PalmOne unveils latest Treo

New top-of-the-line smart phone has a sharper screen, a faster chip and a removable battery.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
PalmOne is aiming to sharpen up its image with the launch of the Treo 650 on Monday.

As previously reported, the smart-phone update has a higher-resolution screen and a faster processor than the previous top-of-the-line model, the Treo 600.

Additions include a removable battery and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. An improved VGA camera promises to work better in low-light situations and to record video as well as still images.

Overall, though, PalmOne felt that it had found the right design for its smart phone with the Treo 600, product manager Michelle White said. The 650 is similar in design to its predecessor but is slightly curvier and has a new keyboard with flatter keys.

"Customers are getting essentially a new and improved version of the Treo 600," White said. "We quickly realized that...the form factor was quite a success," she said.

The Treo 600 has become an increasingly important part of PalmOne's business, accounting for nearly half of revenue in the first quarter. During that period, Palm shipped 273,000 Treo 600 phones, bringing the total number of the devices shipped until then to 661,000.

PalmOne President Ed Colligan said that Sprint PCS will be the first carrier to offer the device. Colligan showed the device at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show in San Francisco.

Milpitas, Calif.-based PalmOne said the Treo 650 will be available by the holiday season. Pricing will be up to the carriers but is expected to be in the $400 to $500 range.

The device faces a growing number of competitors, including products from Research In Motion and phones running operating systems from Symbian and Microsoft. White said customers are also considering the Treo against camera phones and MP3 phones with fewer features, making it important for the company to beef up the Treo's music-playing and picture-taking abilities.

PalmOne plans to make two versions of the Treo 650. One will support CDMA/1XRTT cellular networks, used by Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless. The other will run on GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) networks, used by T-Mobile, Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless.

The GSM model will also support EDGE, a higher-speed data network. AT&T launched its EDGE network late last year, noting that it expected to support devices from PalmOne.

The Treo 650 sports a high-resolution display of 320 pixels by 320 pixels and uses a 312MHz Intel processor. That compares with the Treo 600's screen of 160 pixels by 160 pixels and its 144MHz Texas Instruments chip. PalmOne expects some carriers to sell the older device alongside the update.

To make the Treo 650's battery removable, PalmOne engineers had to develop a workaround for the way the Palm operating system has traditionally handled user information. Such data has been stored in RAM (random access memory), which gets erased when the battery power is depleted. By contrast, the Treo 650 stores information on Flash memory, which is retained even when there is no battery power.

There are more changes inside the smart phone. The VersaMail e-mail program, a product of a partnership between Microsoft and PalmOne, now supports a direct connection to Microsoft Exchange 2003 servers. That means that people can connect remotely to corporate networks to get e-mail and calendar information. In addition, the Web browser has been changed to add support for JavaScript and promises better handling of frames.

Many of the changes are the result of a survey PalmOne conducted among Treo 600 buyers, White said.

In his speech, Colligan also pointed to the future, saying that by the next presidential election, voters will be able to watch debates on their phones.

"It will certainly be possible," Colligan said. "We will be doing video on these kind of devices."