No other company has done more to advance the concept of the all-in-one communicator than Handspring with its innovative Treo line. Though it will soon be subsumed by Palm, Handspring is still shaking things up with the Treo 600, a wholly new design that adds a camera, an expansion slot, and other new ingredients to an already potent blend of phone and wireless PDA. The big news isn't that the Treo 600 can do all this--other devices can too. It is that the Treo 600, which will be available from Cingular, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T Wireless, and Verizon for about $500 with service, does all of them well.
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At the time of its debut, the Treo 300 was arguably one of the best phone/PDA designs available in the United States, but because of its PDA leanings, it suffered a little as a phone and was a bit awkward to hold it against the ear. The Treo 600, by contrast, resembles a full-bodied candy bar-style phone. Overall, it's only about 3 percent smaller than the Treo 300 (2.4 by 4.4 by 0.9 inches, not including the antenna), though it weighs slightly more (6 ounces). But because of its design, the Treo 600 seems more compact, and it fits more comfortably in your hand and your pocket.
One small gripe: Without the signature Treo flip cover, the screen, though recessed, tends to get covered with fingerprints and dust quickly. While our test unit didn't have one, the final version will include a protective sleeve for those who want to use it.
By far, the biggest design innovation is the rocker switch with a center button, which Handspring refers to as the five-way. This navigational button is similar to the ones found on many phones and Palm Tungsten handhelds, and it allows you to control nearly all of the Treo 600's functions--not just the phone features--with one hand. It works amazingly well. The applications included with the device, such as the POP3 mail program, the Blazer browser, the P-Tunes MP3 player, and the Kinoma video player, are already enabled for the five-way; many others are in the works.
The backlit keyboard is another story. It's significantly smaller than even the miniature keyboards on competing devices. The rounded, asymmetrical keys and some smart software compensate a little, but we found it difficult to adjust to the cramped keyboard, though we use BlackBerrys on a daily basis. Still, it's acceptable for short URLs or text messages and is a reasonable trade-off to keep the size and weight down.
The jog dial on the side is gone, replaced by volume buttons for the ringer and the phone only. A separate switch atop the Treo turns all device sounds on and off; with the latter, the mobile goes into vibrate mode. Also on top is a power switch, an SDIO expansion slot for adding memory or accessories such as a Wi-Fi adapter, and a metal stylus. At the opposite end is the headphone jack, which unfortunately uses the space-saving minijack that we've derided on other compact PDAs such as the HP iPaq 1940. On the back are the VGA camera lens and a second speaker tuned specifically for the vastly improved ring tones and alarms, as well as the speakerphone. While no cradle is included, this is a relatively minor omission, considering most people will be satisfied with the compact charger and USB syncing cable.
The Treo 600 gives you the best of both worlds; it has the features of both a power PDA and a high-end phone for voice and data. There are numerous ways to initiate a call with the Treo 600, but most users will punch the application key that launches the touch-screen dial pad. From there, the five-way provides quick access to Favorites (speed dial), Contacts, the call log, and other applications. You can also dial using the numeric keys on the minikeyboard. If that's your preference, you can then replace the virtual dial pad--which shows up by default when you power on--with a custom background.
On the handheld side, the Treo 600 is fairly well appointed. It has a 144MHz ARM processor; 32MB of memory (8MB are occupied by ROM); and a 2.5-inch, 3,375-color LCD. Though the passive-matrix screen is very bright, it's still difficult to read in direct sunlight and certainly isn't the equal of the high-resolution displays found on today's Palm handhelds and Sony CLIEs. The Treo 600 runs Palm OS 5.1.2H, and in addition to Contacts, it includes all of the standard PIM applications (Calendar, To Do List, Memo Pad), which you can synchronize with Windows PCs or Macs.