- 3G connectivity
- Slick new user interface for Windows Mobile
- Neater design than previous Palm Treo devices
- Modified interface may take some getting used to
- No Wi-Fi
- No HSDPA
- No front facing camera
The Treo 750v was Palm’s first Windows Mobile-based handheld to ship in the UK, and we appreciated the way Palm intelligently augmented the Windows Mobile user interface. The 500v also has some interface tweaks, and Palm is pushing the device at both business users and consumers, emphasising its 3G connectivity and ability to visit web sites like MySpace, YouTube and eBay. Professional users should note that these sites can be visited with other Windows Mobile devices and that the Treo 500v has all the usual features provided by Windows Mobile 6 Standard (the 'Smartphone' edition).
The Palm Treo 500v is available in two colour schemes — either ‘glacier white’ or ‘charcoal grey’ — and has a rectangular form factor with smoothly rounded corners. This is a departure from the slightly more angular appearance of previous Treos.
The screen and miniature QWERTY keypad are separated by a middle section containing various shortcut buttons. The overall look and feel is unremarkable, with little or no distinctive Palm styling. The profile of the fascia is very flat, with the shortcut buttons flush to their surroundings and just the navigation pad sporting a raised edge. Each of the shortcut buttons is large, with call and end buttons to the far left and right, and softmenu, home and back buttons lying inside them.
The QWERTY keypad is quite compact; this not an unusual feature of Treos, which always tend to prioritise shortcut buttons over the keypad. The QWERTY keys themselves are well spaced and significantly raised., makes them relatively easy to hit. The keys that double up to provide the 0 to 9 numbers are coloured white, while the remainder are coloured black.
The 16-bit colour screen offers the standard Windows Mobile resolution of 320 by 240 pixels (the 750v only managed 240 by 240).
Overall, the Treo 500v is a comfortable device to hold and to carry in a pocket, with similar dimensions (61.5mm wide, 110mm tall, 16.5mm thick) and weight (120g) to other QWERTY-keypad smartphones.
We are pleased to see that Palm has finally abandoned its proprietary power/PC sync connector in favour of a mini-USB port on the bottom edge of the device. Next to the USB port is a 2.5mm headset jack, for which Palm provides a basic stereo headset (which at least includes a microphone). On the left-hand side of the device are two volume control buttons and a third that's mapped to Internet Explorer, making it easy and quick to access the web.
Fans of earlier Treos may miss the presence of a simple switch for turning off the handset ringer. With the Treo 500v, you have to go the normal Windows Mobile route and tap the on/off button on the top edge of the device in order to switch between profiles.
The Treo 500v comes with European power adapters, a USB cable, a headset, a quick-start guide, a printed manual and an application CD.
The Treo 500v runs Windows Mobile 6 Standard. This makes it the equivalent to a Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphone — in other words, it has no touch-screen, which somewhat limits its data-entry capabilities. For those keen on mobile email the QWERTY keypad is, of course, useful. Windows Mobile 6 Standard also comes with Office Mobile, which comprises Word Mobile, Excel Mobile and PowerPoint Mobile. Although the latter is view-only application, you can perform basic editing on Word and Excel files. Bizarrely you can’t create new files from scratch, but an easy workaround is to create template Word and Excel documents on a PC, copy these across to the smartphone, and then edit and save the resulting files with a new name. You also get a PDF viewer.
The phone is tri-band GSM with support for GPRS and 3G but not HSDPA. That means you're limited to 3G download speeds of up to 384Kbps: web pages still loaded pretty quickly in our tests, but many people will still hanker after the 3.6Mbps data speeds that HSDPA offers.
The processor behind the Treo 500v is an Intel PXA270, which seemed to zip along nicely during testing. There is 256MB of memory in total, of which 150MB is available for user storage. A microSD card slot caters for expansion, although it's inconveniently located under the battery making card-swapping unnecessarily fiddly.Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) is built in, but Wi-Fi and infrared are both missing. Infrared is rarely found (or missed) on handhelds these days, but Wi-Fi is fast becoming a standard requirement, and its absence is irritating.
There's a 2-megapixel camera at the back of the Treo 500v for shooting stills and video, but no front-facing unit for video calling. The camera lacks self portrait mirror, flash and auto focus, and is thus a pretty minimal implementation.
As mentioned earlier, one of the key selling points for the Treo 750v was Palm's improvements to the Windows Mobile interface. With the Treo 500v, Palm has once again toyed with the Windows Mobile front end — but this time we're not unreserved in our praise. (Bear in mind, though, that Palm has refocused its market for the Treo 500v, and is as keen on luring consumers as mobile professionals.)
The front end is clean, with a main screen sporting a rainbow flash and softmenu keys accessing Vodafone Live! and the Windows Mobile Start menu. Choose the latter and up pops a user interface that differs significantly from the standard Windows Mobile one.
A horizontally scrolling bar offers application groups and features comprising Recent Programs, Message Centre, Favourite Contacts, Upcoming Events, My Settings, Windows Live, Music & Video, Recent Photos and Vodafone Live!
As you scroll through these using the left and right elements of the navigation key, the central one animates away from a small greyed out icon into a larger colour one, and a vertical listing of options beneath it changes accordingly. Choose Message Centre, for example and the up and down elements of the navigation key let you select between Text Message, MMS, My Mail, Voicemail and Missed Calls.
This works well enough, but it doesn't give you access to the full gamut of applications and options. To get to these you need to select Main Menu, which is available as a softmenu option from the Recent Programs listing or by pressing the centre of the navigation button in the main screen view.
Palm has reorganised the structure of options here so that all the Windows Mobile applications and options are ranged across eight groups. The idea is that you can see all the groupings at once, but, as with the other elements of the new user interface (and this is really our main gripe) if you intend to move to the Treo 500v from another Windows Mobile device, you may find the groupings difficult to get used to.
On the plus side, though, the new interface does look a lot slicker than Windows Mobile's default offering, and once you are used to it, it is easy to navigate.
Performance & battery life
According to Palm, the Treo 500v's battery should last for ten days on standby and deliver up to 4.5 hours of talktime. In practice, we found it could go a couple of days without needing a recharge, although intensive web browsing over 3G did deplete the battery faster than merely making voice calls. Mobile professionals who need always-on push email would be wise to implement a daily charging regime.
Our battery rundown test which involves forcing the screen to stay on and playing music continuously through the built-in speaker, resulted in 5 hours and 20 minutes of continuous music. This is slightly less than we got from the much more feature-rich HTC TyTN II which runs Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional (the 'Pocket PC Phone' edition).
The Treo 500v is quite a departure for Palm in terms of design and market focus. The hardware is difficult to fault: those with larger hands may find the mini-QWERTY keypad challenging, but that's not uncommon with devices in this category; and the reworked Windows Mobile user interface is an improvement when you get used to it.
The absence of HSDPA, Wi-Fi and a front-facing camera may prove to be serious shortcomings for both mobile professionals and consumers (at whom this smartphone is also aimed). Overall though, the Treo 500v is a creditable addition both to the Windows Mobile ecosystem and to Palm’s stable.