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Palm Treo 680 review: Palm Treo 680

With a user-friendly interface, decent performance, and an affordable price point, the Palm Treo 680 is a good smart phone for the first-time buyer or for mobile users looking to be more productive on the road; we just wish it had a better camera and Wi-Fi support.

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
9 min read
Palm Treo 680


Palm Treo 680

The Good

The Palm Treo 680 features a sleeker design; integrated Bluetooth with the ability to use it as a wireless modem; more user-accessible memory; and e-mail capabilities. It also offers a bright touch screen and productivity tools and is easy to use.

The Bad

The smart phone doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi nor does it support Palm's Wi-Fi card or voice dialing. What's more, the VGA camera is disappointing, the QWERTY keyboard is a bit cramped, and the speakerphone quality is a bit scratchy.

The Bottom Line

With a user-friendly interface, decent performance, and an affordable price point, the Palm Treo 680 is a good smart phone for the first-time buyer or for mobile users looking to be more productive on the road; we just wish it had a better camera and Wi-Fi support.
It's been a big year for smart phones with the launch of some highly anticipated devices, such as the T-Mobile Dash, the RIM BlackBerry Pearl, and the Samsung BlackJack. And while the new products and their manufacturers have done a lot to mix up the current lineup of smart phones, the Palm Treo remains one of the most popular and prevalent convergence devices on the market. And now, with the release of the consumer-friendly and more affordable Palm Treo 680 for Cingular Wireless, we think there's a good chance even more Treos will find their way into the hands of gadget lovers.

When Palm first announced the Treo 680 back in October, the tech press (present company included) reacted with skepticism over the new device's lackluster features. Though Palm touted it as a "low-cost" device, we had no idea what that meant as the company didn't reveal a price point. But now that all the details are out and we've had a chance to play with the device, we're changing our tune a bit. First, it's important to remember that the Treo 680 is a smart phone aimed at a mass audience; it's not for the power business user who would be better off with the Cingular 8525 or the Nokia E62. The 680 offers solid performance and features e-mail capabilities, integrated Bluetooth, and the intuitive Palm OS. We still don't forgive Palm for equipping the 680 with a lowly VGA camera, especially when many basic camera phones have at least a megapixel lens. That aside, it's a good choice for someone who's looking to purchase his or her first smart phone or simply wants to be more productive on the go.

The Palm Treo 680 is available from Cingular starting November 24, for a reasonable $199.99 with a two-year contract and an unlimited data plan. However, only the graphite version will be offered by the carrier. If you fancy the crimson, copper, or arctic models or don't want to be tied down to Cingular, Palm will offer unlocked versions of all four Treo 680 models for $399, available for preorder now.

The Palm Treo 680 went under the knife to slim down a bit, but it's only marginally smaller (4.4x2.3x0.8 inches; 5.5 ounces) than the Treo 700p/700w (4.4x2.3x0.9 inches; 6.4 ounces). The 680 is noticeably lighter, however, and it felt more comfortable to hold with its curved and tapered edges. You'll also notice that stubby external antenna is gone in favor of a more streamlined and sleek device. It still makes for a bit of a tight fit in a pants pocket, but no more than any other smart phone with a touch screen, such as the Cingular 8525.

The Palm Treo 680 gets rid of the stubby antenna found on previous models such as the Treo 700p.

The Treo 680 retains the same, sharp 2.5-inch diagonal touch screen with a 64,000-color output and 320x320-pixel resolution. Images and Web pages are vibrant, and text is sharp and easily readable. In addition, we still were able to read the display in direct sunlight. The ability to enter data and operate the device via the touch screen is certainly an advantage it has over some of the other popular, sleeker smart phones out there--the Motorola Q, for example. While the Treo 680 is easy to navigate one-handed with the external controls, the touch screen is incredibly convenient and useful.

Looking good. The Treo 680 boasts a colorful and sharp touch screen.

Below the display, you'll find the same set of navigation controls found on the most recent Treos. There are talk and end keys, a four-way directional keypad with a center select button, and shortcuts to the phone app, calendar, messages, and home page. You can reprogram any of the last four buttons to open up different apps. Furthermore, pressing the option key and then one of the said keys launches four more user-defined programs, so in effect, you get a total of eight shortcut keys.

The Treo 680's QWERTY keyboard is largely unchanged from the Treo 700p, but there are some very slight tweaks. The shape of the buttons is more rectangular, and they're not as raised above the phone surface. Though they're tactile and well backlit, the spacing between the keys is fairly cramped, so much so that even our smaller hands had a hard time pressing the right keys. It slowed down the messaging process, but we did get the hang of it eventually. We found having nails helps, but customers with larger digits should definitely take it out for a test drive. This is one area where the Moto Q and the Samsung BlackJack with their more spacious keyboards have the Treo beat.

Tight quarters. The smart phone's QWERTY keyboard is a bit cramped.

On top of the device, there is a silent ringer switch, but the usual SD card slot now is on the right spine with a protective cover. On the left side, there are volume up and down keys and another customizable button, which is set to bring up the voice recorder by default. The back of the unit holds the stylus, speaker, and camera lens and self-portrait mirror (but no flash), while a 2.5mm headset jack and the multi-connector port are along the bottom edge.

The Palm Treo 680 for Cingular will come packaged with a wired headset, a USB cable, an AC adapter, desk synchronization software, and reference material. There's also a user guide and support articles preloaded on the device.

The Palm Treo 680 doesn't include an overhaul of features but rather some nice refinements and upgrades that result in a solid set of tools for mobile professionals and consumers. Starting with the voice features, the Treo 680 offers a new five-tab view for the phone app where you can easily move among the onscreen dialer, your favorites list (with shortcuts to your voicemail box, bill balance, minutes, and other apps), phone book, and call log. The phone book is limited only by the available memory, while the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. Each entry has room for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, instant-messaging handles, and birthdays. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a picture, one of 29 polyphonic ring tones, or a group ID. As a quad-band GSM phone, you can use the Treo 680 overseas while a speakerphone, three-way conference calling, speed dial, and a vibrate mode round out the calling options. You also get the "Ignore with text" feature first introduced in the Treo 700w, which allows you to reply to a call with a text message if you can't take a call. You simply hit the Ignore with Text icon that appears during an incoming call and a message that says something like, "In a meeting; call you later." We've always been big fans of this feature, and it worked well in our tests with the 680. Finally, if there is a number listed on a Web page or e-mail, you can dial it directly from that page. Unfortunately, it isn't capable of voice dialing.

The Treo 680 also supports Cingular's EDGE network, which means you should enjoy faster Web browsing and download times, but it doesn't operate on the carrier's UMTS or HSPDA networks for broadband-like speeds. Both Palm and Cingular felt the 3G capabilities weren't necessary this level of device and its target audience. The Blazer 4.5 Browser app now features improved caching for a better Web view experience. That said, we're still irked by the lack of Wi-Fi and the fact that the Treo 680 won't work with Palm's Wi-Fi card either. Yes, the EDGE support largely takes away the need for it and while Cingular's network is now available in more than 13,000 cities, there are still pockets where it isn't available and for those customers. On the bright side, the smart phone does have integrated Bluetooth 1.2 for use with wireless headsets, car kits, OBEX, and dial-up networking. The latter means you can use the 680 as a wireless modem for your Bluetooth-enabled laptop; it's a feature often disabled on other smart phones, so this is a nice benefit of the Treo 680. The mobile also works with Cingular's TeleNav GPS Navigator service so if you have a Bluetooth GPS receiver, the 680 can double as a handheld GPS device. It does not, however, support the A2DP profile for stereo headphones.

The Treo 680 offers several e-mail solutions, including VersaMail 3.5, Cingular Xpress Mail, and GoodLink. The latter allows for real-time access to your Microsoft Outlook e-mail, contacts, tasks, and notes. If your company uses Good Mobile Messaging, just contact your IT department for help setting up the 680 with the server. Both Xpress Mail and VersaMail also allows you to access your corporate e-mail (though without the wireless push delivery), and your personal accounts (POP3, IMAP). We used VersaMail to connect to our SBC Global account; set up was painless. We scheduled it to retrieve messages every 30 minutes and it worked like a charm. If you have Web-based e-mail, such as Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL, you can check those accounts via the Web browser. The Treo 680 also supports text and multimedia messaging, including the new threaded chat view that lets you see all messages between yourself and the receiver--sort of like a slower IM. This feature worked just fine for us. There are no preinstalled IM clients, but they are available through third-party apps.

The SD expansion slot has been moved to the right side of the device and can accept up to 2GB cards.

For working on the go, the Palm Treo 680 is preloaded with Documents to Go 8.0, so you can open, create, and edit Word and Excel documents and view PowerPoint presentations and PDFs. You get the standard PIM tools, including a Calendar, a to-do list, a memo pad, a calculator, a world clock, and a voice recorder. Of course, you'll also have access to the extensive library of third-party applications available to the Palm OS. While we're on the topic, the Treo 680 runs Palm OS 5.4.9 and has 64MB of SDRAM and 64MB of user available memory, which should be enough for the average user. In addition, the expansion slot accepts up to 2GB SD cards.

Boo hiss. The Treo 680 is equipped with a lowly VGA camera.

Much to our disappointment, the Treo 680 is only equipped with a VGA camera, rather than a megapixel camera. When we asked Palm about this, they said it was to keep costs down and there wasn't much of a difference between the two, but we think that's a pretty weak excuse. RIM was able to put a 1.3-megapixel lens in the Pearl, as did the Motorola Q and Samsung BlackJack. Heck, even most camera phones today have a megapixel resolution, so we're not sure what Palm was thinking here. The 680's camera does have video-recording capabilities and a 2X zoom, but there are no options to tweak the white balance, effects, color saturation, or any other camera settings found on most camera phones today. You can, however, view your photos as a slide show and create albums. Overall, the Treo 680 took subpar pictures. While objects were defined, there was a yellowish undertone to the images.

Treo's camera produced some sickly looking pictures.

Finally, for entertainment, the Treo 680 comes with PocketTunes preinstalled on the smart phone, so you can enjoy your favorite MP3s. If you crave support for other music formats, such as WMA/PlaysForSure, you'll have to upgrade to the Deluxe edition ($34.95) of PocketTunes. You also can stream music and videos from the Web, and for a limited time, if you purchase the 680 directly from Palm, you get a 30-day free trail to Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go and Yahoo Music for Mobile.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) Palm Treo 680 in San Francisco using Cingular service and call quality was good overall. We had absolutely no problems carrying on a conversation as we experienced crisp sound and good volume, and our callers were impressed by the clarity of the phone. Unfortunately, things took a dive when we activated the speakerphone. Our friends said we sounded scratchy and we had a hard time hearing them, even with the volume at its highest level. On a brighter note, we were able to pair the Treo 680 with the Logitech Mobile Traveler Bluetooth headset and the TeleNav GPS Bluetooth receiver.

The Treo 680 was fairly responsive, though there were some slight delays when opening Office documents and activating the camera. The smart phone doesn't break any speed barriers in terms of Web browsing, but it's acceptable, especially with the improved caching feature. Music playback through the phone's speakers wasn't great, but plugging in the included earbuds improved the situation.

The Palm Treo 680's battery is rated for 4 hours of talk time and 12.5 days of standby time. Despite the smaller battery, we were still able to get 5.2 hours of talk time on a single charge.


Palm Treo 680

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7