Review: Palm 700w

The most usable one-handed Pocket PC, the Palm Treo 700w, will be welcome in Microsoft-dominated workplaces looking for an e-mail-oriented phone that works with the latest Exchange servers.

We can't recommend it as enthusiastically for individual consumers, because it isn't quite as easy to use as the Treo 650 and doesn't take advantage of all the power the Windows Mobile platform has to offer. The Treo 700w is a slightly uncomfortable compromise, but one you can accept cheerfully if your IT department chooses it for you.

The new Treo looks exactly like its Editors' Choice predecessor, the much-beloved Treo 650. It's exactly the same size (2.3 by 4.4 by 0.9 inches) and just a touch heavier, at 6.4 ounces to the Treo 650's 6.3 ounces. You'll find an SD card slot on the top, volume buttons on the side, and a keyboard with very small QWERTY keys.

A few physical differences are apparent. Most notably, the super-bright 320-by-320 screen has been replaced by a slightly dimmer 240-by-240 model. That's a big step backwards.

The 650's quick-access calendar and e-mail buttons are gone. (Plenty of Pocket PCs have calendar buttons, so this isn't a Windows Mobile issue.)

The QWERTY keys are square, making them slightly more susceptible to mistyping than the 650's oval keys. And the center button on the five-way rocker is a bit stiff.

The improvements are inside. The Treo 650's [0.3-megapixel] VGA camera has been replaced by a 1.3-megapixel model, which is dim but quite sharp and takes high-resolution 352-by-288 videos. The 0.4-second shutter lag was good for a camera phone, ensuring that you won't miss snapshots. And the Treo 650's CDMA 1X modem has been pumped up to EV-DO, which runs at about five to seven times the speed of the old technology.

Palm has done a heroic job of making the Treo a good one-handed phone, with a bunch of changes to the standard Windows Mobile Today screen. Type the first letters of any name in your address book and that address book entry pops up, with all of its associated numbers. Press the "Dial" button once and up pops a list of your most recently called numbers.

You can assign 37 speed dials to any key on the QWERTY keyboard and attach speed dials to photo icons on your home screen. You can manage voice mail with the help of little VCR-style icons, and when someone calls you, you can ignore the caller and immediately send a text message back if you're in a meeting.

The phone in the Treo 700w seems to be the same one as in the Verizon Treo 650, right down to the same talk time: 5 hours, 17 minutes. Reception was good, landing between our baseline LG VX8000 and the excellent Motorola RAZR V3c on our tests. The speaker was nice and loud, though the microphone pulled in more background noise than we like.

As with the Treo 650, Verizon's EV-DO data plan is much more expensive than Sprint's: $44.99 [monthly] for unlimited data, compared with $15 with Sprint for its PPC-6700 Pocket PC. Of course, Sprint doesn't carry the Treo 700w yet.

The Treo 700w as Pocket PC

The Treo 700w comes with the standard Windows Mobile Pocket PC software suite, including Microsoft Office reader/editors, Pocket Outlook POP3/IMAP4 e-mail, Windows Media Player 10, and Pocket Internet Explorer.

Palm adds the excellent Picsel PDF viewer and a full version of Microsoft Voice Command, and Verizon adds the clunky Intellisync e-mail redirector for Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes desktop PCs.

The applications all work fine, though as we reported previously, the new Pocket Word is dreadfully slow at opening large documents.

We played music from Napster and Rhapsody music stores through a wired headset (the unit lacks Bluetooth music capability) and watched video captured with a Windows Media Center machine without trouble.

Surfing the Web with Microsoft's Pocket Explorer was zippy on Verizon's EV-DO network; we charted download speeds between 492 and 841 Kbps, with most speeds (fittingly) in the 700s. Right now, you're not allowed to use the Treo 700w as a PC modem, though Verizon told us that feature will come in the future.

Push e-mail is another future feature, coming later this year (but only for folks syncing with Microsoft Exchange 2003 SP2 servers.)

Better Bluetooth connectivity will also hopefully come in the future. We couldn't connect our 700w via Bluetooth to either a Mac or to two PCs, though we had no trouble hooking up Logitech and Jabra headsets.

The 65MB of available storage memory offers enough room for programs, but the 11MB of available program memory is much too small. We got frequent "out of memory" errors and had to go an extra step to close programs. The low memory may also explain why our Treo 700w crashed several times, requiring resets.

The 312-MHz processor is okay for day-to-day use, but we noted it got slower results on all of our benchmark tests than the competing PPC-6700. Battery life, at 6 hours 15 minutes of continuous video playback, was good for a Pocket PC phone.

The 240-by-240 screen is just a bad idea. Palm told us it's working with software companies to make sure that Pocket PC programs, which are written mostly for 320-by-240 screens, work on the square screen.

But we had one error message run off the screen when we were testing. The screen has 25 percent less space than standard 320-by-240 Pocket PCs and 44 percent less than the 320-by-320 Treo 650. There's no upside to that.

The Treo 700w vs. the Competition

You can compare the Treo 700w against its predecessor, the 650, or against other Windows Mobile handhelds. The Palm OS used in the Treo 650 still requires fewer taps and clicks than Windows Mobile, uses less battery power in PDA mode and feels zippier with the 312-MHz processor.

Windows Mobile's strengths are in the integration with Microsoft workplaces and in high-end features like video playback, Wi-Fi/cellular convergence, high-res screens, powerful processors, and glamorous games.

But the Treo 700w's 240-by-240 screen consigns videos to a cramped window (or to having their sides clipped off); there's no Wi-Fi (though EV-DO is nice); and the processor isn't all that fast.

No perfect smartphone solution is available right now, in our eyes.

For power, we'd recommend the Sprint PPC-6700 or its Verizon cousin. Both are smaller and lighter than the Treo and have Wi-Fi, a faster processor, and a bigger display than the Treo's, but they aren't quite as usable one-handed.

For e-mail and phone use, we like the BlackBerry 7130e, which has a slim form, light weight, and excellent sound quality (though you'll have to be comfortable with its unusual keyboard).

And if high-speed networking isn't important to you, well, the Treo 650 is still out there on store shelves.

Benchmark Test Results
Continuous talk time: 5 hours 17 minutes
Battery life (video playback, maximum brightness): 6 hours 15 minutes

Bottom line: Three out of five stars

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