Palm broke from tradition at the beginning of 2006 by introducing their first Windows Mobile-powered device, the Treo 700w for Verizon. The 700w brought the familiarity and corporate compatibility of the Pocket PC operating system to the Treo platform. Now Sprint subscribers can get in on the Pocket PC on Treo action with the 700wx, which runs the same Windows Mobile 5 software as the 700w but doubles the available operating memory.
Once the undisputed king of the PDA/Smartphone space, the Treo has slipped in recent years in the face of innovative smartphone offerings from HTC, Nokia, Samsung, and most recently, Motorola. And, of course, there's the BlackBerry grip on corporate email to contend with.
Is a Windows-powered Treo enough to edge Palm back to the top of the smartphone heap? Or is the 700wx just a new take on a now-outdated platform?
The Treo 700wx will look very familiar to long-time Treo users. The Treo's combination of compact size and good ergonomics originally catapulted it to enormous popularity, as it pioneered the inclusion of QWERTY thumboards on mobile phones. On the one hand, the thumboard is room y enough to be comfortable and the Treo's combination of front-mounted keypad, side-mounted buttons, and touchscreen is still easy and efficient to use. On the other hand, other smartphones are getting slimmer profiles, larger screens, and other design innovations while the Treo has essentially stayed the same for a few years now.
Measuring 111 x 58 x 22.5 mm and weighing in at 180g, the Treo 700wx is quite a bit larger than slim smartphones like the T-Mobile Dash and Motorola Q, or the compact candybar-shaped BlackBerry Pearl. The phone is finished in grey and silver plastic, and the front keys are backlit and clearly labeled. A 2" x 2" square screen takes up about half of the front panel, with a speaker and LED status light above it and controls below. A large, easy to use five-way directional pad is centered below the display, with a softkey above Call and Windows Menu buttons on the left and another softkey above the OK and Cancel/Power buttons on the right. Beneath this row of controls is a full QWERTY board.
The rear panel of the phone is largely taken up by the battery cover, with a small speakerphone grill and the camera sensor housing (with self-portrait mirror) located in the top left corner along with the stylus holder. A stubby external antenna also protrudes from this corner.
Three unlabeled buttons are found on the left panel of the handset, while the right panel is blank. The top of the device features an SD expansion slot, IR port, and mute switch, while the bottom panel has an expansion port and an AC adapter jack.
Once a groundbreaking design, the Treo feels somewhat dated by today's standards. It's bulky, heavy, and the external antenna is a bit ungainly. That being said, the Treo's form has always followed its functionality, and it's hard to argue with roomy keys and a great blend of touchscreen and button-driven navigation. The 700's QWERTY keys are also a bit of an improvement over previous models, with buttons that are slightly flatter, squarer, and easier to use than those on the 650. If you're a fan of earlier Treos, you'll probably like the 700 as well. Just don't expect anything too slim and sexy.
Palm did well to enhance the standard Windows Mobile 5 operating system with some well-placed add-ons, including Today Screen plug-ins for speed dialing, photo ID speed dialing, and a Google search bar. Sprint also added a speakerphone short cut to the main in-call menu, something which was oddly missing from the Verizon 700w.
The 700wx of course includes the standard WinMob 5 application suite, including mobile versions of MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel, Picsel PDF viewer, Internet Explorer, MSN Explorer, and ActiveSync. Sprint also added the On Demand application to serve as a Web home screen that provides news, weather, sports, and entertainment updates customized according to your location (by zip code).
Outlook mobile handles email, contacts, and organizer functionality, and should be familiar territory to users of its desktop counterpart. Caller and photo caller ID are supported. Microsoft's Voice Command application is also installed on the 700wx, and it's one of the better implementations of a voice control system I've tried on a mobile handset. The phone also supports recording of voice memos.
Windows Media Player 10 Mobile handles audio/video playback, and it worked well with media files loaded onto the Treo via Bluetooth and SD memory card, as well as those downloaded directly from the Net. Windows Media works well as a digital audio player, supporting playlists and album art display. One negative about using the 700wx as a media player, though, is that its square-shaped display isn't as nice for viewing widescreen videos as standard QVGA screens are.
The Treo 700wx comes with two games pre-installed, but literally hundreds more area available as pay or freeware downloads from the Web. Similarly, a myriad of productivity and entertainment applications that work with WinMob 5 can be had with a few Google searches.
The Treo 700wx features a 1.3 megapixel camera housed in its rear panel. There is no flash or camera light, but a small piece of mirrored plastic mounted next to the camera sensor is handy for snapping self-portraits.
Most people probably won't buy a Treo 700 for its camera, and that's good. The camera takes rather lousy pictures. Compared to images captured with better 1.3 MP cameraphones, the 700wx's photos lack overall color depth, brightness, and crispness. Compared to high-end 3 MP cameraphones? Well, never mind. Brightness and quality settings provide a limited amount of adjustment when taking pictures, but they only go so far. The 700wx's camera is fine for capturing images for photo caller ID and "proof of concept" type applications, but that's about it.
A video capture mode is available, as well, and movies can be captured with or without sound. Movies are saved at resolutions of up to 352 x 288 pixels, and while the picture quality of movies was no better than that of still images, movies were generally smooth and stutter-free.
A camera-less 700wx is also available from Sprint, which should appeal to security-conscious IT departments and executives.
While the 2.5" diagonal, 240x240 pixel touchscreen on the 700wx isn't state of the art, it does get the job done. Most PocketPC devices have 240x320 displays, but Palm decided to keep their traditional square-shaped screen when designing a Windows-based Treo, but the limits of Windows Mobile forced this resolution instead of the 320x320 display found on the Treo 700p.
The display only renders 65,000 colors, but it's plenty bright and clear, and text and graphics are easy to see under most lighting conditions. I did wish for more screen space during Web browsing - and quite a few Windows Mobile apps (games in particular) are designed for 240x320 screens, and so suffer a bit on the 700wx - but in general the display was fine.
Windows Mobile 5 allows for customization of the display including installation of background images on the Today screen. Font styles and sizes can also be customized throughout the system.
Call quality on the 700wx was generally excellent. Voices came through loud clear through both the earpiece and speakerphone. The included wired stereo earbuds worked well enough, though I would consider an upgrade for serious music listening or extended wear. A 2.5-to-3.5mm stereo adapter is available for use of standard stereo headphones with the Treo.
Windows Mobile allows for extensive customization of ringtones and system sounds on the 700wx. WAV and mp3 files can be assigned to ringtones, caller ID tones, and a plethora of system sounds. While Windows Media Player does a fine job of handling music playback, a variety of third-party audio applications are available, including PocketTunes, which allows for integration with iTunes PC software.
The Treo's initial popularity was due in large part to its use as a mobile email client. Out of the box, the 700wx supports multiple POP3 and IMAP email accounts as well as push email from an MS Exchange Server as well as via the pre-installed Goodlnk application.
Email is handled by the Outlook mobile application. Outlook supports HTML email as well as attachments. Email can also be downloaded from and synched with Windows PCs via Active Sync.
SMS and MMS messaging is also supported on the Treo. Images and audio and video clips can be attached to MMS messages, provided that both sender and receiver have compatible cellular service.
The Treo's spacious keypad made messaging a breeze. This handset can be used tor serious email and text messaging with as much comfort as could be expected from a handheld device, though the lack of Wi-Fi connectivity does count as a strike against the 700wx as a mobile business communicator.
Sprint's EV-DO "Vision Network" provides a high speed data connection that allows for near-Broadband speed Web surfing and data services so long as you're within a network coverage area. Web surfing and Email on the 700wx was very speedy, though I did hit the occasional dead spot in Sprint's EV-DO coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The 700wx does not include a WiFi antenna for 802.11x WLAN networking. However, the Treo's SD slot is SDIO compatible and supports the use of WiFi SD adapters. This gives the 700wx some much needed flexibility when going up against competing smartphones with built-in WiFi.
Internet Explorer handles Web Browsing duties, and works much like its desktop PC counterpart. Nokia's Web browser is the standard by which I judge all mobile browsers, and while IE doesn't quite measure up, it works very well on most web pages. A higher resolution screen would have made Web browsing a bit more fun, as well, as the 240x240 display meant a lot of scrolling, particularly when viewing Websites not optimized for mobile devices.
Smartphone aficionados will cry foul at the Treo 700wx's lack of WiFi connectivity. It's true - 802.11x connectivity is fast becoming a "must-have" for smartphone buyers, and many new models pack a WiFi antenna. However, Sprint's EV-DO network provides data transfer speeds almost on par with broadband in many areas, and the 700wx does support SDIO WiFi adapters.
Being a Windows Mobile device, the 700wx relies on ActiveSync for syncing of organizer, contact, and email data with Windows PCs. Syncing is supported over Bluetooth 1.2 and USB connections. Bluetooth also supports mono audio devices and file transfer, and dial-up networking is officially supported only though a Sprint add-on plan.
I tested the Treo 700wx with a Bluetooth headset and it worked fine, although range seemed to be a bit shorter than average. Voice Command functionality did not work over Bluetooth -- apparently this is a limitation of the application, not the Treo's Bluetooth profile.
The Treo 700wx has an SD card slot which supports removable SD memory cards as well as the SDIO protocol, including SD WiFi cards, as mentioned. No memory card is included in the retail packaging, but the handset does have 60MB of internal memory available for storage.
Only a few years ago, the original Treo revolutionized business communications by combining the functionality of a PDA with the mobile connectivity of the cell phone. The Treo 600 upped the ante with the first widely successful integration of a QWERTY thumboard and touchscreen on a PDA phone, bringing mobile email to the masses.
Nowadays the market is literally flooded with QWERTY-enabled smartphones running a variety of operating systems. Palm OS' ubiquity has been usurped by the spread of Windows Mobile, due in large part to its inherent compatibility with Windows OS and Microsoft Exchange email servers. Palm has adjusted to the times by offering the Treo 700wx, its second Treo to run on Windows Mobile instead of Palm OS.
Is it too little too late? On paper Treo 700wx is lacking compared to the newest smartphones from HTC, Nokia, Motorola, and BlackBerry. The Treo is thicker, heavier, and lacks the high resolution display and WiFi connectivity found in many of its rivals. But nothing can replace good ergonomics and intelligent design, and the 700wx succeeds in carrying on the Treo line's reputation for comfortable, intuitive handhelds. If you're a Treo user looking to switch to the Pocket PC platform, or a Sprint subscriber looking for a solid smartphone, the 700wx is worth a look. It may not be the trendiest smartphone around, but then again quality never goes out of style.