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Palm Treo 650 (AT&T) review: Palm Treo 650 (AT&T)

Palm Treo 650 (AT&T)

John Morris
8 min read
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 limited 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. Sprint PCS was the first to introduce the new Treo in October of last year, but now after three months of waiting fervently, Cingular customers have a version of their own. At $549, the price is hefty, but you should be able to 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 (except for a slight color change) 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 Audiovox SMT5600 and the Motorola MPx220 are all significantly smaller, though they don't have a full QWERTY keyboard.


Palm Treo 650 (AT&T)

The Good

The Palm Treo 650 benefits from an improved display and keyboard, integrated Bluetooth, and a speakerphone. The world phone also has a 312MHz processor, Palm OS 5.4, multimedia, and e-mail support.

The Bad

Sadly, the Palm Treo 650 has meager integrated memory, no built-in Wi-Fi, and a low-resolution camera. Also, the Treo 650's headphone jack isn't standard size, and you can't use its Bluetooth as a wireless modem.

The Bottom Line

Though it has its shortcomings, the Palm Treo 650 offers solid performance and adds some key features to maintain its reign as smart-phone leader.

Pocket buster: The Treo 650 is larger than many smart phones.

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 shades, compared to 3,375 hues 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.

Tap dance: The Treo 650's keyboard has been redesigned.

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 the Web browser).

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, the infrared port, and the SIM card slot. 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, and a headphone jack. The Multi-Connector, first introduced on the Tungsten T5, 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.

Cool controls: You'll find the new Treo's memory slot and ringer switch on the top of the device.

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 included.

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. 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 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.

Reflections: The Treo 650's camera lens now includes a self-portrait mirror.

In addition to wireless WAN voice and data, the Treo 650 includes both infrared and the much-needed Bluetooth. Theoretically, Bluetooth lets you do several things wirelessly: perform HotSyncs, connect to other Bluetooth devices, and hook up wireless headsets. Fortunately, we had better luck connecting to our testing headsets than we did with the CDMA version of the Treo 650. We tried using the Jabra BT250, the Logitech Mobile Bluetooth headset, and the Jabra BT800. Pairing with each device was problem-free, and calls came through loud and clear. Additionally, on the BT800, we were able to place calls directly from the headset.

But like the CDMA Treo 650, using a headset wasn't perfect. PalmOne maintains a compatibility list in the support section of its site; the ones labeled Handsfree Profile offer the most features. Only nine headsets support the profile, including Palm's own Treo headset, so be sure to check before buying a particular model.

The bigger issue is that you can't use the Treo 650 as a wireless modem for your laptop when you are on the road and there are no Wi-Fi hot spots within range. PalmOne says it is working on an upgrade, but in the meantime, it is directing users to a third-party application available from JuneFabrics.com.

Much to our disappointment, there's still no integrated Wi-Fi, a feature that has become a common in midrange and high-end PDAs. At some point, the PalmOne SDIO Wi-Fi card will work with Treos, but the company has been slow to release the drivers, and you'll still have to pay $129 for something that arguably should be built in. That said, improvements to the WAN data networks along with the addition of Bluetooth lessen the need for Wi-Fi.

We liked the Treo 650's photo quality.

The basic phone and handheld functions of the Treo remain the same. You get many of the features of an advanced mobile, including a phone book (size is subject to available memory), 28 polyphonic ring tones, a speakerphone, vibrate mode, three-way calling, speed dial, and picture caller ID (where available). And you get the features of a handheld running Palm OS 5.4. Aside from basic organizer applications such as a task list, memos, a calculator, an alarm clock, a calendar, and a world clock, the Treo 650 includes the excellent Dataviz Documents To Go 7.0 for viewing Microsoft Office documents, VersaMail 3.0, AudiblePlayer, and support for Java (J2ME)-enabled games. Multimedia capabilities also got a boost. Previously on the Treo 600, you had to download a third-party application to listen to MP3s; now, the Treo 650 includes RealPlayer in ROM for playing MP3s or Real files. Audio automatically stops when a call comes in.

The Treo has always been an e-mail machine, but VersaMail 3.0 ups the ante. In addition to its support for up to eight POP and IMAP accounts, it now works with ActiveSync for Exchange, which means that with a little help from IT, you can connect directly to your company's Exchange Server 2003. PalmOne also includes a convenient single in-box for text and multimedia messages. You also can use Cingular's Express Mail Suite, which can connect to major corporate e-mail systems such as Exchange, Notes, and Groupwise (additional subscription required). The WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser is largely unchanged in appearance, though the device supports both Cingular's GPRS and EDGE networks.

Though many cell phones now come with 1.3-megapixel cameras, PalmOne stuck with a VGA camera, which disappointed us somewhat. The company made some notable improvements, though. The camera performs better in low light, can shoot video (in MPEG-4 format) as well as stills, and includes a tiny mirror for self-portraits. We especially liked the included picture and video-viewer application, which can play slide shows and even set them to music.

The PalmOne Treo 650 is available in a quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) world phone version. We tested the GSM model for Cingular Wireless--it's the second version available--in San Francisco.

The overall call quality was admirable, whether we were holding the unit to our ear or using the speakerphone, the included wired earbuds, or the optional Bluetooth headsets. Web surfing was satisfactory, but it's not without its quirks. While you can access Cingular's high-speed EDGE network, the device displays the active network as GPRS. The result is a bit confusing--you can be using EDGE, but the Treo says it's working off GPRS instead. There's no word on when this might be fixed, but Cingular's EDGE network promises average data speeds of 100Kbps to 130Kbps (up to three times faster than GPRS).

The GSM version we tested is rated for six hours of talk time and 12.5 days of standby. The talk time was 4.25 hours in our tests, though the standby time seems a little optimistic. The Treo 650's battery is now removable, so you can swap in a spare (a $60 accessory) on long trips. According to the FCC, the Treo 650 GSM version has a digital SAR rating of 1.51 watts per kilogram.


Palm Treo 650 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7