pixels) but now shows off 65,000 colors, compared to 3,375 colors on the Treo 600. The result: smooth, bright, and colorful images with no trace of the "screen door" effect on the Treo 600's display. Overall, the new display is on a par with that of the latest high-end handhelds--something that couldn't be said of the previous version at the time of its release. Another obvious change is the keyboard. The keys have been squished so that they are larger, flatter, and closer to one another. The keyboard still feels cramped, but generally, these enhancements make thumb-typing a little easier than with the Treo 600. The new white keys are also semitranslucent with bright backlighting.
The Treo 650 retains the signature five-way navigational button, which is critical for easy one-handed operation. But there are several new buttons as well. The most prominent are the dedicated Talk and Power/End buttons, which operate much like those on most cell phones. Four buttons directly below the display provide quick access to the calendar, messaging, applications, and menus. And the volume buttons on the side have been replaced by a single rocker switch, which is easier to use, as well as one customizable quick-launch button (by default, it opens RealPlayer).
We were pleased to see that PalmOne kept the hardware switch on top that toggles between ringer and silent modes--a handy feature--along with the MMC/SDIO expansion slot and the infrared port. The camera is located in the same spot on the back panel but now has a tiny mirror for self-portraits; PalmOne will also offer a camera-less version for execs worried about security risks. The speaker and the panel for accessing the user-removable battery are immediately below the camera. Farther down on the bottom are the new Multi-Connector, for synchronizing and charging the Treo and connecting accessories, as well as a headphone jack. The Multi-Connector, first introduced on the , replaces the unfortunately named Universal Connector of previous PalmOne devices, and it is not backward compatible. A minor inconvenience, the 2.5mm jack requires an adapter (not included) for use with standard headphones.
There's still no included cradle for charging or syncing. Instead, PalmOne includes USB and power cables that can be connected to each other or used separately. As with the previous version, the touch screen is unprotected and tends to get covered with dust and fingerprints quickly. You'll want to purchase a slipcase for it immediately since one isn't provided.The PalmOne Treo 650 has a generous feature set, but we weren't completely in awe. We like the new 312MHz Intel PXA270 chip processor that provides the muscle for multitasking and digital audio and video applications. The memory, however, is another story. First, PalmOne did not increase the amount of memory in this version. In fact, the Treo 650's 22MB of usable memory is slightly less than the Treo 600's total after you take away what the OS and core applications require. Second, the company switched to a new file system that effectively reduces available memory by increasing file sizes. (There is a detailed explanation here.)
There is a good reason for this: the new nonvolatile file system (NVFS), paired with the 22MB of nonvolatile memory, means you no longer lose all your data if the battery dies or if you want to swap in a fresh battery--which wasn't possible with the Treo 600. In other words, the Treo 650 acts more like a cell phone and less like a handheld that needs to be tethered to a PC at regular intervals to recharge and to back up data. This is especially good news if you use client-server software that syncs directly with Microsoft Exchange Server wirelessly, such as ActiveSync for Exchange Server 2003 (now included) or GoodLink, which we used during testing. In that case, you will need to HotSync with your desktop only to install new applications or to transfer large files.
Nevertheless, the memory has caused a lot of hubbub, especially among Treo 600 users who upgraded, then discovered that their files suddenly gobbled up more memory. PalmOne is promising a ROM software update to alleviate the problem, and the company has also offered to send a free 128MB SD card to anyone who has memory management issues. Whether you get it from PalmOne or buy it yourself, the bottom line is that a nice, big SD card is a must-have accessory for the Treo 650.