The Smartest of the Smartphones

Treo SmartphoneTreo SmartphoneI'm the type to obsess over a purchase before I make it. In the case of my cell phone, my obsession recently paid off when I decided to upgrade to the Treo 700w Smartphone, by Palm.

Wanting to move away from my usual flip-phone, I needed something that would be part-phone, part-PDA and all cool. I got more than I thought I would out of the Treo.

Doubling as a PDA as well as a cellular phone (hence the "Smartphone" moniker), the Treo can synchronize itself with your PC either by cradle or through wireless synchronization software; enabling you to check e-mail, update appointments and your To-Do lists. You can also use the wireless connection to surf the web and get GPS navigation information. These features (among others) have propelled the Treo into the stratosphere in terms of sales for the Palm company.

And now it's all mine. I haven't patted myself on the back for a smart consumer move in a while, so forgive my gloating. It's rare.

We'll start with some basic aspects of the phone, then get into some stuff that I really enjoy and end with some prospective improvements/constructive criticisms that you should hear before making a similar purchase of your own.

Feature-Rich and Not Shy

Let's quickly roll out the obvious strengths of the 700w:

  • Full color display & full QWERTY keyboard, with Stylus
  • 1.3 Megapixel camera
  • Wireless synchronization software & Cellular Internet Connection
  • Bluetooth capability
  • Flash memory SD card Expansion Slot.
  • Integrated Microsoft utilities

including: Internet Explorer, mobile Outlook, Word, Excel & Powerpoint

All contained on a stable MS Mobile 5.0 platform (the current go-to Operating System for mobiles). Not bad, huh? Although, these aren't its only assets.

Mostly I'm a sucker for all the small things this phone can do. Like changing the theme of Windows Mobile and downloading any mp3 to set as a ringtone (picture). I chose the green theme for my opening screen (the "Today" screen, in PDA parlance) and a rare profanity-laden Kool Keith track now belts out when my roommate Tom gets on the horn.

Being relatively new to the Smartphone subgenre, I've found that downloading and installing new stuff like "Today" themes gets easier only with time and experience. Most PC themes and updates are self-installing now, so I've let myself get lazy when it comes to cold installs.

For instance, I like to change my themes about once a month on my computer (to keep my life lovely and new). So it wasn't long before I wanted to do the same on the Treo. At first, it was tough to find new themes - Microsoft has been playing it's Windows Mobile cards close to its chest - but ambling about Google got me a few new sites that offer free theme downloads (I chose a deep purple one). This was unheard of a few months ago. Now, there's around a hundred themes compatible with the Treo, and growing.

Smell That? ... It's Opportunity

I should mention that market innovation in the Smartphone mobile web business is there for the taking. Not a lot of webpages are made for PDA-based web browsing and this could limit your enjoyment of the product. If you're smart (and you are), you'll be coming up with websites that are geared just for mobile internet users. I don't mean for people who are on their laptops in little cafes, but cell phone users, PDA users and any other portable, wireless devices.

Some sites are catching up. In fact, I recently clicked opened Internet Explorer to find that my homepage had changed from some terrible Yahoo! site to a well defined Palm site just for my Treo. Notice how the HTML is simple and the display is small? This makes it perfect for viewing on a mobile device, it's a quick download for the characteristically slow mobile internet connection and it's pretty simple stuff to come up with for all you web developers.

Things I Never Knew I Needed

This magical device is also an mp3 player and yours truly has been throwing about 15 songs a week on it. Windows Mobile 5.0 comes with a version of Media Player that pumps songs through a built-in headphone jack. It's not an adequate replacement for an iPod, but considering I needed a new phone more so than I needed a new iPod, I wanted one with enough expandable memory to store about 100 songs at a time.

Speaking of expandable memory, the Treo supports a flash memory SD card right in the top of the device. In fact, I ordered a nice 4 Gigabyte SD Card (a $70 purchase) just last week to give me more room to store mp3's, pictures and videos.

Yes, it also records videos. Not a feature I use too often, but one I find comfort in knowing is present. The picture quality is fuzzy, but I have to remind myself that we're talking about a cell phone here. I'm not sure if anyone can expect digital camera quality out of a cell phone for a least another two or three years.

Only Flawed in a Few Ways

The pixel resolution on the color screen is 240x240 and I read a CNet review that call it "washed out" and weak. If you're looking to edit images, or navigate graphic-intensive web sites, I can see how this criticism could be true.

Unfortunately I live in a place called reality and have come to face some inherent truths about technology. One of them is, if I'm looking at something I keep in my pocket to call my mom, the picture clarity isn't going to rival my HDTV - ever. If you can't live without picture perfect resolution on your cell phone, you probably spend too much time with it. Take this from someone who spends too much time with his.

This leads me to some of the genuine weaknesses of the Treo. While I love the option to put more memory into the phone via an SD card to store videos and mp3's, the phone comes with a paltry 64 Megabytes of hard drive space. I don't think consumers should have to make aftermarket purchases to make their phones better - Palm and the rest of the Smartphone gang should get on the ball and start offering substantial improvements to the integrated memory. From what I know about PDA's, people are loyal to their brand. Companies should be rewarding them for that with more Megs/Gigs of space.

The heft of the Treo has also given me some trouble lately. Looking at the phone a lot folks have asked me if it was too bulky. Not really. It's only a bit bigger than my last cell phone, but it is thick. Thick enough that if you've just washed your hands, it's difficult to grasp the phone and work the keyboard at the same time. Not a major drawback, but one worth noting.

Not For The Runway

My other complaint is fashion-related. I wear suits everyday and this thing is great for one of the inside pockets of my jackets. Although, on the weekends it's a different story. I'm a T-shirt and jeans sorta guy. If I'm carrying the phone around with me, it's small and lightweight enough not to be noticed when it's in my back pocket.

Sitting down is the problem. Barstools, booths, chairs, couches or any other lounging mechanisms become an occasion to pull the phone out of my pocket and attempt to set it where liquids (alcohol mostly) will not be spilled on it. When I was single, I would fret over losing or ruining the phone every place I went. Now that I have a girlfriend, I'm always trying to secure a safe spot in her purse when we go out (sometimes, this is not an easy feat).

Although I've encountered this situation with all of my phones, I guess worrying about the Treo is more pronounced because I like it so much.

Sign Me Up

If you're thinking about a purchase like a Smartphone, I can't recommend this one more highly. For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that I can't stand the "data access" (essentially, wireless internet) charges that Verizon slaps on me. I'm shelling out $45 a month to get a wireless connection to the world wide web that's relatively slow. The only upshot is that I can receive e-mail, update my appointments and my contacts every couple of minutes so I'm never without the most accurate meeting information or new contact. For forty-five beans, it's not exactly broadband. On the other hand, it looks like web pages are slowly becoming more mobile friendly, so faster downloads might be in our future.

If you find yourself with an offer from a good provider, this phone will be the best $300 you've ever spent. Trust me on this one, it was the best $300 I spent.

Jefferson Smith
Guest Blogger


Guest Blogger Jefferson Smith lives in Boston, Massachusetts and works as a political and marketing consultant. In between writing speeches and making democracy safe for all, he obsesses over the latest innovations in electronics and the internet. You can read his personal blog coming soon at