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Treo 600: Schneider’s Review

(Updated; see Verichat/Mundu problem resolution)

After a series of unfortunate events that would have been resolved much faster if I had better connectivity away from the office, I finally broke down and got a Treo 600.

The Treo has already changed my life, and largely for the better. I have checked an airline’s Web site en route to the airport, pulled news headlines while waiting to buy groceries, checked e-mail while walking down the street, and dialed dozens of phone numbers from my Palm Contacts list using three clicks from the tip of one thumb.

The limitations that had me holding out on this purchase exist, but are tolerable. I didn’t care about the built-in camera, and that’s a good thing, because it’s truly awful, producing grainy, gloomy pictures not worth sending by the heavily-promoted Picture Mail. Better PalmOne should have included Bluetooth for syncing and other functions. The native AIM client is Web-based, which over cellphone speeds makes instant messaging glacially slow. And–I assume due to limitations of the combined technologies–the screen resolution is lower than most high-quality PDAs. It’s readable, but it’s not capable of gorgeous graphics you’d see on a T3 or a Clie. And overally, considering what you will use it for–email, Web, AIM, sound files, etc.–the Treo is shy on native apps.

On the other hand, shoot if you must this old blond head, you will not get my Treo (she said). Limitations aside, this is one outstanding piece of equipment.

To start with, the Treo feels great and works beautifully. It’s smaller than most PDAs and thinner than most phones, but it has an elegant, well-tooled, smooth-edged heft reminescent of a really nice silver cigarette case (for those of us who remember back that far). One of its selling features for me was the mute switch, located at the top of the device with clearly-marked sound and mute symbols on each side. Even this switch feels substantial and well-made, as do its companion volume switches on the left. The much-discussed munchkin keyboard really does have magical capabilities; I can easily can thumb my way through short e-mails and calendar additions, and I do think it’s easier than Graffiti. While the screen resolution is grainier than I’d prefer, it’s plenty bright, and the backlighting for the keyboard is perfect. I also like that center navigation button, and unlike some users, I don’t mind using it to activate scroll.

The integration of Palm capability with a cell phone is a brilliant idea, and the Treo executes it well. The center jog button retrieves the recently-dialed list, and you’re then a click away from a generously long single log file of inbound and outbound calls. The dialing screen has luxuriously huge, clearly-marked “buttons” for both the numeric dial pad and the buttons for speakerphone, hanging up, and switching the call. And there really is nothing to compare with the first time you realize you can quickly dial any one of your hundreds of contacts in your PDA, and as PalmOne advertises, you usually will find that contact within a three-letter search.

As for the Web per se, the tiny Web browser works great. I thumbed my way through a series of Web pages, and while it’s a slow way to go, when you need to get on the Web from inside a restaurant, it will seem plenty fast indeed. I’m still exploring IM clients, but I really like how fast IM works over a cell phone, and I get a kick that I receive “missed” IM messages in my SMS software log (I’m not sure I’ll get these now that I’ve disabled the Web-based AIM login).

The Treo wraps it up with SD slot to hold a card for your docs, sound files, and extra games, clear cell phone sound with a respectable speakerphone, and a strong phone antenna that has allowed me to place calls and sync Avantgo in areas where my older phone was completely dead. They provide a combo charge/sync cable (I really like that big, fat grey sync button on the cable–they ran this product past at least a couple of my colleagues from the Trifocals Guild), a rudimentary case, and–thank you, PalmOne!–a print manual. (Now include one with the Zire 72, o.k.?)

After a week with the Treo, I turned it in my hands and thought about the days in the 1980s when I had to be on telephone standby for my job. Back then, “standby” meant you stood by; you couldn’t go more than a few feet past the front steps of your house. With my increased need for always-on availability, I had almost come full circle. The Treo put me back in the 21st century.

My Wish-list for the Treo “900” (NextGen Treo)

Better screen resolution
A second SD slot
Scroll button
At least 50% more internal memory
Lose the camera or bring it up to 2.0 megapixels
An integrated TCP-IP power-app package, even if “lite” versions: POP/IMAP mail, multi-client IM, fax-to-email, plus a page that would link to a bundled executable with PDF, Real, Quicktime, etc.

Thoughts about Treo Apps

First, check Jenny Levine’s list. That got me going. Some of the apps should really be included on the Treo, at least as a Web page with links to the downloads, such as the PDF Reader (after all, that’s the format for most PalmOne manuals).

Some comments on apps:

This is an early take. I may delete all of the games because I don’t use them. And I still haven’t installed an RSS reader.

Avantgo (free): The ultimate news app. Despite what Jenny says, Avantgo is even better on a Treo; you can sync through your PC when you’re at the office, and you can get online updates with live syncs when you’re in the wild. I use Avantgo to read top headlines from the New York Times, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, and a few other places. One of these days I may migrate completely to RSS, but I like the extra style and color of Avantgo channels, as well as the full-length articles.

Verichat or Mundu ($25 and $15, respectively): Google these up yourselves, because I’m still poking around these IM clients. Verichat is an annual subscription that pushes its users through its own proxy. Mundu is similar, but without the proxy. I initially had trouble with my PC’s client closing down when I brought up the PDA client, but the problem appears to have been resolved after endless tinkering to disable the Web-based login for AIM on the Treo.

Snappermail: I’m now in the first week of my evaluation of this software, but I’m impressed with its full-fledged “fat client” interface and how well it handles a secure-login IMAP 4 account. I’m less impressed about the way it freezes the Treo when I try to quit the application, and I haven’t tried attachments yet because the SD card I bought for that purpose just arrived from Amazon. Still, a strong contender. If you need more than you can get from Sprint’s bare-bones (though reasonably functional) BizConn software, try Snappermail.

PalmOne throws in free stripped, read-only versions of the “To Go” series for Word and Excel. That’s all I need (I’m not going to edit Word documents on a Treo, but I may need to read one once in a while), and they work. provides a free Palm platform client (as well they should). They were running a sale this past week, and I bought Sedaris’ “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” for $9.95. I will do just about anything to avoid getting a second device, including an IPod, so I’m keeping my eyes peeled for software and services that enable listening to sound and music and reading books. I bought a stereo headset with a mute/answer switch that works both for hands-free phone calls and for listening to music and other sound files.

Vindigo: I had a subscription for several years. It recently lapsed, and I’ve been dragging my feet to renew it, maybe because the restaurant reviews just aren’t as good as they used to be. Great mapping tools, though.

Then go to and wrap up your purchase with a good case and plastic screen protectors. You need the latter because you will use your fingers to interact with the Treo, no matter what the manual says. Get a case that doesn’t cover the keyboard or screen, because you’re not going to like mashing keys through plastic. I bought a case with a belt clip, and while I don’t like the little tab sticking out at the back of the case, I still appreciate being able to hang the Treo off my web belt while I power-walk.

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