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Palm Treo 650 Palm OS Smartphone Review

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Dec. 10, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief.
Updated Feb. 5, 2005 to add GSM versions for Cingular, AT&T Wireless and unlocked version.
Updated May 11, 2005 to add the Verizon Wireless version.

Discontinued: Check out our review of the Palm Treo 700p which replaces the Treo 650 on Sprint and Verizon in June 2006 and the Treo 680 which replaces the Treo 650 on Cingular in November 2006. And the Windows Mobile Treo 750 on Cingular, as well as the Treo 700wx on Sprint and Verizon might be of interest.

One of the most anticipated PDA phones of the year, the Palm Treo 650 is the hottest Palm OS smartphone on the market. Following on the heels of the very successful Treo 600, the Treo 650 adds several key improvements that address the needs of road warriors and improvements in technology since the release of the 600 over a year ago. Sprint was the first US carrier out the door with the 650, and GSM versions for Cingular, AT&T Wireless as well as an unlocked version for use with any GSM carrier were released early Feb. 2005. We'll take an in-depth look at the Sprint, Cingular and unlocked offerings in our review.

The Treo 650 is both a cell phone and a full-featured Palm OS PDA. The Sprint version runs on their CDMA network in the US and supports PCS Vision (1xRTT for high speed data). The Verizon version, released on May 11, 2005 also supports 1xRTT for data. The GSM version is currently available in three flavors for Cingular, AT&T and an unbranded, unlocked version. The Cingular and AT&T Wireless versions are locked to their respective carriers, so you'll need to purchase the more expensive unlocked version directly from Palm if you wish to use the phone with other carriers. All GSM flavors are quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz world phones with GPRS and EDGE for data. While most mobile phones with full-featured PDAs make concessions to phone ergonomics or PDA ergonomics and features, the Treo manages to do it all and do it well. It's easy and comfortable to use one-handed as a phone and has all the features of a current generation Palm OS 5 PDA. The integrated thumb keyboard makes it a great choice for those who need to write emails on the go. Though larger than today's feature phones, the Treo is still pocketable and smaller than competing Pocket PC phones.

Below: All the Treo 650 models! Sprint, Verizon, unlocked GSM and Cingular.

Verizon Version

Treo 650 for Verizon

 

Treo 650 Verizon back view

Sprint Version

Treo 650

back view

Cingular version

Cingular Treo 650

Back of Cingular version

back of Cingular Treo 650

 

 

 

 

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What's New?

Much looks the same on the Treo 650 which uses the same basic casing as the Treo 600, but looks can be deceiving. While the 650 is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary device, it adds several key features that broaden the device's appeal and will lead some Treo 600 users down the upgrade path. The Treo 650 has an absolutely lovely 320 x 320 pixel transflective color display that puts the Treo 600's 160 x 160 passive matrix display to shame. What high end mobile phone would be complete without Bluetooth? The 650 has Bluetooth with support for headsets, HotSyncing and file transfer. On June 16, 2005, Sprint and Palm released a ROM update which adds support for Bluetooth DUN (dial up networking), which you can download here. Though the Cingular version's manual includes instructions and screen for DUN, the feature is also disabled on their phone. The unlocked GSM Treo 650 available directly from Palm has DUN enabled. If you wish to use DUN with the unlocked version, refer to Palm's guide for instructions. The guide can be found at www.palmone.com/us/support/handbooks/treo/Treo650_GSM_DUN_UG.pdf. DUN works very well on our unlocked Treo when testing with a BT enabled notebook and even an iPAQ hx4700! If you are using the Treo with a Pocket PC for BT DUN, you'll need to use a terminal window on the Pocket PC to establish the connection. Note that you can't use data apps such as Web and VersaMail while the Treo is in DUN mode.

Another must is a user-replaceable battery and the Treo 650 has one. The camera software is greatly improved and the 650 takes much more natural and pleasing photos than the 600 and many other VGA camera phones. MP3 fans will be happy to know that you can use standard stereo headphones if you purchase an optional adapter. To top it off, the Treo 650 is the only Palm OS (or Pocket PC for that matter) smartphone that uses non-volatile memory for storage. This means your programs and data will survive even if the battery drains completely. Excellent!

Unlocked GSM version

Treo 650 unlocked GSM

Back of unlocked Treo

treo 650 back

Features at a Glance

The CDMA Treo 650 runs on Sprint's cellular network in the US with support for the 800 and 1900MHz digital bands and uses 1xRTT for data offering average speeds of 75k - 100k. The GSM version is a quad band phone that will work anywhere in the US where GSM is available. It has both GPRS and EDGE for data. EDGE offers speeds that rival 1xRTT on CDMA networks and yield ~75 - 100k download speeds.

It runs Palm OS Garnet (5.4.5) on a 312MHz Intel XScale processor and has 23 megs of available memory. The device has Bluetooth, a VGA digital camera and a backlit thumb keyboard. As noted, it has a 320 x 320 color display, and it has an SD slot that supports SDIO. Like prior Treos, but unlike Palm OS PDAs, the Treo 650 doesn't come with Graffiti handwriting recognition software. Instead you'll use the keyboard to enter and edit text. You can use the touch screen and included stylus for navigation, selecting items and highlighting text.

In the box you'll find the phone, battery, stylus, world charger, software CD, 350 page printed manual (for Sprint), 204 page printed manual (for Cingular and AT&T Wireless), mono headset and a sync cable.

Design and Ergonomics

The Treo 650 uses the same industrial design and basic casing found on the Treo 600. As Palm noted, why mess with a good thing? Though large by feature phone standards, it is by no means a gargantuan phone and is much smaller than Pocket PC Phone Edition devices. Those who want full PDA features including a large touch screen and a thumb keyboard, know that these can't be cramped into a tiny device without losing out on PDA features or usability.

side view Sprint version

Above: Sprint version side view. Below, Cingular version.

side view, GSM version

size comparison

Size comparison: Audiovox SMT5600 MS Smartphone, Palm Treo 650, Audiovox PPC-6601 Pocket PC phone from Sprint and the HP iPAQ 6315 Pocket PC phone.

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The phone feels great in the hand with gentle curves that fit just right. The Sprint version's plastic casing is predominantly metallic blue-gray with silver and chrome accents. The Cingular version is silver with a mid-blue metallic screen surround. The Treo does have an antenna nub that sticks up about one third of an inch from the top left corner. Gone is the dedicated power button found on top of the Treo 600. Instead the 650 uses a dual purpose call end/power button, but leaves the much-loved ring silencer slider button intact on top of the phone.

As you'd expect, the phone's earpiece speaker is located above the display and the mic is located on the bottom right edge. The speaker for system sounds and the speakerphone is located on the back side. Why is that speaker on the back? So you're not deafened if you accidentally enable speakerphone or if alarms go off while in a call. As with most phones, the volume up/down rocker is located on the left side, but unlike most phones, you'll hit the button just below to confirm the volume change. When not operating the volume rocker, that button launches Real Player. There are no controls on the device's right side, and the sync, charge and headset port are located on the bottom edge. The SD slot is located up top, as is the IR window and the afore-mentioned silencer switch. The VGA camera lens and self-portrait mirror live on the back of the phone as does the battery door.

The Treo has dedicated call send and end buttons just below the display surrounding the directional pad. The call end key doubles as the power switch for the mobile phone radio and can also turn/off the PDA screen. Thankfully, you'll also find dedicated Home and Menu buttons below the display which is a much better solution than embedding them in the keyboard. Lastly, the device has dedicated Calendar and Messaging buttons below the display in the d-pad zone. If you wish, you can re-assign the applications of your choice to all except the call send and end buttons. Speaking of d-pads, the Treo has a superb 5-way directional pad that's easy to operate one-handed and is very responsive for games.

Keyboard

The Treo 600 keyboard was quite successful but that didn't stop Palm from making some minor improvements. The keyboard still features the same radial design with the keys curving in a subtle smile, but the keys now require less pressure and have been flattened a tad, meaning your fingers are less likely to roll off the key while typing. The backlighting is now impressively bright with most keys having strong white backlighting that contrasts with the painted black letters and the embedded number keys having blue backgrounds with bright white illuminated letters and numbers. For some, the keys may actually be too bright for use in very dark environments. The Treo has a full QWERTY keyboard with embedded numbers that contrast easily for dialing. When the phone dialer screen is open on the display, the device uses the embedded numbers rather than the letters on the dual-purpose keys for dialing. As with a desktop keyboard, the shift key capitalizes. A dedicated Fn key activates common punctuation and symbols superimposed on the keys and the Alt key brings up a pop-up list of additional symbols available for a key. The keyboard has both left and right shift keys, and an elongated space bar making for faster and easier typing.

Horsepower and Performance

While some smartphones make concessions in processing power, the Treo 650 has the latest, greatest Intel PXA270 "Bulverde" processor running at 312MHz. While that processor speed doesn't sound impressive compared to some recent Pocket PC offerings, Palm OS 5 has much less overhead and requirements than Windows Mobile and that processor running at 312MHz is pretty much state of the art and all that you'll need for a Palm PDA unless you're seriously into game emulators or videos encoded at very high bitrates (over 500 kbps) by mobile standards.

The Treo 650 is the first Palm OS smartphone to use persistent memory for storage (NAND flash ROM rather than RAM). Flash ROM doesn't require power to maintain its contents, so PDA and phone data won't be lost even if the battery runs completely dry. Excellent! What are the drawbacks? NAND is a bit slower than RAM so applications take a hair longer to launch and the file system Palm used is less efficient in terms of space. This means that a very small file will take up more storage space on the Treo 650 than the Treo 600 so if you're upgrading from a chock-full Treo 600, you'll find that all of your programs and data won't fit. PalmOne is working on improving the file system's efficiency so we may (no promises) see an update that reduces block size which means very small files won't take up lots more space than they need.

Of course, you need not store all your programs and data on internal memory. The 650 has an SD slot so you can add memory by purchasing SD memory cards. Cards are the perfect place to store large files such as movies, MP3s and photos. The SD slot supports SDIO, which is required to use SD networking cards and SD GPS. Currently, Palm's SD WiFi card does not support the Treo, so there's no way to add WiFi.

Phone Features, Reception and Internet

The phone interface has changed little from the Treo 600, but the buttons and controls have a more sculpted 3D look. You can launch the phone application by pressing the call send button or selecting phone from the home screen launcher. This brings up an on-screen dialer whose buttons are large enough to be pressed with fingers. Handy launchers for Contacts, Voicemail, Call Log and web browser live below the buttons on the phone screen. Press down on d-pad to bring up the full palette of apps, similar to the Favorites concept in IE. You can have five pages of these favorites and customize them as you see fit. This makes one handed operation a breeze: simply leave the Treo in the phone application and you can launch most any app using the d-pad.

Of course the Treo supports dialing directly from your contacts list and it has speed dial, though it doesn't come with a voice dialing application. On the Sprint version, we noticed one odd quirk: when dialing a number using the on-screen dialer, keyboard or from contacts there' s a few seconds delay before the phone actually dials the number. The Cingular GSM version doesn't have this quirk. If you've dialed a number that's not in your contact list or received a call not in contacts, the Treo will ask you if you'd like to add it to Contacts.

The phone screen shows signal strength, date, time, E911 location services status (Sprint only) and the battery level. Speaking of signal strength, both the CDMA and GSM Treos have excellent RF and held onto a signal even in poor service areas where other phones lost service. Incoming and outgoing voice quality and volume levels are very good, even when the signal is at one or two bars. Data connections were reliable and we got an average of 80k using Sprint's PCS Vision data network and about 85k using Cingular's EDGE data service.

The Treo comes with Blazer 4.0, which is a reasonably fast web and full-featured browser. While it doesn't rival the desktop browsing experience, you'll be able to view most all sites. Blazer offers two ways to view web pages, one of which is "optimized", which fits everything to the width of the display so you won't have to scroll sideways. You can also view web pages unoptimized in "Wide Screen Mode" to get a more desktop-like rendering of sites, but you will have to scroll sideways to see the entire page. Blazer supports JavaScript, SSL, frames, bookmarks and cookies but doesn't support plug ins such as Macromedia Flash. It also supports dialing phone numbers on web pages and downloading of applications from sites that offer Palm OS software.

For mail, the Treo comes with Palm's VersaMail which supports multiple email accounts, POP3, IMAP and Exchange ActiveSync. You'll also get an SMS and MMS application called Messaging which supports SMS messages and also emails when used in conjunction with Sprint's PCS Business Connection software and service and your company's Exchange Server. The Cingular version offers Cingular's Xpress Mail Service which allows you to set up one or more email accounts for delivery to your Treo.

Camera

PalmOne tells us the Treo 650 uses the same camera hardware as the Treo 600, but the software has been revised heavily to improve image quality. While I was skeptical that software could improve any CMOS VGA camera's picture quality all that much, the 650 pleasantly surprised me with some of the best photos I've seen from a VGA camera phone. In fact, they rival Nokia's VGA offerings, generally the best in the industry, though the newest Nokias still win on sharpness. The camera deals well with bright light, contrasty settings and renders colors naturally without a great deal of color fringing or the bizarre color shifts witnessed on some other VGA cameras. While VGA images are too small for print, they are good for web pages and the images are sufficiently sharp so as to not require size reductions to make them usable. Good going, Palm!

The viewfinder fills almost the entire display with a few controls located at the bottom edge and it updates quickly as you move the phone. These controls allow you to set the zoom level (1x or 2x), quickly switch to the photo album, switch between still photos and videos, set the file save location and resolution (640 x 480 or 320 x 240). Once you take a photo or video, you can add voice annotations (for photos), save, delete, MMS or email the file. Effect and manual adjustments are kept to a minimum and the camera will always use automatic white balance and contrast and offers Normal plus Black & White and Sepia for photo and video effect settings. You can disable the shutter sound and turn on/off photo review. Videos resolutions are 320 x 240 and 176 x 144 and you can record audio with video. Photos are saved as JPEGs and videos as .3g2 and Palm includes their Pics & Videos application to view these as well as manage and create albums.

Display and Sound

The Treo has a 320 x 320 pixel transflective display capable of displaying 65,000 colors. It's an excellent display that's bright, crisp and has excellent color saturation and balance. It's perfect for viewing photos and videos, and is sharp when viewing text. The display is viewable outdoors and washes out just a bit but remains very readable.

Want to listen to MP3s? The Treo supports stereo output through headphones but sadly comes with only a mono earbud headset with mic. We tried the 2.5mm stereo headphones included with the Audiovox SMT5600 MS Smartphone and they worked fine for phone calls and stereo MP3 playback. PalmOne sells an optional adapter so you can use stereo headphones with the Treo for music and video playback. Sound quality is good for MP3 playback using the included RealPlayer, though not the best we've heard on a PDA.

The Treo comes with a large selection of ring tones, and ring volume is excellent. You can record your own ring tones using the Treo's recorder; which is a very simple process. Speaking of recording, you can send voice notes using the Messaging app which can be sent via MMS. Oddly, the 650 lacks a dedicated voice recorder app for recording voice notes on the fly. Call volume through the built-in earpiece is adequate but like most recent mobile phones, isn't really loud enough for noisy environments. It's fine for the home and office, but busy cafeterias or convertible cars with the top down will send you running for the included headset or a Bluetooth headset.

Bluetooth

The Treo has an integrated Bluetooth class 2 radio and supports headsets and HotSyncing over Bluetooth. As mentioned, Sprint told us that they did not intentionally disable DUN (dial up networking) which allows you to use the Treo as a wireless modem over Bluetooth for your notebook, desktop or PDA. Rather, Palm couldn't get the driver ready for the Treo 650's aggressive release date, so Sprint will offer the Bluetooth DUN profile in a software update (sorry, no ETA). In the meanwhile, you can get a free and reasonably functional DUN hack from www.shadowmite.com. Shadowmite is an active member of the TreoCentral.com forums.

The Cingular and AT&T Wireless versions are also missing DUN. Ironically, the included manual has instructions and screen shots covering DUN. Goodness! The manual states that when DUN is enabled you won't be able to use data directly on the Treo. That's not much of a hardship since most of us won't be needing both simultaneously but you will need to remember to turn DUN off when you no longer need it so the Treo can connect to the Internet for email and web browsing. However, since DUN is disabled on the Cingular and AT&T versions, that point is moot. The unlocked GSM Treo 650 does have DUN, and it works quite well. EDGE speeds are a treat and the Treo makes a fast wireless modem. Palm has a short PDF guide for setting up Bluetooth DUN for Windows PCs here. When you enable DUN, the Treo warns you that you won't be able to use the Internet on the Treo itself, just as the manual states. Once you disable DUN, you can of course use Web, VersaMail and any other Internet apps you have installed on your PC.

As with most Palm devices, Bluetooth is easy to set up and use. The device's Bluetooth app asks you what you'd like to connect to (headset or HotSync to a computer), then leads you down the path to pairing heaven. We had absolutely no troubles pairing with headsets and syncing over Bluetooth. The Treo 650 doesn't have phenomenal range with headsets, but did get about 8 to 10 feet of distance with most we tested. A notable exception was the Jabra BT110 which got only a 3 foot range with the Treo. The Plantronics M3500 worked well, as did the Jabra BT250. Motorola's new HS820 got about 8 feet of range with the Treo. PalmOne's own Treo Headset works very well, with reliable call hand-off, good volume and good range by Treo standards. We did notice that the GSM version added about 2 feet to the usable range for headsets.

Both CDMA and GSM Treos have more static and lower range compared to other Bluetooth enabled mobile phones. And Palm only supports the more feature-rich Handsfree profile for a select number of headsets, even though most Bluetooth headsets have the Handsfree profile these days. Check Palm's web site for more information.

Sample photos, unedited. Taken at maximum resolution. Click on an image to see the full size original.

fedex

Flowers, late afternoon light fading.

guitar

Indoors with natural lighting from a window 15 feet away.

San Jose

San Jose, early afternoon, mostly sunny.

Battery Life

This unit has very good battery life by powerful smartphone standards. Though battery capacity remains unchanged from the Treo 600, Palm claims to have improved power management to extend battery life. Indeed, our Sprint unit ran for three days on a charge with light to moderate use and lasted two days with relatively frequent use including one hour of talk time per day, eBook reading, gaming, checking emails ten times per day, surfing the web for 30 minutes, and working with Word and Excel documents as well as looking up contact and calendar items. The Cingular version didn't last quite as long and we had to charge it very two days with moderate use. If you have the phone check email every 15 minutes, you'll need to charge it nightly. Leaving Bluetooth turned on didn't have a major impact on battery life and we only saw the expected moderate drain when actively using Bluetooth with a headset for calls. The 650 has a user replaceable 1,800 mAh Lithium Ion battery that lives under a door on the back of the phone. That's a large capacity battery by phone standards, and only the HP iPAQ 6315 Pocket PC phone equals it.

Do you hate it when your phone accidentally dials because a button has been pressed while the device is riding in your pocket? The Treo has a keyguard feature that allows you to prevent accidental button presses from turning on the unit. You can set it to automatically lock the buttons when the unit powers off or after a specified period of time. Pressing the call send/end keys or application buttons will awaken the display and it will tell you to press the center action button to turn off keyguard. Even if you don't use keyguard, only the call send and end buttons will turn the unit on, making it less likely that accidental key presses will wreak havoc.

Software

The Treo runs Palm OS 5.4.5 (aka Garnet) and comes with Palm Desktop 4.1.4 for Windows and Mac with support for syncing to Outlook on Windows. You'll get Documents To Go 7 for viewing and editing Word and Excel docs and viewing PowerPoint files, Blazer 4.0 web browser, VersaMail, Messaging for MMS and SMS, Handmark Solitaire, eReader, Zap!2016, Tetris and a 30 day trial of the excellent Handmark Express. PalmOne's Camera, Camcorder and Pictures & Video applications are included for shooting photos, videos and viewing them on the handheld. The Verizon version includes Verizon's Wireless Sync software.

Conclusion

Looking for a convergence device that gives you the best of both worlds? The Treo 650 should be on your short list. While larger and heavier than today's feature phones, you won't have to carry two devices so you'll ultimately lighten your load. The phone has great looks and ergonomics, a thumb keyboard that makes real work possible and fast Internet access courtesy of Sprint's PCS Vision service (CDMA) and EDGE service with Cingular / AT&T Wireless (GSM). We only wish the 650 had integrated WiFi or a way to add it.

Pro: Great display, fast performance, integrated Bluetooth, good battery life by smartphone standards. Battery is user replaceable, uses non-volatile memory so data and applications will survive a complete battery drain. Doubles as an MP3 player and portable video player. Expandable via SD cards.

Con: No Bluetooth DUN profile on carrier branded Treos (but one is coming, we're told), no WiFi and the only way to add it is via Enfora's bulky sled. On the Sprint version, there's and odd delay of a few seconds after pressing the send key to dial a number (doesn't happen on Cingular version). A high end device like the Treo 650 should have more internal memory. Given that the unit doubles as an MP3 player, why is a mono rather than stereo earbud headset included in the box?

Price: ~$549 without contract, lower with contract. Unlocked, unsubsidized GSM Treo 650 is $549 (no contract required). Contract prices vary by carrier, but generally around $299 to $399 with 2 year contract.

Web sites: www.palm.com, www.sprintpcs.com, www.cingular.com, www.verizonwireless.com

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Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD, 64K colors. Screen size diag: 2.75", resolution: 320 x 320.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1800 mA.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA270 312 MHz processor. Approx. 23 MB available memory for storage, using non-volatile flash ROM.

Size: 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches. Weight: 6.3 ounces.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone jack. Supports ring tones and alarms as well as vibration. Real Player included for your MP3 pleasure. Can use standard stereo headphones with optional adapter.

Networking: Sprint: CDMA digital 800/1900MHz bands for Sprint version. 1xRTT (Vision) for data. Integrated Bluetooth. GSM (Cingular, AT&T Wireless and unlocked versions): quad band world phone, 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands with GPRS and EDGE for data.

Camera: VGA CMOS camera capable of shooting photos up to 640 x 480 resolution. 2x digital zoom. Can shoot video with audio.

Software: The device runs Palm OS 5.4.5. Palm Desktop for Windows and Mac included. Windows only conduits to sync to Outlook rather than Palm Desktop if you prefer. Documents To Go 7, RealPlayer, Blazer 4.0 web browser, VersaMail 3.0, Camera, Camcorder, Pictures & Videos, Card Info, Security, Memos, calculator, eReader, Bluetooth, Handmark Solitaire, Zap!2016 and Tetris.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) supporting SDIO.

 

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