Review: Palm Treo Pro brings thinnest Treo to the world

In a bit of a surprising move for Palm they launched a second Windows Mobile Professional device, the Palm Treo Pro, just about a month and a half after the Treo 800w. I expected to see a GSM version of the Treo 800w, but that hasn't happened and we don't know if it every will. I posted an unboxing video and some responses to my Q&A with Palm last week and finally the NDA was lifted so I could bring you more details about the device. I am on the road in Singapore so am unable to post a video until I return, but there are some images and screenshots in my image gallery and lots of thoughts and answers to your questions below for you to check out.

In a bit of a surprising move for Palm they launched a second Windows Mobile Professional device, the Palm Treo Pro, just about a month and a half after the Treo 800w. I expected to see a GSM version of the Treo 800w, but that hasn't happened and we don't know if it every will. I posted an unboxing video and some responses to my Q&A with Palm last week and finally the NDA was lifted so I could bring you more details about the device. I am on the road in Singapore so am unable to post a video until I return, but there are some images and screenshots in my image gallery and lots of thoughts and answers to your questions below for you to check out.

The Palm Treo Pro has just about the same specifications as all the latest Windows Mobile Professional devices and it is getting tougher and tougher to differentiate between the devices and lower cost may be what drives people to a specific device. The Treo Pro is launching in the U.S. only in an unlocked configuration with a retail price of US$549, so low cost is not a feature of the Treo Pro (in comparison, the Treo 800w is US$249 with a contract). Some of the Palm customizations I've seen on other devices are not present, but there are still a couple that help differentiate the Treo Pro. Are they enough to make this a device to buy at a premium price?

 Image Gallery:Check out product photos and screenshots of the Palm Treo Pro. 
Image Gallery: Treo Pro and iPhone
Image Gallery: Palm logo

With the Treo 800w now available from Sprint, the Treo Pro is the second Palm branded mobile phone with WiFi and GPS. It is an unlocked phone with quad-band GSM and tri-band HSDPA/UMTS radios so even though it may cost a bit more, enterprise customers may like to pick it up without any contract obligations and send employees all over the world with a high quality phone. Just 5 days after I received the review unit, I had to head out of town to Singapore for business so I took the Treo Pro along to see how it performed in a real-life test. It didn't seem to work with my MaxROAM SIM like my Nokia N82, but the WiFi was handy to have so I could connect to my test Boingo Mobile account.

In the box: Palm made a good move with the Treo Pro and it looks like they modeled the packaging after the Apple iPhone. I don't think there is anything wrong with emulating a successful feature and as I showed in my unboxing video Palm did a great job with the packaging. Inside the rugged, attractive, and compact Palm Treo Pro box you will find the device itself (displayed prominently right under the top cover), micro USB sync/charge cable (Palm's new standard), compact A/C charger, wired stereo headset, stylus (no extra in the box), generous 1500 mAh lithium ion polymer battery, Palm recycling label, and a couple printed materials (Getting Started Guide and warranty information). There is no case or CD included in the box. Rather than include a CD with ActiveSync, Palm now includes a PC Setup utility right on the device that actually contains ActiveSync and more so you get the latest version on your Windows PC the first time you connect the USB cable so the out-of-box experience is optimized. This does not work with Apple computers.

Specs: The Palm Treo Pro is the first GSM Treo with WiFi and GPS and has the latest and greatest specifications to make it a winner in the Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional lineup. Specifications of the Palm Treo Pro include:

  • Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
  • Quad-band GSM and tri-band HSDPA/UMTS supportt
  • 128MB RAM and 256MB flash ROM (about 100MB available to the user)
  • Qualcomm MSM7201 400MHz processor
  • 1.74 inch square 320x320 high resolution display (wish it was a bit bigger)
  • Integrated 802.11 b/g WiFi radio
  • Integrated Bluetooth 2.0 radio with A2DP
  • Infrared port
  • Integrated A-GPS receiver
  • 1500 mAh Lithium ion battery with reported 5 hours of talk time
  • microSD card slot with microSDHC support
  • 2 megapixel camera
  • micro USB port for syncing/charging/wired headset
  • Standard 3.5mm headset jack
  • Weight of 4.69 ounces
  • Size of 4.49 x 2.36 x 0.53 inches

A couple of design features of the Palm Treo Pro that are different than the Treo 800w are the flush display, loss of left and right soft keys, use of WiFi button rather than a switch, Centro-like keyboard compared to the standard Treo QWERTY keyboard, and 3.5mm headset jack.

Tour around the device - overall appearance and form factor: The Palm Treo Pro is targeted to the enterprise with its black finish and white key highlights. I was hoping the device would have that great soft-touch rubberized matte casing since I find that helps me grip the device and looks more like a business device. The Treo Pro has a glossy black covering and is a major fingerprint magnet with the back looking much like the black iPhone 3G.

The device is thinner than all other Treo devices which is a great move by Palm since I think most Treo devices are too thick and chunky. The Treo Pro has a Centro rounded look to it with a similar QWERTY keyboard.

Tour around the device - front: Palm did add a few things to the Palm Treo Pro that makes it a bit more standard across the Windows Mobile platform. One of the first things I noticed was the indicator light on the top left of the front that shows battery charging status. It is handy to look over and see if the device is charged or not. The earpiece is also centered above the display.

After you turn on the device, you will find that the 320x320 display is presenting you much more information compared to the rather lame 240x240 display found on the Treo 750. I personally considered the Treo 750 a couple of times, but the 240x240 display kept me from taking the plunge. While the 320x320 display is quite nice, I find the 240x320 display on the HP iPAQ 910 Business Messenger to have bolder fonts and richer colors that make it a better display IMHO.

You won't find left and right soft keys below the display, but you will find four programmable hardware buttons, send and end buttons, and a center directional pad. The four programmable buttons are not distinct buttons, but are backlit icons that appear on the flush surface. You can actually program up to 9 functions with these buttons with a regular press or a Option>button press (the Send key has an Option function). The end button will take you back to the Today screen and holding it can also lock the keys. The center directional pad has the words "palm" in the center and when a voicemail arrives the center will light up to indicate this without you having to do anything.

With the flush display, I never really noticed the lack of soft key buttons. I think flush displays are a new standard for me on touch screen devices since I love the way the HTC Touch Diamond and Treo Pro have used it.

Tour around the device - top and bottom: Palm implemented a dedicated power button on the top that turns the display on and off when you press it once. If you press and hold it then the device toggles in and out of flight mode where all the wireless radios turn off and on.

Palm Treos are well known for their dedicated ringer on/off switch that lets you quickly turn off the ringer when you go into meetings or do not want an audible alert to an incoming call.

When you look at the bottom of the Treo 800w, you will the second Palm device with a micro USB port that is used for syncing and charging. Even better is the standard 3.5mm headset jack located to the right of the micro USB port.

Tour around the device - sides: The volume rocker and a programmable hardware button (hold for voice recorder by default) are found on the upper left side of the Palm Treo Pro.

The infrared port and dedicated WiFi button are found on the right side of the Treo Pro, with the stylus silo opening located down on the bottom of the right side. You simply press and hold the WiFi button to toggle WiFi on the Treo Pro.

The microSD card slot is also on the right side, but can only be accessed by sliding off the back cover of the Treo Pro.

Tour around the device - back: You will find a 2 megapixel camera on the back center of the device that looks similar to the iPhone camera. There is no flash or self portrait mirror so it looks quite simple on the back. The word "palm" is prominently shown on the back and looks attractive.

You will also find the mono speaker on the upper left of the back and it is placed towards the outer edge so that it is part way up the curve of the back so that sound bounces off the table when placed on the surface.

The entire back slides up and off to reveal the 1500 mAh battery, which is a great size for a device with these wireless features.

Software: Unlike previous Palm devices that had lots of special Palm utilities, the Palm Treo Pro runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional with very little extra. This is good on one hand since you don't have all those wireless carrier customized apps that hog up much of the memory. Then again, the device is not much different than any other Windows Mobile device.

Google Maps, Sprite Backup, and TeleNav are the only applications included and these can all be added by any other device owner so there isn't much special here. I was disappointed to see that Palm used the Windows Mobile threades SMS application since I think the Palm application is a better product. I was also disappointed to see that Palm did not include the same Today screen enhancements on the Touch Pro that they have on the Treo 800w.

Reader Q&A: I received several questions from readers and will attempt to answer most of them here for you, followed by my final thoughts on the Palm Treo Pro.

  • How does the screen fare in sunlight? Being a touch screen device, the Palm Treo Pro does not look that well in direct sunlight and can't compare to the iPhone that does an excellent job in sunlight. The display is tough to read and you really need to shade it to see the display.
  • How is the keyboard for medium size fingers? I consider my fingers medium-sized and the keyboard works pretty well, if you use the angled end of your thumb or fingernail to press the keys (which is what I do on my Palm Centro). It is a bit tough to use your thumbs straight on as the keys are tight. However, I also think I was more accurate after a bit of practice than I anticipated I would be with the keyboard.
  • Dimensions with respect to the Centro? The Palm Centro is 0.27 inches shorter, 0.25 inches narrower, and 0.20 inches thicker than the Palm Treo Pro. The Palm Centro is also 0.29 ounces lighter.
  • How is the video/picture quality? I haven't had a chance to put a video on the Treo Pro to test it out and doubt I would use such a small display to watch video content.
  • How is the speakerphone quality? The speakerphone is quite loud, especially given it has a single speaker on the back. It does help that the speaker is up on the curved part a bit too.
  • How is the keyboard compared to the E71? Which one do you prefer? I prefer the Nokia E71 keyboard since the keys are better defined and have good tactile feedback. Even though the E71 keys are tight, I rarely mistype text. This is a tough one to compare since personal preference will vary with each person.
  • How is the overall speed and response of the device compared to the Curve, Centro, Diamond, Samsung i780 and E71? I haven't tried the i780, but in terms of the others I would rank them from snappiest/most responsive to least in this order; Centro, Curve, E71, Treo Pro, and Diamond. The devices are all fairly close, after the Centro which is very snappy thanks to the Palm OS, so the ranking doesn't mean too much.
  • Is the plastic the same material as the centro or is it much better? The plastic appears to be the same as the Centro. The high gloss black finish is horrible when it comes to fingerprints on the back though and is a big turnoff IMHO.
  • How does it feel in the hand? Is it the same as the Centro? Which do you think is better to hold? The iPhone, Centro, E71 or the Treo Pro? I think the Treo Pro feels a bit better in my hand since it is thinner, but the E71 feels the best since it has less width and the steel feels rock solid. The iPhone also feels a bit more solid than the Treo Pro, but he Treo Pro isn't bad either.
  • How long does it last when it is the primary device you are using for email, GPS, etc.? The iPhone has set a low mark and the current crop of Blackberries have set the high mark. I am anxiously awaiting the BB Bold and wondering if they have maintained the incredible battery life of the Curve. I did not conduct any scientific testing or anything with the Treo Pro, but when comparing my standard daily usage it ranks up there under the BlackBerry Curve (easily lasts me 2 days) and above the Nokia E71 (just gets through a day) and iPhone 3G (gets through about 2/3 of a day if I was lucky). I was easily getting through a full day with the Treo Pro with 3G enabled and push email on.
  • The HP iPAQ 910 looks to be the closest competitor with a touch screen and QWERTY keyboard, WiFi, BT, GPS, and quad-band GSM. Is the Palm Treo Pro smarter when it comes to the keyboard intelligence? The keyboard does not stay numlocked when you switch applications and text entry fields, but it doesn't appear to have anything special related to Palm. I think the Windows Mobile operating system is controlling most aspects of text entry on the device and haven't personally experienced any real issues.

Experiences using the device: I was extremely impressed with the speed at which the Palm Treo Pro was able to aquire a GPS signal using TeleNav and Google Maps, especially when walking down the streets of Seattle where buildings generally hide the satellites from other devices I have tested. I am seeing signal aquisition within about 10 seconds regularly on the Treo Pro.

Even though the keyboard is like the Treo, I am quite a master at thumb keyboards and am finding it pretty functional for my needs. I rarely type incorrect text so even though I prefer the more standard keyboard this one is not too bad and may have helped reduce the overall size of the device.

I am a big fan of hardware buttons for the WiFi radio on devices, including laptops and am pleased to see Palm add this to the Treo Pro. Why haven't others done this is beyond me, but at least Palm is adding this capability.

The standby screen grayed out time and date is a simple feature, but one that I find useful since I don't even have to turn on the display to quickly see the time since I rarely carry a watch and hate having to jump through menus to view this essential information.

I LOVE that I can now launch/setup 10 shortcuts using the hardware buttons and the option key. This is much more than I have seen on most Windows Mobile devices today and helps make the device more functional for usage without having to touch the display or scroll through menus.

Final thoughts and conclusions: I was a bit surprised to see this device, rather than a GSM version of the Palm Treo 800w, but I do like the thinness of the device. I wish the more standard Treo keyboard was used though since I tend to like it better than the Centro-like keyboard. I do understand the SIM-unlocked approach for the enterprise and personally the US$549 price is less than what I have been paying for other SIM-unlocked devices in the past where I have paid US$850+ for a device. The Nokia E71 is an excellent deal at just over US$400 for a US 3G-capable unlocked model though and I would personally buy this instead of the Treo Pro.

That said, I am considering the Treo Pro since I do enjoy using Windows Mobile devices and the great thing about the Treo Pro is that you can use it like a non-touch screen device yet get all the power and functionality of a touch screen device when you need it. The excellent GPS signal aquisition, long battery life, Palm touches like the ringer and WiFi buttons, and standard 3.5mm headset jack are compelling to me.