Treo 700w, Windows Mobile 5.0 marred by flaws

Treo 700w, Windows Mobile 5.0 marred by flaws

Summary: For about the last month, I've been playing with Palm's new Treo 700w.  The PDA phone runs Microsoft's latest greatest Windows Mobile 5.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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For about the last month, I've been playing with Palm's new Treo 700w.  The PDA phone runs Microsoft's latest greatest Windows Mobile 5.0 mobile operating system and its provisioned by Verizon Wireless' EVDO network. People have been raving about this device but quite frankly, I'm very disappointed and here's a list of reasons why:

In order to do certain things with this PDA phone (take a picture, make a phone call, etc.), you have to press a button that sits in the middle of the rocker switch right below the display.  The rocker is what is used to move the cursor up or down and left or right when in certain menus and screens.  The button in the middle of it requires so much pressure and is so curvaceous and slippery that my thumb usually ends up sliding to one side or the other and pressing the rocker first.   This invariably creates some very undesirable outcomes.  For example, when trying to call someone, it picks the next person in the menu and calls him (or her).  Or, when trying to take a picture, you have to press the button so hard that the phone moves and the picture is blurry. Other buttons on the phone don't require nearly as much pressure.  Most of the pictures I've taken with this device are blurry.  The device I was using before this --  AudioVox's XV6600 -- has a similar rocker with a button in the middle of it.  I never had this problem and my pictures were always clear.  I blame Palm for this. It's an industrial design problem.  The button should have more grip to it or be rubberized.

The home page of the Windows Mobile operating system is called the Today Page.  If you're on the Today Page and start to dial a phone number with the little tiny keys on the Treo's thumbboard, and something else happens that causes Windows Mobile's Notification Dialog to spring up (eg: battery low, new messages, inbound SMS, voice mail indicator, etc.), it will wipe out the number you've typed and makes you dismiss the message before starting over and retyping the number. It's bad enough that the keys on the Treo are so tiny (I recognize that some people don't have a problem with this).  But to have it undo what you've done, forcing you to do it over, is very frustrating.  This is Microsoft's fault.

The Pop Mail part of Pocket Outlook has a very strange behavior.  Every time it accesses my Gmail account, it wipes out any previous messages that it previously received/downloaded. This could be a configuration error on my behalf. But I've looked high and low for a way to stop this and Microsoft says it's looking into the problem.

I still think an Escape button (much like what is found on the Blackberry) is necessary for backing yourself out from whatever feature you've dug your way into on Windows Mobile.  For example, if because of the first problem listed above, you end up somewhere you don't want to be, you must press the OK button to cancel what you're doing.  Using "OK" to cancel an operation couldn't be more unintuitive, especially since everyone I know is used to using "OK" to confirm that they're about to do something on their computers.  Even in Windows Mobile 5.0, there are many screens where the OK button is used to OK some settings that you've just entered.  But there's no way to cancel those changes.  Also, in some of the cases I've discovered, using the OK button to back out of where ever you are doesn't back you out one level.  It takes you all the way back to the Today Page.  Another place the lack of an Escape button rears its ugly head is if you're in Pocket Internet Explorer (browsing the Web) and you've somehow dropped down the URL history menu.  There's no way I can tell, to clear the menu.  If you press the OK button, it closes Pocket Explorer.  This hurts productivity.  Research in Motion's BlackBerries do this perfectly.  Windows Mobile-based devices desperately need an escape button that reliably takes you back one step from where ever you are (to the most previous state the display was in).  Finally, some screens have an OK button in the corner the display that says "OK." In other screens (eg: Internet Explorer), it's an "X."  This inconsistency in user interface is awful for a version 5.0 operating system.

There are times where, when I try to go to a Web site, it starts the dial up process and I get an error message that says the receiving modem has hung up and that I need to check my settings.  In some cases, I'm already dialed into the Internet.  In other words, I already have a data connection.  But the phone thinks it needs to dial in again after I enter a URL. I have no idea why.  It's clearly NOT my settings that are the problem since they're the factory settings that came with the device and they work at other times.  Microsoft is looking into this.

This device has crashed on me several times.  One of them at the least opportune time.  It was when my doctor was calling me.  I pressed the answer button, the display locked up and nothing happened. To recover, I had to remove the battery.  The call was an after office hours call and as a result, my doctor and I never connected that evening.  I was unable to communicate to him that I needed an emergency refill order for some pain killers called into my local pharmacy.  I had a sleepless night because of the back pain I was having.  The device has crashed other times too.  After one of those, it detected that something went terribly wrong and asked if I wanted to send an error report to Microsoft.  Phones that crash are not ready for mission critical use (or urgent calls to and from your doctor).  Or what about 911?

This OS is still stylus-crippled.  What I mean by this is that there are plenty of features that are simply inaccessible without the stylus. For example, if you're in one of the mailboxes in Pocket Outlook want to switch from the Inbox to another folder, you can't do that from the keyboard.  The icons along the top of the display are also inaccessible by keyboard.  This should never be the case. Everything that's accessible by stylus should be accessible from the keyboard.   Once I have to pull the stylus out (or try to press the screen with my big inaccurate thumb), single handed operation of the device (a must have if you ask me) goes out the window. 

If you pick the background picture for my Today Page from a list of pictures that are stored in the device, you can set the transparency level of the image (but only if you do this when opening the image itself, not when setting the preferences for the Today Page, which needs to be corrected).  If you set the transparency level to something like 60 percent or higher, it makes it difficult if not impossible to view the white-lettered choices in any of the drop down menus.  This should automatically adjust.  For example, a rule that says for anything over 40%, make the letters a dark color (for contrast) instead of white. There's no way to overcome the problem. Microsoft thanked me for the feedback.

Pocket Outlook has a great feature.  It inspects email and SMS messages and figures out whether or not they contain phone numbers or Web links (in URL form like "http://www.zdnet.com").  Then, it makes them "hot" so all you have to do is click on them to make a phone call or go to a Web site.  Pocket Explorer doesn't do this.  So, if you go to a Web page with a phone number or URL in it (for example, a Web site with a "Contact Us" page), phone numbers and URLs are dead (hyperlinks that are coded by the Web page's author do work).  Again, this is highly inconsistent when you consider how Pocket Outlook is capable of detecting the possibility that certain text strings are phone numbers or Web links.  Why can't Pocket Explorer do this?  Microsoft thanked me for that feedback too.  It's a comment that I've given to them with previous versions of Windows Mobile.

The Bluetooth connection apparently doesn't support the Dial up Networking profile.  I have an unlimited data plan with Verizon Wireless.  This is really bad.  My favorite reason for having Bluetooth is for DUN so I can use the phone has a modem so my Bluetooth-enabled PC can access Verizon Wireless' EVDO network. I can do this with my XV6600.  I'm trying to figure out if there's support for Bluetooth's stereo headset profile (for playing audio), but it's hard to find information on this (bad documentation and configuration dialogs in the device).  This is more Verizon Wireless' problem than Microsoft's since it's a choice that Verizon Wireless makes before selling the device to its customers.

I'm sure I'll have more comments as I continue to use this device and if Microsoft, which is checking into some of these comments, gets back to me with news that it's user error, I will let you know.  But, as it stands right now, I wouldn't recommend this device.

Topic: Mobility

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99 comments
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  • How True

    Every year I hear about the device and/or service that is to "beat the Blackberry." Not even mighty Microsoft or Nokia has accomplished that in the 5 years they have been saying it. And then there is NTP, the patent leeches who have done nothing but become a professional extortion firm, is now trying to capitalize on the success of RIM adding zero value to the technology since applying for those proven irrelevant patents.
    cguella
  • WindowsMobile 5 review is right on...

    I don't have a Treo, but a Dell Axim, and I am suffering through the transition from Palm OS 5 to WM5. It has not always been pretty. It does some things right. non-volatile memory for one, and true multitasking. If you frequent the Pocket PC related forum sites there is one common theme - "we can't wait for Microsoft to issue an update patch...."
    gibsonjunkie
  • Switching between Messaging Accounts

    I agree with alot of the issues you have seen. But there is a quick way to cycle through accounts - move the circular rocker to the left or right. It will move to each account in order.
    cgsaben
    • It's not about switching accounts

      I know how to switch accounts (eg: from coporate email to POP3 gmail, to MMS and SMS). Within accounts, you cannot use the keyboard to switch folders. For example, from your inbox to the deleted mail folder of the same account.

      db
      dberlind
  • buggier than it ought to be

    I've used the 700w since the day it was introduced, and have experienced a number of typical Microsoft issues - like having to reboot the phone once or twice a day when it simply refuses to turn on. I love the phone's functionality, but like the review indicates, there are a number of usability issues that should not arise in a Version 5 OS - especially when they can compare features and usability with the Treo 650 and Blackberry.
    jaheaney
    • 700w lockups

      Palm is working on a patch to fix the lockups. This happens when the device swaps from EVDO to 1xrtt speeds. But even when the device is only on 1xrtt it will search for EVDO and the problem develops. It will be fixed in the mr1 patch hopefully.
      akauth@...
      • finally... an explanation

        Thanks so much for clarifying the reason for the frequent lockups. Now let's hope that the patch will arrive quickly.
        jaheaney
  • Treo 700w, Windows Mobile 5.0 marred by flaws

    I agree. I actually started reading this article thinking that I was about to read the Palm-biased perspective with a touch of Windows bashing. This might be what I actually read, but I found that I agreed with most of the points, especially the Windows Mobile 5 bluetooth functionality. I would also add that VGA is the only way to go. I'm sure that will eventually be available on a phone, but I won't even consider a Windows Mobile phone until this is an option.

    Rick
    RickW_z
    • VGA is expensive

      Even 480 by 480 screens are $800 for the screen alone.
      akauth@...
      • VGA is not as expensive as you think

        You do know that current Windows Mobile PDAs use 640x480 screens (full VGA) and cost below $600, right? Look for the Dell Axim X51v... and Dell does put it "on sale" (saving you some $50 or so) now and again.
        StrikerRJ
  • Berlind only scratched the surface

    I am a former Treo180g and Treo600 user, so this comes from a long-term fan of the PalmOS, so please consume your grain of salt now.
    JoeHusker
    • excuse me?

      Does zdnetcat's comment make any sense at all?
      kentfx_z
  • Berlind only scratched the surface (got truncated)

    Wrote a long diatribe about the horrors of 700w, but it got whacked when IE froze. Great.
    JoeHusker
    • Ooops

      You must have tried to send your reply from your Treo.
      FallGuy7254
      • It's not IE. Once again ZDNet

        has done something to their servers so as only the first sentence makes it. Probally would work better on a Treo...
        John Zern
  • using the phone as a modem

    Thanks for the update on the Treo 700. I have held off buying for several reasons the biggest being I need a unit with the Palm OS for other reasons. I am frustrated with Verizon because they have blocked the ability via Bluetooth to use it as a modem. When the 650 came out with Sprint people complained and sprint changed it. Verizon won't. I use Verizon because of the network. But I tell you, I do not like the fact that they block this capability. It's called they are too greedy in my opinion.
    rpmorrison
    • Software fix

      It seems to be that there is a software called PDANet - now available for the Treo 700w as well - that fixes that "flaw". It will allow you to use your Treo phone as a Bluetooth modem for your notebook. For some $30-something (I think) that's a worthy purchase. A good way to tell Verizon to put it (the EvDO card they want you to buy for your notebook, bundled with a separate data account) "where it belongs".
      StrikerRJ
      • It's from JuneFabrics

        I've used the software. It works in cabled-mode. Not wireless (bluetooth) mode.

        See www.junefabrics.com.

        David
        dberlind
    • Treo 700w as high speed modem

      I use my Treo 700w as a high-speed modem for my notebook all the time... but I do have to use my sync cable to connect the phone. I downloaded a program called PDAnet and have had terrific success around the country useing the EVDO network.
      jaheaney
      • Is there a fee from Verizon

        Are you charged a fee from Verizon to do this? I was told using the Treo as a modem would use up your call minutes. Then someone else said there is an extra charge of $15 a month to do this too.
        crgerlach