Hey, here's a shocker (well, not really, since we know Palm can't keep a secret): today, the company announced the new Palm Treo 680, a low-cost version of its famed smart phone. Unfortunately, we don't know exactly what "low-cost" means as Palm, in its ever-teasing fashion, didn't reveal specifics on pricing, carrier (although we have our guesses, Cingular, cough, cough), or availability today. Palm CEO Ed Colligan did say, however, that it will be priced competitively with similarly featured smart phones out there, and its aim is to reach a broader and more geographically diverse audience. So here are the juicy details:
Design: The Treo 680 will be available in four different colors: graphite, copper, arctic, and crimson. Now, while I certainly appreciate the variety, what's with the fire-engine red and bright orange? If part of the purpose is to attract more women, I'm not sure the "I can see you from a mile away" colors are going to do it. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The device measures 4.4 by 2.2 by 0.8 inches and weighs 5.5 ounces; the antenna is also integrated into the device, so no stubby antenna. The screen displays 65,000 colors at a 320x320-pixel resoution.
Phone: It's a quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) phone. New phone app with a revamped user interface (five-tab view), active call thumbnails, integrated contacts, and simplified favorites. Also supports the ignore with text feature (one of my favorites) of the Treo 700 series, conference calling, and a speakerphone.
E-mail: Preloaded with VersaMail 3.5; now called Email on launcher page. Exchange ActiveSync now includes contact synchronization. Improved smart addressing, so it will remember recently used e-mail addresses. AutoSync for scheduling synchronization with e-mail, calendar, and contacts. Also comes with Documents To Go 8 for viewing and editing Word and Excel, and a PowerPoint and PDF viewer.
Multimedia: VGA camera with video-recording capabilities (yeah, you read right--lowly VGA; see my rant below). You can now add music to slide shows and save pictures as contacts. Includes Pocket Tunes for MP3 playback and streaming media (audio and video) without the need for third-party apps.
Wireless options: Bluetooth 1.2 and infrared. And no surprise here: no integrated Wi-Fi and it won't even support Palm's Wi-Fi card.
Other nuggets: Runs Palm OS 5.4.9 and has 64MB of SDRAM and 64MB of user-accessible memory. SD expansion slot accepts up to 2GB cards. Rated battery life: 4 hours of talk time, up to 300 hours of standby time.
Our take: OK, so those are the cold, hard facts; now, here's what we think. It's really hard to say how much of a value the Treo 680 is without knowing the exact price point of the device. As we mentioned earlier, Colligan said it will be competitively priced with other smart phones in its class, and most estimates have it going for around $199, much like the RIM BlackBerry Pearl and the Motorola Q. That said, the VGA camera is a complete disappointment. Both the Q and the Pearl have 1.3-megapixel cameras; hell, even most camera phones have that now, so why such a lowly camera for the 680? And please don't even get me started on the lack of Wi-Fi, let alone 3G support. That said, the tweaks to the phone and e-mail apps seem promising, and we always appreciate the intuitive nature of the Palm OS. It's also good to see the Treo is catching on to the skinny-phone craze.
So, while we think the Treo 680 is definitely a step in the right direction for the company, Palm is really going to have to step up to the plate to compete with latest crop of Nokia, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry devices. We'll hold off final judgment until we get our hands on the actual product, but in the meantime, we'd love to hear your thoughts on the device and the future of Palm. TalkBack below.