Reviewed July 30, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
It could be argued that the word "Treo" was on its way to becoming the Kleenex of smartphones. Just as people refer to MP3 players as iPods even if they're not made by Apple (much to the chagrin of the actual manufacturer), the Treo brand almost became metonymic for smartphone. But the PDA-phone and smartphone space blossomed with new brands and form factors while Palm seemed to stamp out mildly improved versions of their original wonder phone. Both the Palm OS And Windows Mobile Treo models relied on a few key things it did better than any other device to hold market share: fantastic one-handed operation and great usability enhancements that speed up frequently used operations. Finally with the Treo 800w, Palm has brought their Windows Mobile Professional phone up to spec with competitors: at last we've got WiFi and GPS and a higher resolution display. Couple that with Palm's usability, and you've got a capable and pleasant business phone.
Underscore the word "business"; the Treo 800w is neither svelte nor sexy. It's a QWERTY bar of pure text-oriented functionality. The 21st century ushered in the era of electronics gone personal: our mobile and even not so mobile devices have got to look good and express our tastes and preferences. The Treo may not say "I'm a dude in a suit", but it clearly says messaging and work are my thing, just as the Samsung Instinct and iPhone say I'm about fashion and having fun. In other words, this is no iPhone competitor nor does it wish to be.
The Treo 800w is currently offered by Sprint and it's a CDMA dual band digital phone with the faster EVDO Rev. A for data. It has a GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, a 320 x 320 pixel display, a 333MHz CPU and Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional. The Treo 800w replaces the Treo 700wx in Sprint's lineup and we wouldn't be shocked if it came to Verizon eventually.
Design and Ergonomics
The Treo has a touch of the newer Palm Centro design, with straighter sides and a Centro style d-pad button cluster. The Treo is bigger than the Centro but is by no means large among QWERTY phones. The curved bottom and back edges mean the phone feels good in hand, and though it's a hair narrower than the old Treo 700wx, the 800w maintains the same usable keyboard. Thankfully, the 800w has lost the 700wx's stubby antenna and joins the Palm OS Treo 755p on Sprint and the Treo 750 on AT&T in the modern age. The Treo's keyboard is still one of the best in the business; it's equally as good as the BlackBerry Curve's and better than the Centro's. The keys aren't too slippery nor are they too rough textured, and the doming and spacing are just right.
The Treo has a matte blue plastic casing that looks and feels sturdy, though it won't win any chic-gadget awards. Everything on the Treo is designed for usability rather than glaringly good looks, and to that end there are signature Palm touches like the ringer on/off slider up top and new for the 800w (the first Palm phone with WiFi) a WiFi on/switch. The Treo is one of the few smartphones to sport a legacy IR port, though Palm has finally moved toward a USB-style sync/charge/headset port (MicroUSB). No, a standard miniUSB cable won't fit in the new port, but it's much less fiddly than the old Palm sync and charge ports. The drawback is that there's no dedicated headset jack. Thankfully, Palm and Sprint include a stereo earbud headset that fits the MicroUSB port.
Top view showing the ringer slider and WiFi switch.
The Treo's 2.5" LCD sports a rare resolution for Windows Mobile: 320 x 320 pixels, just like Palm OS Treos. The older Palm Windows Mobile Treo phones such as the Treo 700wx and Treo 750 had 240 x 240 pixel displays (thankfully rare!), which was a concession for WinMo users accustomed to the ubiquitous 240 x 320 display. The added pixels are a welcome addition- you can see a bit more when viewing Office documents or web pages for example. The downside is the Treo's tiny LCD makes for small fonts at that higher resolution, and it's particularly hard to tap hyperlinks or select the right spot when editing text. If your eyes aren't keen, you may find them getting tired after reading for extended periods of time. Another drawback is that WinMo itself seems to run in 240 x 240 mode (just as VGA WinMo phones run the OS at 240 x 320 QVGA). So you see fewer icons on screen than with a lower resolution 240 x 320 WinMo phone! Note that apps like IE Mobile and Office mobile do scale to 320 x 320-- we're talking about system screens like the programs and settings windows, settings screens (e.g.: the Buttons and Input applet screens) and menus.
Above. Left: the HP iPAQ 910c has a lower resolution 320 x 240 display, yet you can see more icons on screen compared to the 320 x 320 Treo 800w on the right.
This is because the OS is running at 240 x 240 resolution-- otherwise we'd see a 4 x 4 grid of icons. Note the brightness difference too; the iPaq is set to 50% brightness while the Treo is one notch below full brightness.
Above: In IE, the Treo makes use of the full 320 x 320 resolution and you can see more on its screen (right) than on the 320 x 240 iPAQ 910 screen (left).
These days, we've seen some lovely touch screens on high end feature and smartphones, alas the Treo 800w's display isn't terribly bright or vibrant. 3 years ago it would have been status quo, but today it looks tired. As you can see from the photos above, the Treo 800w's screen is quite dim even when one notch below the max brightness setting. The lack of brightness doesn't help with outdoor visibility, though the screen is readable. The LCD has quite a bit of glare which also hinders outdoor use.
The Treo's Texas Instruments 333MHz processor doesn't sound like much, but this phone is one of the faster Windows Mobile Pro phones on the market. Palm did a wonderful job providing graphics acceleration and overall optimizations that mean less lag when scrolling, opening menus and launching programs. The Treo has 128 megs of RAM with 69.9 megs free at boot, and 256 megs of flash ROM with 160 megs free to store programs and data. That's plenty of RAM to run several programs concurrently and a healthy amount of storage. Should you need more space for an MP3 or video library, the Treo has a microSD card slot that supports standard and SDHC high capacity cards. We tested it with a Kingston 8 gig microSD card and a 4 gig SanDisk card, both of which worked perfectly.
The Treo is a digital dual band 800/1900MHz CDMA phone that works on Sprint's network. It has EVDO Rev. A for fast data with fallback to 1xRTT for areas that lack EVDO coverage. It sports all the usual Windows Mobile call feature including support for caller ID, call waiting, conference calling, speakerphone and call history. We're thrilled that Palm included Microsoft's Voice Command 1.6, one of the most powerful voice command solutions for WinMo. Out of the box the phone doesn't support voice dialing through Bluetooth headsets and car kits, but Palm has already released a patch that adds this feature (future Treo models may have it pre-installed). You can download Palm's patch that adds voice dialing over Bluetooth here: www.palm.com/us/support/downloads/treo800wbluetooth/index.html or you can get it directly on the Treo 800w by visiting www.palm.com/800wota using IE Mobile.
Bluetooth range and quality have been sore points with earlier Palm OS Treo models. Windows Mobile versions had better voice quality but lower than average range. We're happy to report the Treo 800w has average range for a phone and good audio quality. We tested it with the Plantronics Discovery 655 (a fine sounding headset that has poor range with all phones) and got 6 feet-- about average for the 655. The Discovery has a very good DSP and our only complaint is that outgoing calls had more noise than is normal for this headset. The original Jawbone worked well and range was about 15 feet. The Jawbone 2 likewise worked well and achieved 15 feet. Incoming call quality was excellent and outgoing was decent (as is the norm for the Jawbone 2). All worked with the new voice dialing patch.
Call quality via the handset is below par for incoming voice, but is quite good for outgoing voice quality and volume. Incoming voice is softer than usual for a CDMA handset, and voices sound somewhat muffled, as though the speaker had a scarf in front of his mouth. But our call recipients liked how we sounded and said they heard us loud and clear. The ringer isn't terribly loud, so you'll want to use your loudest MP3 or WAV files for ringers. We turned on the vibrate + ring option in sound settings, but oddly our Treo only vibrated once, though it kept ringing until we answered the call.
The Treo has EVDO Rev. A for data and supports tethering (using the phone as a modem if you have Sprint's PAM data plan option). Speeds are good and web pages load quickly thanks both the Windows Mobile 6.1's speedier networking and Rev. A. Our dslreports mobile speed test results in the DFW area averaged 470k with a full EVDO signal, which is a bit slower than some WinMo 6.1 phones on AT&T's HSDPA network. We used the ##EVDO# command to ensure that Rev. A was turned on for our tests. However, Sprint TV works better on the Treo 800w than any other Sprint phone we've tested and we rarely saw buffering lags-- very nice!
This is the first Treo with an integrated GPS, and good thing too since GPS has become a staple not only on smartphones but high end feature phones too. This is an assisted GPS that works with the included Sprint Navigation ($10/month) and with the lovely Maps application included on the phone (no fee to use Maps, though it does require a data plan to download maps and POI's over 1x or EVDO). Maps uses the GPS to find POI's of your choosing on the map, and provides phone numbers with the option to add a POI to contacts. You can also map any address in Contacts or simply get a map of your current location. Sprint Navigation is full-featured routing with voice and in our tests it worked well with the Treo. The Treo gets a fix in 30 seconds or less outdoors or in a car, and managed to find 8 to 10 satellites.
How about non-Sprint GPS software? Google Maps and Windows Live Search both worked fine. We installed CoPilot 7 Live, a popular and capable mapping and navigation application that we test with all Windows Mobile GPS-enabled phones. The Treo 800w is the first phone that took a distinct dislike to CoPilot and it hung trying to automatically find and configure the GPS. We rebooted the Treo but after that, the phone radio wouldn't work (no more voice and data). So we hard reset and tried again with the same unfortunate result. Our guess? The GPS chipset is tied to the phone radio and when one gets hung, they both go down. We then tried the manual GPS setup option in CoPilot (on COM4) but it failed to find the GPS. Moral of the story-- don't install CoPilot 7 on the Treo 800w. We don't know if other standalone mapping solutions might work better.
Benefiting from Palm's graphics speed enhancements, the Treo 800w did a very good job playing a variety of video clips stored on a microSD card. Sprint TV worked like a charm as long as the phone has at least 50% signal strength, and the player uses the entire screen for playback. Sprint's TV channels looked quite sharp and clear compared to Verizon and AT&T's streaming services. If on-demand video and TV content is your thing, the Treo is one of the few smartphones to support it and support it so well.
Should you prefer to listen to streaming media and music wirelessly rather than through the uninspiring wired headset, the Treo's A2DP stereo worked well with the Samsung SBH500 stereo Bluetooth headset. Range was an impressive 30 feet and sound quality was full with good separation and plenty of volume. The Treo comes with the standard Windows Media Player Mobile that plays both music and video in ASF, WMV and MPEG4 formats.
The Treo has a 2 megapixel camera with a fixed focus lens. There's a large self-portrait mirror but no flash. Images are slightly below average for a 2 megapixel camera phone, with noticeable noise in even moderately lit indoor shots and significant blowout of highlights that creates a white haze around the offending object(s). Indoor colors are well balanced with reasonable saturation and outdoor shots tend to be ever so slightly cool. The camera can take photos at a max 1600 x 1200 pixel resolution and there are a variety of lower resolutions suitable for MMS and photo caller ID.
The Treo can shoot video at 320 x 240 and 176 x 144 resolutions with audio at 17 fps in .3G2 format. The camcorder handles movement well without excessive ghosting and the colors are good, but video is pretty blocky.
The Treo 800w has a surprisingly low capacity 1150 mAh Lithium Ion battery. Past Sprint Treo phones had very high capacity 1800 mAh batteries and we're feeling those missing milliamps. Those of you who use push email and talk on the phone quite a bit may want to invest in a second battery for the 800w. In our tests, we got 3 hours and 20 minutes of talk time in a good coverage area with no use of the multimedia or PDA features. Standby time is very good at a claimed 8.3 days which was reflected in our tests (this means absolutely no use of the phone).
The Treo form factor is hard to beat if you want a message-centric smartphone. Palm as always has enhanced one-handed and overall usability, making the device both pleasant and productive. On paper it looks like a very competitive phone with GPS, WiFi and EVDO along with a few goodies like Sprint TV. These days, the market is crowded with amply endowed WinMo phones, and the Treo doesn't stand out or raise the bar. Its likely audience will be those who are already sold on the Palm usability experience and the Treo's good ergonomics. The 800w does have one advantage over its keyboarded Windows Mobile competition on Sprint (the HTC Mogul and the Treo 700wx): twice as much memory. That's an important point for power users who want to run several applications simultaneously.
Pro: Feels great in hand and one-handed operation is a breeze. Excellent keyboard, fast device overall. Has the big four features for a business PDA phone: GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth and EVDO. GPS works well and Sprint Navigation and is a champ for Sprint TV.
Con: Below average incoming call quality. GPS doesn't work in a turnkey fashion with standalone commercial GPS software packages like CoPilot. Looks plasticky. Camera is so-so. Battery capacity is low and as a result battery life suffers. WinMo runs most screens at 240 x 240 resolution.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with EVDO Rev. A for fast data. Uses Qualcomm MSM6800a radio chipset.
Camera:2.0MP with self-portrait mirror but no flash. 1600 x 1200 max photo resolution. Max video resolution is 320 x 240.
in speaker, mic and MicroUSB stereo headphone
jack (stereo headset included). Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
Networking: WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Supported profiles: Hands-free, Headset, GAP (General Access Profile), GOEP (General Object Exchange Profile), SPP (Serial Port Profile) , ActiveSync , PBAP (Phonebook Access Profile), PAN (Personal Area Networking), BPP (Basic Printing Profile), stereo audio streaming (A2DP, GAVDP, AVRCP) .
Mobile Professional 6.1 operating system.
Additional software: MS PIM applications (Messaging, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and Notes), Alarm Clock; Calculator; Camera; File Explorer; Internet Sharing; Games – Bubble Breaker, Solitaire, Astraware Sudoku, and Aces Texas Hold’em; Maps; Microsoft Internet Explorer Mobile; Microsoft Live Search; Microsoft Office Mobile – Outlook Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, Word Mobile, and OneNote Mobile; Microsoft Windows Live; Pics and Video; Picsel PDF Viewer; Quick Tour; Sprint Navigation; Sprint TV; Sprite Backup; Windows Media Player Mobile.
microSD card slot, supporting SDHC.
Sync connector:MicroUSB 2.0. Also functions as charging port and headset jack.